Today, Plymouth is remembered for a number of notable cars: the Barracuda pony/muscle car, the Voyager minivan, the Reliant K car, and the high finned Fury, to name a few. But among its most forgotten models is the Trail Duster SUV. Yes, Plymouth sold an SUV, and what’s more is that it was not during the SUV craze of the 1990s, but from 1974-1981. While quite rare on today’s roads, there are still a few of these Plymouth SUVs out there that haven’t departed for good yet, like this tan 1977-78 spotted by Joseph Dennis and this red 1979-1980 example spotted by SoCalMetro.
If this SUV looks a bit familiar, it’s because the Trail Duster was a virtual clone of the Dodge Ramcharger (hmmm… I wonder where those names were came from?). Built on a shortened Dodge D-Series (later Ram) pickup platform, these two SUVs shared most of the pickup’s styling and mechanics. Most vehicles were equipped with full-time four-wheel drive, and through 1980, all came with removable tops for some open air off-roading.
Unlike large SUVs of the last twenty years, which are usually bought as macho suburbanite family mobiles, these SUVs were built for serious off-roading and were primarily marketed to people who actually needed a high ground clearance four-wheel driver for their active lifestyles or because they lived in rural areas.
Of course, even then Chrysler seemed to predict the future popularity of on-road SUVs, by offering a 2-wheel drive version, and advertising it for “around town”.
Much like the Dodge B-Series/Plymouth Voyager full-size vans, interiors of the Trail Duster were highly customizable, ranging from spartan to fairly loaded for their time. Those blue vinyl “sport” buckets are certainly an interesting shape, looking like the plushest laundromat chairs ever.
While SUVs were slowly becoming more popular, for whatever reason the Plymouth Trail Duster wasn’t profitable enough to keep around, and was discontinued after 1981. The Dodge Ramcharger continued with minimal changes through 1993.
I guess a Plymouth SUV was just a little ahead of its time, as I imagine a 4-door Plymouth SUV would’ve sold quite well twenty years later. Here’s a quick photoshop rendering I did using a Dodge Durango with a Voyager grille and badging. Trail Duster 2.0?
Or maybe the more obvious choice is the more recent version of the Mexican Ramcharger, with a Plymouth grille attached. Now what would that look like?