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The 1970 Plymouth Duster, a Valiant that had been restyled from the front door to the rear bumper, was a massive success — and Dodge immediately insisted on getting their own version. That car was the first Dodge Demon.
Both the Plymouth Duster and Dodge Demon were fantastic cars for the money (starting just over $2,100). Buyers comparing them to the Ford Maverick found 4.5 more cubic feet in the trunk, 11 inches more hip room in the rear seat, 3.5 inches more in the front, bigger brakes, more options, and a far better warranty. The two cars were virtually identical, underneath; the Demon used the Plymouth’s shorter wheelbase and smaller length.
Product planner Burton Bouwkamp said, “The Dodge Demon was
named by the Dodge sales department because they envisioned an ad that said ‘Come in
for a Demon-stration.’ The Demon name didn’t last because some religious
groups formally objected to the Demon name.”
The Dart Demon Sizzler was “strictly for the young. No way is your Aunt Martha going to understand the way it looks. Those tripes, Rallye wheels, and other ways of turning her off and you on.... If you’re young enough to understand it, you’re young enough to buy it.” It was essentially the Duster Twister: the hot Demon looks, with a slant six (optional V8). It had racing mirrors, 14 inch whitewalls, stripes, “Tuff” steering wheel, plaid bench seats, carpet, flat-black hood treatment, stripes, Rallye wheels, Sizzler decal, and a body-colored grille if the body was painted Hemi Orange, Plum Crazy, or Citron Yellow.
Despite the ad commentary, most buyers opted for the slant six (either the base 198 or optional 225); second choice was the 318 V8. The 340 was a niche item, potent though it was.
Demon sales only hit 40% of Duster sales, but that was still enough to be quite a success, given that the Duster was a runaway hit. Comparing its looks to the older Dodge two-door, the Swinger, its popularity was no surprise.
Road Test looked at the 340 Dodge Demon automatic in April 1971. They got 0-60 in 7.8 seconds and a 14.6 second quarter mile at 96 mph. Estimated top speed was 127 mph, fuel economy about 15-16 mpg. They rated the cornering, finish, luggage space, performance, and steering to be excellent.
Owners of the Dodge Demon had some advantages over owners of Dodge Dart Swingers and Plymouth Scamps; the rear of the Duster and Demon were designed for aerodynamics, and greatly reduced noise and increased highway gas mileage. Cruising became easier. The high deck lid also dramatically increased trunk space, giving coupe owners far more storage than sedan owners, even if it made it harder to get things into the trunk.
Chrysler’s innovative Electronic Ignition System, phased in during 1971, was on all engines late in the 1972 model year; it eschewed points and condensers, boosting voltage by up to 35%. Disc brakes were standard on all V8s, optional on the sixes, with power assist standard in the Duster 340.
All the Demons had 14-inch tires, even the 340 cars (which, nonetheless, had beefed up suspensions and wider wheels and tires, with floor-mounted shifters). The three-speed manual was standard, with a three-speed automatic and four-speed manual optional. The “Demon Sizzler” was a late-1971 option package, including side hood stripes, special wheels and mirrors, a different steering wheel, and other trim changes. Another late launch was a special, optional hood with twin air scoops and tie-down pins (340 only).
The front brakes were 9 x 2.5 drums on slant six cars, 10 x 2.25 drums on V8s; rear brakes were 9x2 and 10 x 1.75, respectively. Axle ratios were 2.76, 3.23, and 3.55:1, with standard and Sure-Grip limited-slip differentials; front disc brakes and power brakes were optional. Four-speed manual transmissions were limited to the 340.
The cars were fairly stiff and hard-riding compared with Dodge’s intermediates or the later Volares; there was no mistaking them for luxury cars, with fairly basic trim (though the Demon 340 dashboard was an upgrade over the base Dart). Handling was competitive for the class, thanks to the front torsion bars, and the suspension, from rear leaf springs forward, had been specially engineered for better traction on hard launches.
Nobody would mistake the “simulated wood grain” on the square-themed dashboard of base Demons for real wood; and gauges on the entry-level cars were just speed, fuel, temperature, and alternator status. The Demon 340, though, had a much sportier gauge cluster in the same flat dash, with a tachometer in the middle, and a four-gauge pod on the right which added oil pressure.
The Demon was fairly successful, with nearly 80,000 made in 1971 — around 10,100 of which were 340-powered. That compares with 102,500 Swingers, and around 68,000 base and “Custom” Darts. The 1972 Demon was similar to the 1971, but with different grilles and some interior updates; sales in this second and production in this second and final year was roughly 48,000, with fewer than 9,000 340s. The company sold nearly 120,000 Swingers and 95,170 other Darts, so the Demon was by no means as useful for Dodge as the Duster was for Plymouth.
Chrysler Corporation, sensitive to criticism and possibly boycotting from the Bible Belt, dropped the Demon name after just two years. Did the move make sense? Quite probably: when called the Dart Sport, production leaped back up to nearly 80,000 (with over 11,300 340s). Sales of the other Darts were roughly the same, at around 209,300.
In any case, the 1971 and 1972 Demons would be the only ones, until a specially modified run of 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcats gained the name.
Plymouth Duster • Dodge Dart • 340 V8 • 318 V8 • Slant Six
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