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When Entry-Level Performance Didn’t Suck: The 1972 Dodge Demon 340

When Entry-Level Performance Didn’t Suck: The 1972 Dodge Demon 340

While looking up something for my highway roamer Chevy Cruze online, I wound up in a thread that asked why the 2.0L turbo-four never made it into the Cruze, and a response was provided: “They should have, it would have been a little screamer. So long as they didn’t call it “SS”, it would’ve had a shot.” They aren’t wrong…260 horsepower from the former Cobalt SS’s turbocharged unit in a Cruze would be a riot of a daily driver. Cars like the Cobalt SS, Dodge Neon SRT-4, and the Ford ST models of the Focus and Fiesta are genuinely sporty little things. Not exactly fast, but economical and without a doubt fun…so long as you ignore the elephant in the room, front wheel drive. And modern crackerbox styling. And the fact that most of these cars have either a sex appeal designed straight to a 14-year-old boy’s idea of awesome, or none at all.

For some reason, I went down the internet rabbit hole and found myself in a refresher course on entry-level performance cars from the early 1970s. Nothing against cars of the 1960s, but around 1970-71, the OEMs had figured out that the typical intermediate hot machine was being targeted by insurance companies and that they were getting a bit pricey. So, playing the game properly, they moved down the line to their compact offerings and had a ball turning them up a notch or two. Cars like Chevrolet Novas and Ford Mavericks could be optioned into something surprisingly hairy if you knew where to check the boxes. It was just business as usual over at Chrysler…they had already sold examples of their small A-body with Hemis (the Hurst cars) and 440s (Mr. Norm’s 440 GTS) and while the big-block did fit, the screaming little 340 was better suited to the job. And it was the perfect fit for the new coupe variation of the A-body, the Plymouth Duster.

Funny thing…back then, inter-company rivalry was still a thing. Dodge wanted to have their own car with the Duster body, so a one-for-one was done: Plymouth would get the Dart Swinger body and would call it the Scamp, while Dodge would slap the nose of a Dart onto the Duster body and now, it was the Dart Demon. Built for only two years before old ladies started to clutch at their chests, the original Demon was about as tame as it could get. It was the same two-door, same engine options, same everything except the front clip. But the cartoon devil with the pitchfork and the name “Demon” was enough to get the car rebranded to “Dart Sport” in 1973. Bleh…if there was ever a mark for when the fun ran out of Detroit, that capitulation should be it.

In 1972, a Demon 340 like this car would’ve set you back just under $3,000 (today’s coin: just over $18,000). 245 horsepower (the 340 took a small hit for 1972 due to lower compression and new valve sizing), an automatic trans, and looks that were still plenty sporting weren’t anything to shy away from, even if Dodge didn’t even bother re-working the front fender wheelwell lines to line up with the Duster body.

For a long time to come, there will be an argument between which performance era was better, then or now. Which would you go for, an A-body Demon or an unmodified Neon SRT-4? Think about it and remember the Neon’s MPG numbers and air conditioning…that call might be tougher than you first expect.

eBay Link: 1972 Dodge Demon 340

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11 thoughts on “When Entry-Level Performance Didn’t Suck: The 1972 Dodge Demon 340

  1. Bob J

    A nice ride, but there are some issues for a “fully restored” example:

    The engine color is wrong (Should be light blue)
    The oil filler cap would’ve been engine color from the factory
    Depending upon the ignition system (Electronic was standard, but I have seen some w/o electronic ignition) The plug wired should’ve been orange (point type ignition got black wires)
    The Alternator has the wrong pulley (AC used dual belts the non A/C cars
    used a single groove pulley)
    The brake booster would’ve been gold irridited
    The Rallye Wheel center caps are for a 1971
    The seats are missing the brushed trim inserts
    The ignition key release should have Depress lever before removing key silk-screened on it.
    The side stripes and hood stripes are not correct (although the styles are correct)
    The wheel trim rings are shown as polished, but should be brushed
    The instrument cluster panel should NOT say unleaded fuel only (that came on later models)
    The tire would’ve been Goodyear CWT RWL Polyglas tires
    The rated (SAE net) HP was 240, not 245

    Body Type: L = Dodge Dart / Demon
    Price Class: M = Medium
    Body Type: 29 = 2 Door Sports Hardtop
    Engine: H = 240HP (net) 1-4BBL 8 CYL
    Year: 2 = 1972
    Sequence Number: 356610 = 256610th Vehicle Built

    I realize these are nit-picky, and without a complete set of pictures (including the trunk and detailed interior pics, it cannot be ascertained whether they are or are not complete or correct, but it makes me wary of the restoration.

    Having said that, it’s a nice car, but I’d want to check it close-up. 42K is a pretty rich price for this car.

    Your mileage may vary. ;^)

    Bob J

  2. Joe Jolly

    A 2016 V6, automatic Mustang rental car with the air on, would out perform a stock 340 4 speed Demon in any test. Except of course, personality, or character or whatever it is that the old cars had. Today’s Mustangs, Camaros, Chargers and the like are homogeneous, prepackaged performance bores. Today’s Nascar field is technically far superior to the 1972 version but Nascar today (and nhra pro stock ) are homogeneous, pre packaged performance bores. Let us order our muscle cars exactly how we want them as was available back in 72′ and we would then see some interesting cars with character!

    1. Matt Cramer

      Parked next to a Nova, a Javelin, and a Maverick, a Demon would have looked rather cookie cutter back then – a lot of the character comes from just plain having survived for 40 years. That doesn’t mean I would go with a Neon SRT4 hands down, though, even if it is going to deliver better straight line performance and run rings around the Demon on an autocross.

      If this were for a project car, the Demon certainly has more presence, and I think it looks better both inside and out. And it’s fairly straightforward to bring the Demon’s performance up. The slushbox doesn’t help, though; I’d much prefer an A833. Daily driver, it’s a tougher question – the Demon is 40 years old, but it’s a fairly simple, solid cast iron engine, while with any “stock” SRT4 I found would have me worried that the owner was trying to put the pin back in his boost grenade. The factory boosted cars I’ve owned have generally been ones less likely to be tampered with.

    2. 75Duster

      As a former owner of a 1972 Dodge Demon 340 , you are entitled to your opinion, however you are comparing apples to oranges with the 2016 V6 Mustang to a 1972 340 Demon. I would love to give you a ride in my 1975 340 Duster and show you what a 340 Chrysler A body is capable of.

  3. geo815

    I would ratber have my nuts deep-fried and force-fed to me than to wheel a Neon. Same goes for the thought of paying $42k for a so-so restored example of a 46 year old box with an engine.

    1. Dick Fitzwell

      right on man. Neons and Cobalt SS were hot trash. Just f’n junk sold to stupid people.

  4. 69rrboy

    Well at least a young Mopar fan has a chance to buy something cool these days. Unlike when I started driving in 1981 and I had exactly NO two door, V8, rear wheel drive cars to pick from until they started making Challengers again in 2008. It “only” took them 28 years to figure out they were missing that segment of the market. Meanwhile there was never a day in that whole time period where you couldn’t get a 350 or 5.slow in something. Thanks Chrysler!!

    The Demon in the ad is your typical Chebby guy restoration. Let’s do everything wrong but then still expect to get a fortune for it. I didn’t read it but I’m sure there was a place where it was described as a “frame off” restoration. Hmmm….that’s an awful lot of welding on a uni-body car.

    I’ll never understand why hardly anybody who has a 70-71 Mopar that “could” have had a rear spoiler on them DON’T put them on but almost every single person with a 1972 car that NEVER had a spoiler available from the factory does. Weird!!

  5. Ted

    What kills me is that the big three could still be making a cheap entry level muscle car but the car buying public won’t force them to. All this bs about tooling and cost prohibitive safety blah blah blah, anyone seen the profit margins for these guys since the bailouts? Ontario just forgave Chrysler hundreds of millions of dollars of loans they said they couldn’t get back. Wish my bank would do that with my mortgage, but I digress….Mopar could build a new version of the Duster, Ford, a Mustang LX stripper, and Chevy could have a Nova on the lots in two years if we truly put up our hands and said build them. But as long as the 401K Viagra guys keep spending ridiculous amounts of money on full load overweight bloated musclecar clones why would the big 3 build a cheap musclecar? I love the new performance but I’ll say it again, 4300lb porky cookie cutters with 235/75 tires on them don’t work for me. I’ll keep my mint 91LX coupe, when the local youngsters rev the crap out of their new Mustangs/Camaros/Challengers and try to do the red light tango all I can do is laugh, can’t compete with 215hp and 275lbs of torque, sorry….full stop. But it is funny to launch on them the odd time and then watch them fight the wheel as they can’t handle the hp…….and I’ll continue to embarrass these guys in the advanced class at TNiA. once we’re into the twisty stuff……Now, Chevrolet if you’re listening, build a new Nova, same dimensions, LS with a T56, vinyl interior, no radio, roll up windows, no sat nav, no lane swervingbackupcameraidiotavoidancetechniques, and I will be your test guinea pig driver for a year. I’ll drive it coast to coast, I’ll go on Jay Leno’s show, and I’ll race it locally at Mission, sincerely, Ted.

    PS: kid in Richmond in the early 80’s had a chocolate brown 73 Duster 340 auto with nothing but a tuff wheel and 3.91’s in it, and did that car take down some heavy hitters. Bone, and I mean bone, stock and ridiculously quick for what it was. Mopar still gets a standing ovation from me for what they did for strippers.

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