Check out this fascinating segment from Jay Leno’s Garage, a CNBC series that showcases Leno’s journey across America checking out unique cars and the stories behind them. Leno shares his own story in this video of how he acquired a 1975 custom Plymouth Duster, previously owned by master mechanic and race car driver Paul Annunziata. As Leno explains, Annunziata was terminally ill with lung cancer and wanted a home for his Duster where he knew it would be well cared for and preserved with the same level of commitment he showed this classic muscle car. Annunziata obtained the 1975 Duster in the 1970s and spent 5 years building it into a dream machine. Annunziata had developed a love of fast machines as a child, and by age 16, he owned a 650 cc Matchless motorcycle and a 1955 Chevy Hot Rod that he took drag racing the on the weekends.
Annunziata went on to graduate from Jim Russell’s International Race Driver’s School in the early 1970s, and was valedictorian of his class at National Technical Schools where he learned to build pro stock class drag cars.
The 1975 Plymouth Duster that Annunziata entrusted to Leno features a 1968 426 hemi engine that was originally housed in a Dodge Super Bee. The Duster underwent several modifications, including wheel wells redesigned to allow for wide tires, and the addition of wheelie bars. The Duster was also supercharged, nearly doubling the horsepower.
Interestingly, funding Annunziata’s dream for the modified Duster was a winning lottery ticket that netted him $10,000, according to HCAM.
Putting a 426 hemi in the Duster required specialized chassis work, tubbing of the body, special brackets and the addition of a roll cage to make the necessary room for the hemi engine. Annunziata recalls the process as complex, because of his desire to keep the body original and keep everything working the way it is supposed to. By the time the project was finished, the Duster had set back Annunziata $27,000, and he did all the work himself, with the exception of installing the windshield.
While it was originally Paul Annunziata’s intention to donate the Duster to Leno in exchange for his agreement to never resell it, Leno ultimately made a donation to McPherson College in exchange for the Duster. McPherson College is the only school in the nation to offer a Bachelor’s Degree in automotive restoration – a legacy surely befitting Paul Annunziata.
Check out this machine in the video below, and SHARE if you like its story.