For any red-blooded teenage boy, earning a driver’s license is a rite of passage, a long-awaited ticket to freedom and uninhibited social opportunity. For many of them, who see a vehicle as more than just a means of transportation but also an extension of themselves, it’s also the first opportunity to truly express who they are.
Josh King, a lifelong Mopar aficionado who owns and promotes the world’s largest all-Mopar drag race, took that to heart at the age of 16, when he eschewed the established practice of moving heaven and earth to earn his license until he could procure a vehicle worthy of being seen in. But once he did, he never looked back.
Today, King boasts one of the most immaculate street/strip vehicles in the country, and it’s just one of a larger collection of impressive vehicles that he’s owned in his time. The 1972 Plymouth Duster, now a 1,000-plus horsepower weekend cruiser that’s at home on the open road as much as it is the strip, was King’s first car — the very car he held off entering the card-carrying vehicle operator fraternity for in high school. But it’s hardly that car anymore.
“I turned 16 in 1996 and bought the car in 1997. I was one of those kids who said, ‘I’ll wait to drive something I want before I’ll buy a beater that I’ll look silly in.’ So I could have gotten my license, obviously, when I was 16, but waited until I found something that was cool enough that I could afford,” King tells. “And the Duster was that car, that we found in my hometown. I bought it from the second owner, and it was 100-percent rust-free. It had a little tear in the right blue bench seat, so I added some blue duct tape to it. But other than that, it was a perfect car as far as paint, body, and interior.”
I was one of those kids who said, ‘I’ll wait to drive something I want before I’ll buy a beater that I’ll look silly in’
The car was Chrysler B5 Blue in color at the time and sported a set of Cragar wheels and a 318 two-barrel — the perfect machine to get just enough attention at an age when attention and self-confidence are everything. In 2008, then a working adult in his 20s and automobiles more a passion and a pastime than a means of attracting the opposite sex, King set out to revamp the classic Plymouth, installing a roll cage, repainting it Hemisfear Lime Green, and adding CalTrac rear suspension. He also gave it added motivation in the form of a single-turbocharged big-block Mopar. Josh will tell you, first and foremost, that this is his street car, even if it looks an awful lot like a pure-bred racecar. This, he says, is by design.
“There used to be a group of Mopar guys that ran a racing series called King of the Street, and because my dad was a Mopar guy, I would see these cars at Mopar events, and there was one particular Duster owned by a guy named Tony Marculewicz and I fell in love with it. I thought it was the coolest car in the world, and then I bought a Duster and said one day mine will look like his car. And every time I take it somewhere, people ask if it’s his old car. I always dreamed about doing something pretty rad with the car and still be able to drive it on the street anytime I wanted to.”
“Drag radial racing was really blooming at the time and I fell in love with how those cars looked, so the beadlocks and everything had to happen. I really built a faux, fast car,” he adds.
With the big-block and 118mm turbo, the Duster ran in the mid eights, looking distinctly the part of a pro street-style, dedicated racecar. In 2012, however, a chance phone call set in motion an unlikely turn of events that led to a lengthy, six-year rebuild.
“I got a phone call from a guy in 2012 that said he was interested in buying or trading for the motor out of the Duster. I’m always looking for something cool to do and he told me he had one of these Pro Stock Hemi B99’s that was brand new. It was 572 cubic-inches, with steel rods, built to take some abuse. So I traded him for the Hemi B99, and on the way home from picking up the engine, someone else called me who had heard about the trade I’d just made. He said he was looking for a Hemi B99, but didn’t have really have any money to spend but was open to some trades. It turns out the guy lived less than a half a mile from me, and he had a whole garage full of wonderfully restored Mopars. I ended up trading him that Hemi 99 for a one-of-one ’71 Six-pack four-speed GTX that was completely restored. This car was worth about $80,000. I just couldn’t believe it was all coming together the way it was. It was ridiculous, because my engine wasn’t anything special.”
King later realized that “a restored car of that pristine quality that I can’t drive, didn’t do me any good — I was never going to enjoy a car that high quality,” and so he sold it off, giving him the cash infusion that eventually led to the second transformation of the Duster.
Life, as it tends to, got in the way, lengthening the process considerably, but the end result is nothing short of magnificent.
With the help of good friend Joe Fitzpatrick, the head fabricator at Don Schumacher Racing, King re-did the chassis in his garage with a new roll cage, relocated the suspension, and built a fabricated 9-inch rearend housing. He also gave the classic a modern touch with the new powerplant.
King tabbed Tony Bischoff at BES Racing Engines to assemble a 417 cubic-inch Gen III Hemi, using a G3 Performance Products aluminum block with all aftermarket rotating internals, including billet rods. Thitek cylinder heads were paired with a Visner billet aluminum Gen III Hemi intake manifold. A pair of 76mm Precision billet wheel turbos feed the beast through a cold side setup fabbed by Jeremy Howell at Fathouse Fabrications and hot side King assembled himself. A Holley Dominator EFI system manages it all, with tuning from Rick Trunkett at Big 3 Racing in Ohio.
The engine bay, which King largely completed with his own skillset and considers his favorite part of the entire car, is every bit as visually appealing as the cars’ exterior. And the engine itself is award-worthy …. and it nearly was, as it was tabbed as one of the Masters of Motors nominees at the PRI Show in December.
“The symmetry and how it looks, I feel like it turned out great. I wouldn’t say it was through any skill of mine, but just my dumb luck that it turned out really clean. Chrysler cars are neat in my opinion because they paint the engine compartment the same color as the car, rather than some satin black. It’s all aluminum under the hood, and for me, the way it turned out, it was beyond cool. It’s really clean and none of it looks like an afterthought, it’s just a really great looking engine bay. And the fact that I kind of did the whole thing — other than some of the plumbing — myself means quite a bit to me,” King says.
A Turbo 400 built upon a case and bellhousing from ATI by RPM Transmissions is paired with a Neal Chance torque converter to deliver the power to the 9-inch that houses a Strange third-member and 40-spline axles, via a carbon fiber driveshaft.
Up front, an RMS Alterkation tubular front suspension system and CalTracs with monoleafs and an anti-roll bar with Santhuff shocks at all four corners give the car its sleek ride out on the highways and byways of central Indiana. Weld Racing Magnum wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson 315 Radials give the bonafide street car a racey appearance. They also assist it in boogieing to a best elapsed time of 8.12-seconds at 171 mph and launching with the nose high in the sky for the cameras.
Kirkey race seats enclosed in a 10-point chrome-moly cage and a Racepak IQ3 dash, along with a TCI Outlaw shifter are blended with the brunt of the original interior, including the dash, door panels, the radio, and steering column — it even uses the original 1972 key to fire it up — and yes, even a backseat for the kiddo he has on the way, to illustrate the pro street styling in the best way possible.
For King, this car — one with ample utility that he can enjoy year-round and indulge in with family at his side — suits his needs and his desires for the vehicles in his fleet perfectly. To that end, he is steadfast in his intent to leave it be.
I always dreamed about doing something pretty rad with the car and still be able to drive it on the street anytime I wanted to.
“I’ve firsthand watched people take cars that they could street-drive and were just cool, and turn them into a car they couldn’t use anymore. These people always say ‘I sure miss using this car.’ I could tell you so many people who did that and I watched them get to the point where they took all the really nice body panels off, now they’re scratched up laying in the corner, put in fiberglass and 25.5 cages that aren’t even safe to drive on the street, and wish they hadn’t gone that far. For me, I’ve set a limit on this particular vehicle of mine and said, ‘this is good enough.’ I’ll go try to get a couple hero time-slips with it, but I love the fact that I can just get in the car, start it, drive it 50 miles, do 60 mph rolling burnouts with it, I can take it to the dragstrip. I don’t see a reason to take it any further … it’s the perfect car for me the way it sits.”
Owing to its street-ability, as soon as King completed the Duster he took it to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit and ran it continuously for three hours on a sweltering 90-degree day without fault; a street car it is indeed. And with 1,200 horsepower to the tire on tap at the turn of a key, it is most certainly the perfect car … one styled for the track, fit for the road, and practical — relatively speaking — almost anywhere.