Classic Car Buyer's Guide: 1970-1976 Dodge & Plymouth A Bodies
Few cars spell performance the way a rip snorting 1970 Dart Swinger does. A Duster 340 was one of the best compact muscle cars ever made. The genius of the Dodge Swinger and Plymouth Duster lies in the versatility of the basic design. Buyers could choose a basic commuter car with thrifty slant six or opt for the tire smoking 340 V8 in a swoopy fast back style body. There were enough options to customize the car to your taste and thousands did, making the Mopar A-body one of the strongest selling compact cars in its history. Today they're solid collectibles. Buyers looking for a real Scat City machine need to learn how to spot a real model from the countless clones.
Year by year Identification Guide: Technically, this generation A body debuted in 1968 but included engines, models and body styles that disappeared after 1969. 1970 is actually the start of a new era and is the apogee of high performance for this series. 1970: The Dart Swinger grille was a clean vertical finned design with integrated parking lamps and black out trim.
This grille was used on 1970-1971 Swingers and Demons.
Swingers were only available as two door notchback coupes. The Plymouth Duster was a fastback two door hardtop series which included a 340 performance model. The grille was a severe horizontal finned affair with integrated parking lamps. Both Plymouth and Dodge versions used two headlamps. 1971: The Plymouth Duster had a pleasant new grille featuring vertical sawtooth fins resembling the inside of a glass pack muffler.
1971 Plymouth Duster used the sawtooth grille.
The Dodge Dart grille was the same as 1970 and was used on their high performance Demon 340 model as well. It should be noted the Swinger 340 model was dropped in 1971, only the Demon 340 had this option. 1972: The Plymouth Duster 340 used a refined version of the horizontal finned grille with a narrow rectangular vent between the grille and bumper. The Darts and Demons used a fine egg crate grille with horizontal divider and two square parking lamps with cross hair motifs. 1973-1974: Dusters used a stylish egg crate grille with vertical dividers, small parking lamps and chrome plated 'Plymouth' nameplate.
1973-1974 Valiant, Duster and Scamp used this grille.
The Dodge version was a large egg crate pattern grille with parking lamps set close to the head lamps. 1975-1976: The Dodge Dart used a horizontal finned grille with elongated rectangular parking lamps with cross hairs and 'Dodge' nameplate above the grille. The Plymouth version used an egg crate grille without the 'Plymouth' nameplate above and added a Plymouth badge in the center. The Dart 'Hang Ten' grille was identical to the Dart Sport except it was blacked out as part of the special package.
1975-1976 Dart used this grille with a blacked out version for the Hang Ten Edition.
Drive Trains: The most valued models had the 340 four barrel high performance V8 engine, preferably with four speed. In the notchback body, this engine was only available in 1970.
The 340 four barrel V8 in factory trim with black crinkle finish air cleaner.
From 1971 onward, the 318 was the largest V8 offered in the Swinger, Scamp and SE models. The Plymouth Duster, Dodge Demon and Dart Sport were fastback bodies and had the 340 optional until the end of 1973. From 1974 to 1975 it was 318 power only. In 1976 there was a 360 V8 option available but it's quite rare. After 1970, the majority of these cars were powered by the famous 225 cubic inch inline-six. It is a thrifty yet strong engine with lots of torque. Even an automatic transmission doesn't sap much power from it. The 318 two barrel was optional and also has lots of torque for driving accessories such as power steering and air conditioning. The 360 is a stout engine providing more torque in the A-body's final year. Among performance fans, you'll find the 340 is the only revered power plant. Many a 318 has been modified with success to run as strong as a 340. It's an ideal way to buy a car without spending lots of money. Those who enjoy cruising and long trips will like the slant six for its gas mileage and ability to keep up with traffic.
The transmission choices range from the light duty 904 three speed Torqueflite to the heavy duty 727 Torqueflite automatic. The slant six and 318 engines got the 904 while 340 cars got the 727. The manual transmissions included a base equipment three speed and optional 833 four speed. The 833 was designed for the racing version of the Challenger TA 340 and was extremely stout. Only heavily abused cars will show damage and extreme wear. The three speed manual was available in two versions, the base unit A-250 had a non synchronized first gear while the optional unit A-230 had synchronized forward gears. All the V8 cars had fully synchronized manual transmissions. They are all good transmissions but many favor the four speed.
Popular Options: The most popular options are the Swinger 340 and Dodge Demon 340 packages. From 1972 onward, Dodge called their fastbacks Dart Sport and it was offered with Rallye Trim including stripes, floor shifted manual transmission and Rallye Wheels. Many of these items were available separately and are desirable. These items include floor console, Rallye gauges, bucket seats, body stripes and decals, Rallye wheels, sport hoods. Mechanical options include Sure Grip limited slip differential and chrome tips with dual exhaust. There were many trim packages available and these changed yearly. Major nationally marketed packages included the Gold Duster, Feather Duster, White Hat Specials and Hang Ten Special Edition.
Semi fastback Dodges were called Dart Sports after 1972, this is the rare Hang Ten version. The 340 stripes were added by current owner.
The Hang Ten was available from 1974-1975 and included a vibrant multi color interior with bucket seats, console and exterior dress up trim.
Dusters had some options available including Tuff steering wheel, console, bucket seats and cloth interior. This Hang Ten model has it all.
There were several regional sales promo models as well too numerous to list here.
Other options included folding rear seat with matching color keyed load floor and a manual retractable canvas top. When these were combined you had a Convertriple according to Mopar. It was the closest you could get to a real convertible 2+2. They are pretty rare since the glass sun roof idea was catching on and many buyers had their hardtops converted after purchase. Power steering, power brakes are nice extras but aren't vital on such a light car. High Impact paint was very popular in 1970-1972 but dropped away by 1974 as earth tones and metallic hues took over.
High Impact colors like Panther Pink and Sassygrass Green are usually found on 1970-1971 models. Earth tone metallics predominated afterwards with a few special order colors added in here and there.
You couldn't order much in the way of power accessories as the A body was built as an economy car. Power seats and windows don't exist and air conditioning is rare. You'll find that kind of goodies on an SE or notchback Dart sedan but it's very scarce in fastbacks.
What to Look Out for: The engines and transmissions in these cars were very reliable. Other than high mileage, your concerns are few and far between. With the slant six, the main problem revolved around the exhaust manifold cracking and creating a leak. The two piece manifold was known for splitting. Usually the lower casting failed, leaving the upper log in good shape.
The slant six is very durable and efficient on gas, main problems center on cracked exhaust manifolds and poor carburetion.
The single and two barrel carburetors on the slant six and 318 V8s respectively were poor units. Common problems included poor cold starting and flooding during hot starting. A rebuild is essential for Ball Brother carbs and it's not unusual to find the B&B carb substituted with a Holley or Carter version instead. Some owners disliked the Carter Thermoquad carb and have switched to some other brand.
When it comes to bodies, these cars had few rust concerns. The front fenders usually rusted out but the floor pans, frame rails and rear sections are usually good on this model. Check the entire fender apron area from the rad cradle to just before the cowl begins. It's very common to see rust near the hood hinges and creeping underneath where the fender bolts to the inner aprons. The top of the front fenders are known to be either rusty or filled with bondo. Check it with a magnet if it looks suspicious. Sometimes the trunk floor rusts out with the fast back model if exposed to moisture. The lower shock towers should be checked as well for collision damage repairs. Look for wrinkled metal and signs of straightening with a hydraulic jack. You can also check for front end damage using a procedure outlined in the Verification & Documentation section below. At the rear, what usually rusts is the spare tire well, leaving the rest of the floor intact.
The A body Chryslers weren't bad for rust, main area to watch include spare tire well in trunk and top of fenders leading into cowl areas.
When it comes to rust the A-body was very solid. Instead you should spend your time checking for collision damage. Check the rear bumper mounts, trunk floor pan and rocker rails for wrinkles, signs of bondo or non factory welds.
Verification & Documentation: Since these cars are popular with hot rodders, you must check for clones and back yard V8 conversions. Real 340 Swingers and 340 Dusters came with a complete drive train and package to handle the extra torque a V8 places on the body. The 340 models have extra reinforcements welded around the leaf spring mounts facing the rear floor pan. Regular 318 and slant six cars don't have these reinforcements. It's common now to find these supports welded on to duplicate a factory 340 car. The factory spot welds are usually neater in appearance compared to a clone. Be forewarned I have seen very good examples. Some cars have entire leaf spring perches installed from donor cars. I have even come across a 340 Swinger that had an entire 340 rear clip welded n place.
The V8 engine K-frame is also different compared to the slant six K-frame. The 340 engine is paired with a 8-3/4 inch rear axle with special 6 leaf springs. The torsion bars are 0.87" in diameter. It should be noted that after 1970 the notchback body style was not available with the 340 engine and these items won't be present.
The VIN number tells you what engine was installed from the factory. Check the fifth digit for an "H" which was the 340 four-barrel. The 318 two barrel V8 used the "G" code. Slant six engines used the "C" code. This VIN number is found on a metal tag riveted to the driver side of the metal cowl part of dashboard. You can see it through the windshield.
All the cars came with stamped metal fender tags which confirmed the drive train, body and interior colors, performance and luxury options. This fender tag was installed on the driver side fender apron near the shock absorber tower. Check it to see if the VIN matches the one found on the dashboard and driver side door. You can consult a suitable decoding book to confirm the other options your car may have. While you're checking out the VIN numbers, inspect the rad cradle area for a partial VIN stamping. Reproduction rad cradles have no VIN numbers at all.
The factory stamped the last six digits and some of the preceding digits into the top rail where the radiator bolts in. It may be reversed so a mirror may be necessary. Sometimes on unrestored cars, it will be hidden by the antifreeze decal. This confirms two things; the car wasn't in a major front end collision and if it matches the other VIN numbers you have the original driver's door, cowl and front clip. This is the minimum it confirms because with 340 Swingers and Dusters, these cars are desirable enough to cobble together fakes using parts from donor cars.
The engine and transmissions are stamped with VINs as well. Check the V8s on the machined area just above the oil pan for a matching number. The slant six VIN is stamped on a machined pad found beside the oil filter and underneath the last two spark plug holes. On automatic transmission cars, the dipstick tube brackets the location nicely so check between the tranny dipstick and oil filter on those models.
Transmissions also have the VIN number stamped. On the automatics, check on the passenger side of the bell housing near the engine oil filter. The manual transmissions have a raised pad very close to the input shaft area on the passenger side of case. If the VIN numbers match, you have the factory original drive train. Following these hints will net a sweet Mopar A body.