Mike Warren thought it would be cool for his son Sam to learn to drive in a 1970s vintage car. So Sam spent some time looking at 40-year-old automobiles online.
He finally pointed to a photo and said, “I like this one.”
“I’d never even thought of a Duster,” Warren recalls. But when a 1970 Plymouth Duster showed up on Craigslist in the dispersal of an estate in Arkansas City, it only made sense to check it out.
“We went down and looked at it. It had a ‘three-on-the-tree’ and the clutch pedal was stuck to the floor,” Warren recalled. “It was Burnt Orange Metallic and the right rear quarter panel had been repaired, but not very well.”
The floor pans were rusted through.
“It was basically a bench seat grocery-getter,” Warren said. But it was a two-door and it looked savable. So a deal was made.
With a fresh battery installed, Warren told his son to turn the ignition key. The radio immediately came on. A little gas to prime the carb and the 318 V-8 engine coughed to life, running rough at first, but gradually smoothing out, running on the years-old gasoline still in the fuel tank.
And at that point, the project was a definite go.
Warren took the car to Josh Myers at Kansas Street Rods in South Hutchinson, where new sheet metal replaced the damaged rear quarter panel, along with the pockmarked floors. The Duster had received significant hail damage to its roof, but Warren couldn’t locate a replacement skin, so Myers repaired the dents in the top.
While that was going on, Warren tore into the two-barrel 318 V-8, rebuilding it to pretty much stock specifications. An Edelbrock 4-barrel manifold and 650 cfm carburetor was added, but the stock camshaft was retained. A set of Hooker headers was bolted on, sending exhaust back through a set of Flowmaster mufflers and pipes terminating in rectangular chrome tips.
The biggest modification involved pulling the boring 3-speed manual transmission out of the car and installing a genuine MoPar 4-speed, complete with a long-handled Hurst shifter. Ironically, with the mission statement of keeping the car simple, no tachometer was installed.
A Chrysler 8-3/4” differential packing 3:70 gears was installed on the rear leaf springs, with factory drum brakes used in the back. Up front, however, the decision was made to install a K-member from a ’72 Duster fitted with disc brakes.
After Warren spent uncounted hours sanding the freshly massaged sheet metal smooth, the body was sprayed a bright factory MoPar color known as Vitamin C Orange by Myers. With a 1971 Duster shark’s tooth grille added to the front end for a more aggressive look, it only made sense to black out the hood of the Duster.
“We liked the blacked out hood so much, we ran it all the way back around the windows and the drip rails,” Warren explained. “And we added the hood scoops because they just look good.”
All badging was removed, save for Duster emblems on the front fenders and a Duster logo applied to the twin black stripes across the tail light panel. A set of 1974 Duster stripes break up the orange paint down the sides.
A 1971 Dodge Challenger undergoing restoration in Myers’ shop gave up its rear deck wing and fuel filler cap to the Duster project. Classic American Racing Torq Thrust II mag wheels fill up the wheel wells, with raised white letter BFG/TA radials in front measuring 215/65R15 and heftier 245/60R15s in back transmitting power to the pavement.
Inside, Warren chose to keep the stock bench seats, which were reupholstered in factory-style black vinyl to match the new door panels. An added touch was the installation of seat heaters on the split-back front seat. Modern retractable safety belts were added, along with a Classic Air heater/air conditioner combination.
Not a big fan of the wood-grained instrument panel, Warren stripped it and had it brightened up with spray-on chrome, with the wood grain still showing through.
The whole project took a little over a year, with the Duster being shown for the first time in the fall of 2012.
Sam logged a total of about 100 miles on backroads learning to drive the car, but was never really comfortable behind the wheel, according to his dad.
“I fixed it up for the kid to drive to school, but he was scared to death to drive it,” Mike Warren said, noting that Sam now has a 2010 Camaro for his personal car.
“So the Duster ended up being my car,” said Mike. “This is so much fun. You go to the gas station and everybody’s looking at it. And who ever sees a Duster at car shows?”
Ironically another Duster ended up parked next to his at a recent show. But his Vitamin C Orange machine got more than its share of attention anyway.
And it’s bound to find even more admirers when Warren takes the Duster on Hot Rod Magazine’s 22nd annual Power Tour next month, with a June 16 stop in Valley Center on the schedule.
Mike Berry: email@example.com