Hella Sweet Lemons Car of the Week: Dust ‘n’ Debris Plymouth Duster

The 24 Hours of Lemons’ organizers and correspondents often point out that the K-It-Forward Plymouth Reliant must be the worst car in Lemons history. In reality, it seems that any of Chrysler’s K-based cars could compete for that title. The ongoing tribulations of the United Partnership of Pentastar Racers’ Plymouth Sundance Duster, for example, remind us of the fragility of the cars’ Mitsubishi-sourced V6. However, one team did the unthinkable with Chrysler’s “P-body” platform: They almost won a race outright with a Plymouth Duster.

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We’re speaking of Reno-based Dust N Debris. While we haven’t seen this team in a few years, they nearly became the first Lemons team to earn the Quadrangle of Emaculance: All three class wins and an Index of Effluency with the same car. Actually, there’s a slight caveat: The team started with a hatchback Dodge Shadow, but later transplanted everything into a Plymouth Sundance Duster. But who’s counting?

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The Shadow and Duster both were powered by a license-built Mitsubishi 6G72 3.0-liter V6s, often sourced from junkyard Chrysler minivans. To say these engines have been unreliable undersells the scope of their notoriety in Lemons. Their issues have been myriad, but when they work right, the V6 gives 141 horsepower, a reasonable amount for Lemons racing.

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As one might expect, Dust N Debris struggled with the car in its first half-dozen outings, but the team really can only blame themselves for that. You see, they didn’t think 141 horsepower was nearly enough, so they decided to turbocharge their P-Body. But their turbo setup was no ordinary one.

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Instead of doing something sensible like putting the turbo right by the engine, they instead mounted it remotely near the rear bumper because…well, we’re a little fuzzy on that. (Unfortunately, we can’t find any photos of the setup in our archives.) The team had to rig up a convoluted oiling system because of the turbo’s low mounting. Was there lag with 15 feet of turbo plumbing and a passenger-seat-mounted intercooler? We’re not sure because it didn’t work so well.

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At a 2010 race, they found the engine ran a bit lean and like the D.B. Cooper of horsepower, the piston had apparently vanished from the engine block. Gone.

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Maybe the turbo idea wasn’t great, after all. Dust N Debris eventually pitched the forced induction—and the entire Shadow— into the scrap pile. Before they’d attempted to ghettocharge their Dodge, however, the team had won Class C win and an unlikely Index of Effluency—Lemons’ top prize—at Thunderhill in 2010, finishing an astonishing 16th overall.

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When they showed up to race in 2011, they had transplanted most of the useful things to the Shadow’s platform mate, a Plymouth Sundance Duster. Normally, 16th place would be considered as good as a naturally aspirated Chrysler K-derivative could manage, but Dust N Debris were just getting started. In 2011, the Duster finished 6th place overall and of 164 cars at Sonoma Raceway and second in Class B. At the next race, they won Class B with a 7th-place overall finish.

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In other words, a forgettable, K-car-based, front-wheel-drive Chrysler “sport coupe” was cleaning up on dozens of BMWs, Miatas, and Mustangs. This was uncharted territory that, to date, no one’s even come close to exploring. Yet, they would get even better. In 2012, they finished 4th place at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Washington. Surely, they couldn’t win a race outright, could they?

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If not for the pesky Model T GT, Dust N Debris would have won overall at The Ridge in 2013! The team ran in Class B and still finished second place overall by just six laps. This came despite the Duster’s quickest lap being almost nine seconds slower than the Model T GT’s best lap and 19th quickest in a 50-car field.

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Unfortunately, after a few more races, the good runs dried up and the Duster finally finished its second life in Lemons by 2015.

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In the wake of that car’s fina race in 2014, we’ve seen a few P-Bodies enjoy sporadic success, usually after years of frustration. Team Anarchy’s Dodge Shadow somehow kept everything together in its turbocharged 2.2-liter engine—an even worse choice than the Mitsubishi V6—to win the Index of Effluency in 2017. This year, they’ve “upgraded” to a bone-stock, turbo-four Chrysler PT Cruiser with an automatic transmission

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In Texas, Fruit Basket Racing have taken their own V6-powered Spongebob Squarepants-themed Dodge Shadow to wins in Class C and Class B. Could they be the next team to compete for a win overall with one of these awful Chryslers? Probably not, but Lemons can be crazy like that.

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Maybe the whole Chrysler platform is far better—UPPR’s oft-stricken Duster aside—as Lemons organizers have assumed? Perhaps we’ve stumbled upon some secret weapon of Lemons domination in the V6 Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Duster. Yeah, we think it’s a fluke, too, and that Dust N Debris were quietly one of the most improbably great Lemons teams in history. Bravo, you foolhardy Chrysler racers!

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover