Home Car Stories One Owner 1975 PLYMOUTH Duster- Space Duster- Wedgwood, WA
1975 PLYMOUTH Duster- Space Duster- Wedgwood, WA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Tuesday, 19 May 2015 13:02

1975 PLYMOUTH Duster- Space Duster- Wedgwood, WA


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

75 duster lars gold space duster front

The original owner of this 1975 Plymouth Duster lived in the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He needed an economy car to commute south west to his workplace at the Marcos shipyard in the Magnolia area of Seattle. His Spanish Gold 1975 Plymouth Duster suited his commuting needs and looked stylish while doing so.

75 duster lars gold space duster driver front

The Plymouth Duster first appeared Sep 23, 1969 as a 1970 model and became a runaway success for Plymouth. Many guys remember the 340 Duster, but the musclecar era was poised for decline when the Duster first appeared. Although the Duster 340 churned out some sales numbers and a lot of memories the plain Jane versions far outnumbered the hot ones. A base slant six engine in a sexy fastback body worked wonders for the Plymouth Valiant which provided the mechanics lying beneath the great Duster exterior.

75 duster lars gold space duster driver f side

The Duster was already in its 6th year of production by 1975 and was still selling strongly. Very little was done to the Duster lineup from year to year simply because it was selling fine as it was. Chrysler's yearly shakeup and planned obsolescence that had driven sales during the 1960s was abandoned in the 1970s. The rival economy cars from Ford and GM also eliminated the yearly styling sweepstakes. Domestic manufacturers were overwhelmed with emissions and safety work and began to emulate the foreign built cars which retained a platform for nearly a decade and used that time to refine the package.

75 duster lars gold space duster driver side

For the 1973 model year the Duster's nose and tail were tweaked to accommodate 5 MPH impact bumpers. As the Duster evolved some invisible improvements were incorporated such as beefing up suspension parts and phasing in sturdier wheels. Electronic ignition appeared and various trim packages kept the excitement of the Duster line fresh. Over at Dodge, the 'me-too' version of the Duster was originally named Dodge Demon but this offended some religious groups and it was renamed Dart Sport for 1973.

75 duster lars gold space duster driver r

The Dusters (and Demons/ Dart Sports) hit a sweet spot with buyers because they were essentially bargain basement economy cars that packed a visual wallop. These cars were the right car at the right time as 1970s North America suffered through a fuel crisis and inflation. Exacerbating the skyrocketing inflation of the 1970s new cars piled on additional costs when manufacturers passed on engineering and production costs for Federally mandated features such as emission controls and 5 MPH bumpers.

75 duster lars gold space duster pass r

Buyers in the mid 1970s were feeling the squeeze and began seeking cheap transportation. The ugly VW Bug or other tinny imports didn't stir anyone's imagination although relief at the gas pumps was sufficient compensation for many. The domestic econo choices offered some style but were disasters when used as transportation. The nice looking Chevy Vega had a laundry list of defects that plagued the cars from the instant they rolled off the dealership floor. AMC had a decent offering with the Hornet but the company was in a downward spiral of failing quality control issues. Ford's bare bones but nice looking Maverick wasn't trouble prone but Ford made up for that with the exploding 'subcompact' Pinto and its firebomb public relations disaster.

75 duster lars gold space duster pass side r

Only Chrysler offered proven engineering in an economy car. The highly trusted Valiant/ Dart had a long solid track record for safety, reliability and economy of operation. Taking the time honored nameplate and wrapping it in the appealing Duster fastback body while maintaining a low price tag caused an explosion of Duster sales. The Duster propped up Chrysler's dire financial situation for most of the 1970s.

75 duster lars gold space duster pass side f

When Chrysler ended the Duster/ Dart line-up at the close of the 1976 model year in favor of the replacement Volare and Aspen the bottom fell out of the company. These replacement economy cars were every bit as bad as the Vega and even exceeded other domestic economy car debacles of the past. Many customers (and Lee Iaccoca!) wished that the Duster was still in production for 1977 and beyond. The Duster name was revived in some diluted and frequently unrecognizable versions over the years which made no impact on anyone. Once the classic Duster went out of production that was the last gasp for this very popular car.

75 duster lars gold space duster pass f

Aside from the sporty good lucks, this ONE OWNER Duster makes very efficient use of interior room via the inventive Space Duster Pak. The Space Duster option revived the original 1960s Mopar fastback concept of sporty looks and huge space availability all in a normal sized car. The original Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger fastbacks provided fold down rear seats which created long storage room from the rear of the car to the back of the front seats. See the ONE OWNER story in this website about a 1966 Dodge Charger to view the layout of these early fastbacks.

Unlike the extreme fastback design of the original Barracuda/ Charger the Plymouth Duster has a fairly normal sized sloped rear window and a traditional trunk. In order to use the full length of the car, the Space Duster includes a fold down partition separating the rear of the trunk from the interior. The trunk partition folds flat for access into the trunk in tandem with the folding rear seat to produce a 6 1/2 foot long space that is 5'4" wide. Although the height of this space is limited the length and width of usable space is comparable to the back of a station wagon.

In the Dec, 1972 issue of MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED Uncle Tom McCahill tested a 1973 Dodge Dart Sport 340 with the Dodge equivalent of the Space Duster Pak. Uncle Tom noted that it provided space for skis or surfboards or room for 2 people (plus 1 dog!) to sleep in the car on a roadtrip.

75 duster lars gold space duster pass view of pak

The photo above is shot from the rear of the passenger seat with the Space Duster Pak unfolded. The color keyed carpet on the back of the seats and trunk partition extends into the trunk area which has black carpeting. The rear package shelf is curved and narrower than the traditional particle board item found in Dusters which have a fixed rear seat.

The picture below shows the trunk area with the partition between trunk and back of the seat clipped into the up position. The gas tank filler neck to the left was a common sight in many Mopars during the 1960s and 1970s. The gas tank neck was blatantly run through the storage area. In the case of the Space Duster Pak painting it black makes it a bit less intrusive looking. In the front of the picture you can see the black form fitted cover for the spare. It has elastic to hold it firmly over the wheel.

75 duster lars gold space duster trunk v

To make the trunk appealing for those who wish to sleep in the car, the entire trunk area is carpeted right up to the lip of the trunk lid except for the rear panel where exposed tail light pods reside. The rear of the seat is carpeted in a color that matches the carpet found elsewhere in the car; in this case a light gold color. The backing of the trunk divider is also covered in matching gold carpet as seen in the picture below. The trunk divider folds into the trunk and covers the spare tire while the seatback folds away forwards.

75 duster lars gold space duster trunk w divider down

Looking in the back of the car the when the rear seat is folded up everything looks normal except for the presence of latches on either side of the rear seat shown in the photo below.

75 duster space duster lars rear seat latch

Below is a shot of the rear seat in the up position and latched in place for normal rear passenger service.

75 duster lars gold space duster back seat up

The image below illustrates the transformation of the car once the rear seat is folded forwards with the trunk partition down.

75 duster lars gold space duster rear seat down

It seems the original owner used this Duster for camping which is one of the purposes that motivated people to order the Space Duster option. The sides of this car are marked with what appear to be tree scratches created during maneuvers in tight camping spots. The photo below is a close up of the passenger rear quarter panel. The white vinyl stripe seems to be more resistant to damage than the paint and only has minor flaws.

75 duster lars gold space duster pass quarter

Note in the photo below that the original screw on body colored gas cap has been replaced with an aftermarket locking gas cap. During the second fuel crisis at the end of the 1970s gas siphoning became a common problem. At this time most factory gas caps were non locking. We may surmise that was the motive for the switch in this case.

75 duster lars gold space duster driver quarter

The door sticker tell us this Duster was built November, 1974.

75 duster lars gold space duster door sticker

The VIN VH29C5B195295 decodes as follows:

V= Valiant

H= High price class

29= 2 Door special coupe (Duster fastback style of body has its own code 'sports')

C= 225- 1 barrel 'Slant Six' inline 6 engine- 105 HP

5= 1975 Model year

B= Hamtramck, Michigan final assembly plant.

195295= Sequential number

The GVWR system supplies the maximum load carrying capability of a car including the weight of the car as it sits. The door sticker states that the GVWR of this Duster is a fairly impressive 4,595 pounds. The 1975 base Duster 6 cylinder weighed 2,970 pounds in 1975. The 5 MPH bumpers and extra smog equipment accounted for most of the gain of 145 pounds above the 1970 Duster weight of 2,830 pounds. It is reasonable to assume that this Duster weighs around 3,200 pounds based on the options present. The optional sound insulation on this car alone accounts for 125 pounds. Power steering, automatic transmission, front disc brakes also add weight.

The tire placard explains that maximum capacity is 950 pounds (5 passengers plus 200 pounds of luggage) if the tires are pumped up to 32 PSI. GVWR allows for an additional 675 pounds above the tire placard's recommended maximum.

75 duster lars gold space duster fender tag

The fender tag is read from bottom to top with the bottom line determining vehicle basics and higher lines listing options.

The first (bottom) line E24 D34 VL29 C5B 195295 breaks down as follows:

E24= 225- 1 barrel 'Slant Six' inline 6 cylinder engine- 105 HP (net rating).

D34= 3 Speed automatic transmission- Torqueflite Standard Duty

VL29 C5B and 195295 repeats the VIN model designation and sequence number.

The second line LY9 E2Y3 007 B13 938573 decodes as follows:

LY9= L is the date this paint color was introduced (1975). Y9 is Spanish Gold paint color.

E2Y3= E2 is Vinyl bench seat. Y3 is Light Gold color.

007= Full door panels was likely intended here. It is usually expressed as 000, so this is possibly a typo in the ordering process or maybe a James Bond fan with a sense of humor entered in the data!

B13= November 13, 1975 scheduled build date

938573= Dealer order number

The third line V4W U A64 B43 C15 C73 lists option codes:

V4W= White vinyl canopy top

U= Indicates the car is built to USA specifications.

A64= This code has denoted Gold Duster, Fuel Pacer, Canopy top and side stripes in various years.

B43= Manual front disc brakes/ drum rear brakes

C15= Sound insulation package? (Gold Duster package provided this feature)

C73= Fold down rear seat back (aka Space Duster Pak)

The next line G52 K6W L31 L73 M21 M25 lists option codes:

G52= Remote control driver's outside chrome mirror).

K6W= White bodylength racing stripe.

L31= Fuel economy indicators/ turn signal indicators mounted on front fenders

L73= Fuel Pacer system (vacuum triggers a warning light when excessive gas use occurs)

M21= Roof drip rail moldings

M25= Wide body sill moldings

The top line M26 M38 N37 R11  L2 lists option codes:

M26= Wheel lip moldings

M38= Deck treatment (aluminum panel between tail lights)

N37= Catalytic converter exhaust system

R11= Music Master AM radio

L2= Built on Line 2 of the Hamtramck final assembly plant

At the very top left corner of the plate the number 798 appears.

75 duster space duster lars dash

In 1972 code A64 meant Gold Duster. In later years the code was changed. It's hard to state exactly what package this particular Duster has, but it does have most of the elements present in the Gold Duster package despite an absence of Gold Duster stickers on the fenders. The Light Gold interior is one of the colors offered in the Gold Duster package.

75 duster space duster lars radio

Below is a page from the 1975 Plymouth showroom brochure with some information about the Gold Duster package.

The steering wheel on this Duster is the 3 spoke padded narrow diameter custom wheel found on the Gold Duster instead of the large diameter thin spoke wheel usually encountered on base Dusters. It has the Gold Duster standard items such as wood grained full door panels, split vinyl bench, rear armrests with ashtrays and color keyed carpeting. The light gold interior is one of the available Gold Duster interior color schemes.

In conjunction with these interior upgrades this ONE OWNER Duster has rear aluminum panel, canopy vinyl top and full wheelcovers which are all part of the Gold Duster package. The Gold Duster uses a style of wheelcover that first appeared on the Plymouth Satellite.

75 duster space duster lars r passenger wheelcover

The C15 code may refer to sound insulation package. The Gold Duster provided a 'deluxe sound package'. This Duster has soft material for headliner and sun visors instead of the base Duster vinyl headliner. This Duster also has color keyed carpet with underlay. It definitely rides more smoothly and quietly than the typical Duster usually does.

75 duster space duster lars headliner

Regardless of what package this Duster has it was well optioned with the white side stripe, Fuel Pacer, power steering, Space Duster, remote outside rear view mirror and front disc brakes that really stop this car despite lack of power assist. The car looks sporty, is easy to park with good gas mileage but it can sleep 2 or haul half the contents of a house with the Space Duster.

The Oct 1974 issue of POPULAR SCIENCE predicted that a 1975 Plymouth Valiant with 225 and automatic running through a 2.76:1 axle was good for 16.5 MPG overall. A 3 speed manual boosted this figure to 17.1. The 318 equipped cars were expected to return 13.3 and 13.5 for auto and manual with the lower 2.45:1 axles.

The PS figures are likely closer to reality than EPA which operates under ideal conditions. The EPA figure back then was derived from a 31 minute stop start 'city cycle' on dynamometer averaging 20 MPH and a 'highway' run of 12 minutes at an average of 49 MPH. The EPA figure for the 1975 Plymouth Valiant/ Duster was actually 18 City/ 23 Hwy MPG with a 225-1 barrel. Correcting to the modern revised EPA standards would knock about 1 MPG off those figures.

For comparison sake the EPA said the 1975 318 Duster was good for 13 City MPG and 20 Hwy MPG. A 1975 360 Duster only sacrificed 1 MPG for the extra performance. It returned 13 City MPG and 19 Hwy MPG.

Unlike many Dusters relying on small drum brakes all around this Duster provides modern braking power with front disc brakes.

75 Duster space dusterlars front disc brakes

The original owner of this Duster drove 8 miles each way on his work commute from his Wedgwood home to the Marco Marine shipyard at 2300 W Commodore Way. Marco Marine was founded in 1955 by Peter Schmidt and built fishing boats on the edge of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. A strong crab market n the 1970s and 1980s inflated the Marco staff to over 800 employees. As orders for fishing boats plummeted the company downsized and was forced to close down in 2007. The owner of this Duster was not subjected to the decline of the shipyard due to his own early demise.

The owner of this Duster conformed to the stereotypical image of the hard drinking dock worker of legends and this drinking contributed to his early death. Following his death, his widow left the Duster parked in the garage but it was still registered in his name.

75 Duster space duster lars speedometer

When the Duster was parked it showed 69,055 miles on the odometer. It seems likely that the odometer had 'gone round' the dial once before it was parked which means he drove it 169,055 miles.  In the past 4 years the odometer has crept up by an additional 1,800 miles.

75 duster space duster lars driver door panel

The indicators of mileage are a flapping inner bottom corner of the driver's door panel where your foot catches the panel when exiting or entering the car. The knob is missing from the driver's window crank which commonly happens at higher mileage. The seat is torn on the bottom cushion from use and the seatbelt is frayed. This usually shows up around or just past the 100,000 mile marK. The windshield has been replaced so tell tale wiper blade marks and stars etc are not present to help evaluate the mileage.

75 duster space duster lars driver seat

The dirty carpets reflect the owner's lifestyle of working in rainy conditions on a dock and use of the car for camping. Fellow employees at the dock seem to have ridden with him since the passenger side latch for the seatback is gone. It is a sad truism that other people don't care about your car even if they are getting favor from you with a ride. The driver's seatback latch is still intact. As seen below a lot of scuffing appears on the passenger kick panel and the passenger has deposited a lot of dirt into the gold carpet. The black metal box under the dashboard is actually a door similar to an old potbelied stove. If you open the latch the door opens out to let a stream of cooling air into the footwell area.

75 duster space duster lars passenger footwell

Probably the same passenger with the dirty feet  succeeded in somehow destroying the passenger side vent on top of the dashboard. The driver side vent is still fine. Note that the driver side of the carpet is also much cleaner.

75 duster space duster lars pedals

The brake pedal shows heavy wear to the left corner which indicates that the original owner used his left foot for braking rather than shifting his right foot from gas pedal to brake pedal. The molded mat inset into the pedal area of the carpet remains intact due to the rubber floor mats the original owner added to the car. Other signs suggesting higher mileage abound such as replacement shocks, alternator, ballast resistor, radiator, exhaust/ catalytic converter and starting motor.

75 duster space duster lars hood

Despite covering significant territory this Duster is remarkably free from the usual rot that afflicts these cars when driven in wet climates such as Seattle. This Duster was always garaged from new until 2011. The paint on the hood and rear trunk lid is in really nice shape.

75 duster space duster lars trunk lid

The vinyl top is perfect from the protection of the garage. No yellowing, no rips or bubbling of rust beneath the vinyl.

75 duster space duster lars canopy vinyl top

Even the paint on the roof is immaculate save for one speck of bubble showing along the trim piece of the canopy vinyl roof on the passenger side. In the sun little flecks of gold shine in the rich 'Spanish Gold' paint.

75 duster space duster lars canopy vinyl roof

The camping mishaps mar the sides of the body and there are minor scrapes in the passenger side stripe. There is one dent on the rear driver quarter panel and some gouges along the bottom of the car here and there. It seems the dent in the driver quarter caused the only deviation in otherwise consistent gaps in the car. The driver side of the trunk gap is wider than the passenger side. All the other gaps are pretty even which is little short of miraculous for a Chrysler product from the 1970s.

75 duster space duster lars fuel pacer

The tops of the front fenders are solid even where the fender indicators are attached. Typically a Duster left outside will develop perforations near the fender indicators and the inner fender bracing usually looks like Swiss cheese. The fenders on this Duster are perfectly sound thanks to the garage protection it enjoyed from the original owner and later from his widow.

As is typically expected from the wet Seattle streets there is a small amount of bubbling showing at the outer rear edge of the passenger rear quarter panel wheelwell lip. All the silt, salt and muck that builds up in the gutter ends up being forced by the spinning tires into the passenger side seams and wheelwells. Typically the passenger side of a car will be more susceptible to rust due to greater exposure while the crowned center of the road keeps debris and salt off the driver side of a car when driving. The wheelwell trim is bashed up a bit. The very base of the bumpers have started to rust but the bumpers actually sit straight without sag or misalignment.

Its hard to determine if some front end parts are worn but it seems likely because the car will float to the left if the wheel is not held. The bumpers don't' appear to have taken more than nominal hits. One front bumper guard is slightly damaged but otherwise the bumper looks fine so the issue may be alignment and not frame damage.

Speaking of the bumpers, a strange remnant from the car's past is a sticker on the rear bumper for Greenpeace. Maybe someone from Greenpeace decided to sticker the cars of employees engaged in building boats used for fishing.

The full carpets, full door panels and soft headliner make this Duster ride smoother and quieter than the base Dusters which provide rubber mats and vinyl headliners and partial door panels. Some base model Dusters can suffer from a bit of an 'echo' effect as the interior mimics the inside of a big metal drum. This Duster has a quiet rattle free ride.

75 duster space duster lars slant six 225

The engine runs well and has decent pickup while the transmission shifts with the typical firmness of Chrysler automatics. The brakes are very good with almost no pedal travel before engagement. Even without the power assist the front discs bring the light Duster to a halt pronto!

Dusters are notorious for rust out in the spare tire well. Even the ONE OWNER 1972 Dodge Demon profiled in this section has some surface rust in this area and that car was never driven in the rain. In the case of this Duster the original owner devised a cross hatched wooden support system to prevent the spare tire from one day falling out into the roadway due to rust out of the spare tire pan.

75 duster space duster lars spare from inside

Reproduction pans and full trunk floors are available from many suppliers to address this common weak point in Dusters.

75 duster space duster lars spare from outside

The Duster sat for quite some time in the garage following the original owner's death. His widow hung onto the car without really knowing what to do with it. She finally relented and let the car go in December, 2011. The car was still registered in the original owner's name. At this point the car had been a ONE OWNER car for about 36 years. The Duster had just passed its 'birthday' back in November.

In order to revive the Duster after its long slumber the issue of varnish or crystals in old gas needed to be addressed. The Duster was treated to a new mechanical fuel pump, new fuel line, and fuel filter. The gas gauge also "bit the dust" (pardon the pun) due to varnish or crystallization of old gasoline in the fuel tank. New battery, distributor cap and wires with tune-up had the tough old 225 slant six running fine once more. After surviving for 40 years, the original electronic ignition and ballast resistor finally packed it in and needed replacement in 2015.

The current owner, Lars is of Norwegian descent and comes from Ballard, a traditional shipping area of Seattle. It is appropriate that the Duster is currently housed in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The Duster thus retains its link to a strong nautical heritage established during lifelong trips to and from the docks of the Marco shipyard. Lars is selling the Duster to make room for other projects.

75 duster space duster lars rear

Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 May 2016 09:42 )