Following the deprivation and hardship experienced during World War II, Americans basked in the excesses of the 1950s and the auto industry certainly reflected this. As the decade progressed, cars got larger, heavier, and increasingly ornate. When the 1950s turned into the '60s however, a funny thing happened Detroit's Big Three got into the low cost, low frills, compact car game. For model year 1960 Ford introduced the Falcon, GM launched its Corvair, and Chrylser unleased the Valiant.
The Valiant was restyled twice in its ten-year lifespan, first in 1963 and then again in '67. During that second refresh the character of the platform was dramatically changed, with the elimination of the sportier two-door hardtop and convertible body styles, leaving only the four-door Valiant. While the Valiant-based Barracuda was offered as a convertible or fastback with a good range of performance options, it had grown larger, heavier, and sufficiently expensive to create a significant void in Plymouth's offerings. Beginning in 1970 this void would be filled by the Duster, which shared its structure and front end sheet metal with Valiant, but looked dramatically different owing to its semi-fastback design and dramatically curved side glass.
With the optional 275-horsepower 340 V8 a relatively lightweight Duster offered very spirited performance. Contemporary road tests saw 0-60 mph times in a little over six seconds and the standing quarter mile in the mid-14 seconds range. Add in compelling styling and cargo carrying capacity, and a starting price ofonly $2,172 for a base model and $2,547 for a 340-powered car and it's obvious why Plymouth sold an impressive 217,192 Dusters in 1970, and an astounding 1,332,846 cars in total from 1970-76.
In spite of their attributes however, most people did not enjoy long-term love affairs with their Dusters. Time and technology moved on, countless examples succumbed to rust, and, as most were owned by young people, they suffered the usual indignities that come with youthful exuberance (my sister sent at least three Dusters over the rainbow bridge back in the day). But as with every rule, there are exceptions, and the striking '72 featured here is one of them. Mike Cummings bought this car thirty-two years ago and though there have been some bumps in the road he remains in love with it to this day.
Cummings grew up in a military family and learned to wrench on the family Mopars from his father. "I learned basic auto mechanics from my father," he recalls, "who learned from his father. My grandfather was a manager for Armory Chrysler in Albany, New York and my father worked part time at a service garage. My brother and I would watch and help do simple repairs on our 1969 Plymouth Fury III and 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger."
When it came time for Cummings' first car he found a 1968 383 Super Bee but his father wasn't keen on him starting off with a big block, so he ultimately ended up with a 318-powered 1975 Road Runner, which he drove all through high school. After high school he wanted to serve his country, as is traditional in his family, so he joined the U.S. Navy and trained in advanced electronics. After being sent by the Navy to Newport, Rhode Island he was in need of another car and naturally was on the hunt for a Mopar.
"A friend of mine told me about a 1972 340 Duster for sale in front of Williams Auto Salvage Yard in Schenectady, New York for $600 with about 52,000 miles on it," he remembers. "The car was in rough shape, but for the money it was a good deal, so I bought it."
Cummings began modifying the car shortly after buying it, and quickly came to regret the changes he made. "The first modification to the car was the addition of a glass, pop-up style sunroof. That was a big mistake. The sunroof never sealed correctly and I regretted altering the original headliner. I then tried to install a 440 with an automatic transmission. It never really ran right so I put the original motor back in, and decided to keep the car an original Formal Black, numbers-matching, 340 4-speed Duster."
Cummings drove the car for about a year and a half until being assigned to Pensacola, Florida for C-School training, which led to him putting the car into storage for about two years. After completing the training, and marrying his high school sweetheart, he went back to Rhode Island and took the Duster out of storage. "My first task was to rebuild the engine in our spare room as we had no garage living on the Navy base. The short block was given to Master Machinist Gary Askins and Ori Askins at Napa in Saratoga Springs, New York. They installed a sleeve and turned the original steel forged crankshaft. The heads were reconditioned with hardened seats to run super unleaded."
In 1991, after leaving the Navy, Cummings and his wife moved back to Saratoga Springs, New York, bought their first house, which needed some work, and increased the size of the family with the addition of two children. These major life changes often mean the end of the fun car but Cummings never even thought about selling his Duster. Instead, he simply put it aside for some time, while continuing to accumulate parts for the restoration he planned to eventually do. After about five years he was able to devote enough time and attention to the car to get the ball rolling.
"I started the main body work on the car and over the next two years replaced both rear quarters and the driver's side floor pan. The trunk was another issue as it didn't even exist. After these parts where replaced it was time to prep the rest of the car for epoxy primer and PPG single-stage acrylic urethane paint. Four coats were applied in my garage in a homemade paint booth. The process of wet sanding the paint began and then I finished up with a multi-stage polish process. I then started on the interior, which included a new carpet and front seat covers from Legendary Auto Interiors and putting the horrible glass pop up sunroof back in the car. It was the summer of 2000 and I was headed to my first car show since restoring the car. The show was at Clifton Park Dodge World. I received a second place trophy in the A-Body class!"
Over the next several years Cummings devoted most of his time to his family but continued to work on the car sporadically, as time allowed. "I located a 1970 T/A 340 six pack manifold with carburetors for $200. The set needed a major overhaul which was completed with assistance from Chicago Carburetors. The motor needed to be modified so the six pack could breathe properly, so I had the block bored 0.060-inch over and the heads opened up to accept 2.02-inch intake valves. The cam was upgraded with a mild COMP Cams grind. My brother-in-law Rick helped me reassemble the engine. I also acquired an Air Grabber induction setup from a 1969 Dodge Super Bee and fabricated a new hood by replacing my original under hood support with the one from a Dodge Super Bee Air Grabber hood to mount the induction system that sits over the six-pack air cleaner. I added power steering from another '72 Duster that I found at the Englishtown Mopar show, and installed front disc brakes from another '72 Duster that I got from a good friend, "Mopar Dan" in Lebanon Valley, New York. I started looking for a factory style sunroof from a '72 or '73 Duster and finally found one from a '73 in Wisconsin. Once the sunroof arrived, I spent the next three weeks preparing the roof to receive the new opening. It was a nice addition to the car after the first attempt. This lead to the second painting of the car around June of 2007."
Following the second complete repaint Cummings continued to drive and enjoy the car, but there were a few areas he was not satisfied with, so in 2015 he decided to go through the whole thing once again. "The most recent time I painted the car I used PPG's Shop-Line base coat/clear coat. It turned out to be my best paint job mostly because of the advice from my father-in-law who use to paint cars. This time extra care was given to the engine compartment. By March 2016 the paint was finished and in May I was at my first show of the year. When June came around the family and I took the car to the Mopar Madness show in Liverpool, New York. Of the thirteen or so cars in my class I was awarded 1st place for the first time in 30 years of owning the car."
In addition to showing the car, Cummings continues to drive it frequently. Both activities bring him a great deal of happiness, but the relationships the Duster plays a role in is what gives him the most satisfaction. "Throughout the years that I've owned the car it has brought me in contact with many people who have become good friends, and I have a wonderful wife and two incredible children who have supported my hobby from day one. Reminiscent of my childhood, my children have watched and helped over the years with repairing and maintaining the Duster, and that is really the best part of owning the car!"
Mopar Muscle Magazine
1972 Plymouth Duster
Mike Cummings, Ganesvoort, NY
Type: V-8 349.6 cid (stock 340 with cylinders bored .060" over)
Bore x stroke: 4.10" (bore) x 3.31" (stroke)
Block: Stock cast 340 cid iron
Rotating assembly: Stock 340 forged crank, stock connecting rods, Speed-Pro forged aluminum pistons
Cylinder heads: Factory J heads
Camshaft: Comp Cams
Induction: 1970 T/A Challenger six pack with Holley 2300 series carburetors and six pack air cleaner
Oiling system: Stock oil pump and oil pan
Exhaust: Stock exhaust manifolds, pipes and mufflers
Ignition: Chrysler electronic ignition, MSD coil
Cooling: Stock radiator and viscous-drive clutch fan
Fuel: Stock pump and lines
Engine built by: Mike Cummings
Transmission: 1972 A-833 Chrysler 4-speed, gear ratios of 2.44:1, 1.77:1, 1.34:1, and 1.0:1
Driveshaft: Stock driveshaft
Rear End: Stock Chrysler 8-3/4" Sure-Grip limited slip differential with 3.55:1 ring and pinion, stock axles
Construction: Welded steel unit-body
Front suspension: Independent, unequal length upper and lower control arms with 0.87" torsion bars, 0.88" anti-roll bar, hydraulic tube shock absorbers over gas-charged
Rear suspension: Hotchkiss type, asymmetrical leaf springs, hydraulic tube shock absorbers
Steering: Stock recirculating ball with hydraulic power assist and fixed displacement hydraulic power steering pump, 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, 37.7' turning circle
Front brakes: Stock Chrysler disc
Rear brakes: Stock Chrysler 10" x 2.5" drum
Wheels: Stock Chrysler Rallye wheels, 14"x7"
Front Tires: BF Goodrich Radial T/A, P235/60R14
Rear Tires: BF Goodrich Radial T/A, P235/60R14