Low eight-second quarters and wheels-in-the-air launches make Sam Levien’s Plymouth Duster a serious crowd-pleaser

There must have been something funky in the water when the Levien brothers were growing up, as they both seem to have a serious Mopar addiction. Big brother Sam Levien, the owner of this wicked 1970 Plymouth Duster, is a dedicated drag racer, while his younger brother Dave has a similar addiction and a bunch of street cars to boot. Through Sam’s penchant for drag racing, he’s owned some very impressive cars over the years, included in which is a bunch of blown Hemi-powered altereds.

Back in 1986, he was behind the wheel of a 392ci Hemi-powered machine. From ’87 through to ’89, it was 417ci-powered, and in 1990 it was back to a 392ci. After a few years off, he returned to the track in 1996 with a 447ci-powered altered, which he ran until 1998 when he took a few years off again to let the finances recover.

By the mid 2000s, door cars had become far more popular than altereds, and Sam felt the need to get back into something rapid. After hunting around locally and not really finding what he was after, he turned his search to America. Whatever he was to buy, it needed to be short wheelbase to give him the same amount of fun he’d gotten used to behind the wheel of the altereds, and being a Levien, of course it had to be a Mopar.

What he found was a complete but never-raced 1970 Plymouth Duster, which had been owner-built with a Chris Alston chassis kit. Why someone would go to the effort of finishing a car like that and never take it down the track, we’re not sure, but it sounded like the perfect machine for Sam to hop into, with very little work required.

Once the car arrived, it was very apparent that that little amount of work was going to be a lot more than expected. Not because the owner had scammed him, but due to the car breaking free in the container and arriving both shorter and narrower than when it had left. Brendan Halpin from Rad Rides helped sort out the chassis side of things, and had gone on to help out with the vehicle as time went on. 

The chassis itself is constructed of mild steel and includes a funny car–style cage for driver protection. Between the front rails sits one seriously cool, naturally aspirated 505ci big block wedge. Purpose-built to move the car just a quarter of a mile at a time, the Keith Black block has no water jackets, leaving the small cooling system in charge of regulating the temperature of the Scott Koffel B1 Pro Stock heads.

Through many years of playing with engines and generally being hands-on, Sam’s learnt a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t, and where costs can be cut, and where they can’t. The Ron’s Flying Toilet injection — yes, that’s really a product name — was an economical solution to fuel the combination. The two 1435cfm throttle bodies are fed fuel from a Ron’s belt-driven pump and are large enough to flow far more fuel than is currently required.

The 2.35-inch titanium inlet valves let the fuel and air combination into the combustion chambers, where an MSD crank-triggered ignition system sets it alight. Then 1.9-inch exhaust valves send the combination out to the 2.5-inch headers and into the atmosphere. The rest of the valvetrain includes chromoly pushrods, B1 offset shaft-mount roller rockers, Crane Cams offset lifters, and a Comp Cams 0.818 roller cam.

The rotating assembly is made up of a 3.95-inch stroke Keith Black crank along with Bill Millar alloy rods and a 4.53-inch bore. All up, the combo is good for a four-figure power output, and has propelled the Duster down the strip to a best ET of 8.32-seconds at 160mph.

Putting the power to the ground is the job of 33x16x15 Mickey Thompsons wrapped around 15x15-inch Weld Alumastar rims. For a small car, it’s a big wheel combination, but Sam wouldn’t have it any other way. The Dana 60 diff those rims are attached to has the best of everything in it, including Strange 40-spline gun-drilled axles, Strange spool, and Richmond Pro 4.55:1 gears. Of course, in a car like this, sorting the diff is easy compared to building a transmission that can hold the power thrown at it. 

That task was handed over to Chuck Mann, who pieced together a JW SFI-rated Powerglide complete with trans brake. A 5500rpm billet torque converter constructed by Tim and the team at Auto Trans rounds out the combination, which has never missed a beat.

Sam is well aware he could potentially drop his PB even more if he were to change the set-up of the wheelie bars, but, thankfully, he’d much rather please the crowds by pointing the front wheels to the sky. To soften the landing of the Goodyear Frontrunner tyres is a Strange A-arm suspension setup with Strange struts. Out back, the Dana 60 diff is suspended by a Competition Engineering four-link and Koni adjustable coilovers.

After having the car on the track for five of the last seven seasons — including competing in last season’s NZDRA National Series complete with full vinyl wrapped flames, care of sponsors Brave Designs — it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. The low point would be when a steering universal broke while the front wheels were high off the ground, which resulted in a change of lanes and a slap of the wall. Another interesting time was when the outer door skin literally blew right off as the car crossed the finish line.

Photo: Rikki Bloemsaat

The good times far outweigh the bad, though, and by the sounds of it, Sam’s become complacent with the car’s performance, which has left him wanting more. Something in the form of another altered, except this time it needs to be powered by nitro methane. We’ve all seen how much of a crowd pleaser he’s been with the Duster, so we can’t wait to see what could happen with him behind the wheel of something lighter, shorter, and with three times the power … sounds like we won’t have to wait very long to find out! 

 1970 Plymouth Duster

  • Engine: 505ci big block wedge, Keith Black waterless block, 3.95-inch stroke Keith Black crank, Bill Millar alloy rods, chromoly pushrods, 2.35-inch titanium inlet valves, 1.9-inch titanium exhaust valves, Scott Koffel B1 Pro Stock heads, Comp Cams roller cam, Crane Cams offset roller lifters, B1 offset shaft roller rockers, Scott Koffel Pro Stock sheet metal intake, twin 1435cfm Ron’s Flying Toilet injection, Ron’s belt-driven fuel pump, MSD10 crank trigger, MSD 8mm leads, 2½-inch header primaries, 5½-inch merge collector, Triton water pump (heads only), Hamburger dry sump, three-stage pump
  • Driveline: JW SFI Powerglide, 5500rpm billet torque converter, JW trans brake, SFI flex plate, Dana 60 diff, Strange 40-spline gun-drilled axles, Strange spool, Richmond Pro 4.55:1 gears, Mark Williams driveshaft
  • Suspension: Strange struts, Strange bottom A-arm, Competition Engineering four-link, Koni adjustable coilovers, Mark Williams wheelie bars, rack and pinion steering
  • Brakes: Strange four-piston front calipers, Wilwood rear calipers, Strange rotors  
  • Wheels/tyres: 15x3.5-inch Weld Pro Stars, 15x15-inch Weld Alumastars, Goodyear 26.5x4.5 Frontrunner tyres, Mickey Thompson 33x16x15 drag slicks
  • Exterior: Fibreglass front clip, fibreglass doors, fibreglass bootlid
  • Chassis: Full mild steel Chris Alston tube chassis
  • Interior: Fibreglass seat, Hurst Pro Bandit shifter, Grant steering wheel, Auto Meter recall gauges, funnycar cage, aluminium dash, aluminium panels
  • Performance: 1000hp (approx.), 8.32 seconds at 160mph

This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 82. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below:

Todd Wylie

Todd Wylie has been involved with NZV8 magazine since before the first issue was printed, and has been the editor for the last eight years. Growing up in the heyday of the Jap-import scene, he's not adverse to Japanese vehicles, having worked for NZ Performance Car previously, as well as owning a few well-known examples. These days he cruises at a slower pace in a 1956 Cadillac Coupe and dreams of building a Model A tudor.