Male drivers have been figuring out ways to save on auto insurance ever since Henry Ford came out with his Model A. But, in the early 1970s, a particular trick became especially popular among the younger crowd. When the insurance company would ask a youthful buyer what type of car he wanted to ensure, the driver would say, “a Valiant two-door sedan” and smile modestly.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the agent would write up a contract with a modest premium, unaware that he had just approved coverage for a Duster 340, the hottest new muscle car in the US. And it was being driven by someone who–at the time– was probably too young to drink.
The Plymouth Duster came out in 1970. A fastback version of the far more conservative Valiant, it was aimed directly to the youth market as an entry-level muscle car, for those with a need for speed but with limited budgets. For around $2,500.00, the buyer got a 340 cubic inch engine with 10.5:1 compression, a high-performance camshaft, a four-barrel carb, high-rated front torsion bars, heavy-duty shocks and front disc brakes. For little coin, it was a lot of car.
Transmission options included a race-worthy three-speed manual and a ready-to-rumble TorqueFlite automatic, built to withstand the rigors of frequent high-speed accelerations. The Duster was scary fast, going 0-60 in 6.8 seconds with the TorqueFlite installed. Car Life magazine test-drove it and gave it two thumbs up. The cost was a huge selling point. For around $12,000.00 in 2012 currency, it offered a hellacious amount of performance at an entry-level price.
The new cars were immensely popular, but all the publicity came with a drawback for latecomers to the party. From ’71 on, when a young guy told his agent he needed insurance for a two-door Valiant sedan, in return he would get a smirk and the question, “you’re talking about a Duster 340, aren’t you?” It’s just more proof that fame comes at a cost.