The US motor corporations’ 1960s philosophy of ‘planned obsolescence’ meant that every one of them felt compelled to challenge every model of every series produced by a rival. Intense competition combined with rapid technical evolution often led to `junkyard styling’ — creating a ‘brand new’ car out of existing, disparate components. The Plymouth Duster is proof that it could work, and brilliantly.
With no money for a sporty, two-door compact to replace the Barracuda (the performance version of a Plymouth Valiant now elevated to a series of its own) Plymouth took the Valiant A-body platform, re-styled the rear as a semi-fastback, dropped in a hot, 340 cu in LA-series V8 — long proven for its power and reliability in Darts and early Barracudas — and hit their market bullseye.
The Plymouth Duster 340 made real muscle available to the masses. Lighter, more spacious and faster than much more expensive cars, the 340 was the performance leader of the Duster range, all of which shared its characteristics in proportion to their engine option. Plymouth’s ‘Rapid Transit System’ allotted it the full armory of performance enhancers at little extra cost — but apart from a pistol-grip for the four-speed manual option, dual exhausts and some discreet decals, there was nothing obvious to advertise the Duster 340’s blazing capability.
You just had to drive one. The suspension was a little stiff, the ride punishing, and the economy trim devoid of excess comfort. On the other hand, it rode corners with contempt, and powered away with a throaty snarl. Even years later, when high speeds were curbed by the emissions rules, the 1970 Duster 340 still gave you more bang for your buck than its dozens of ‘editions’ or imitators from other companies. Quite probably, it was the most successful big ‘something’ ever to come from nothing at all.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1970 (until 1976)
5.6 I (340 cid) OHV V8
Top speed of 127 mph (205 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The name ‘Duster’ was intended (allegedly) to suggest the ‘dust’ you left in your speedy wake. Even more questionable monikers were given to subsequent versions, including the ‘Twister’ (it was: it looked exactly like a dolled-up 340, without the powerful 340 engine), the ‘Space Duster’ and the ‘Feather Duster’.