Is hot rodding an art form? Wendy White thinks so, and she would know. She’s an artist. Wendy’s 1972 Plymouth Duster is her daily driver, an ongoing project with her Dad, and an extension of her art.
Wendy is a visual artist who lives in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Like most aspects of life last year, the pandemic shut down a lot of the art world – at least initially.
“At first there was nothing going on at all,” Wendy said. “Manhattan was completely locked down. I couldn’t go to the studio for a few months.”
So Wendy did what any good hot rodder does when there’s some free time. She bought another car. Online. From someone in California.
“It was the right price,” she said, “and it was a Slant Six. I watched it for a couple of days and with 13 seconds left in auction I outbid the other three people. I got a great deal, but I had to ship it from California, during a pandemic, which wasn’t so easy.”
Wendy’s quite familiar with the A-body Mopar / Slant Six combination. Her first hot rod, what she called her “gateway car”, is a nicely restored 1972 Plymouth Scamp.
“I drove past one in rural Pennsylvania,” she said about seeing a Scamp for the first time. “I didn’t know what it was – I just knew that body style appealed to me.” So she went looking and found hers in 2018.
Her Scamp didn’t need much work. The body, paint, and interior were all in great shape (except as Wendy noted, “it has a cracked dashboard like every Mopar”). And it had a Slant Six that just needed a little tuning.
Two years later, Wendy decided she needed to get herself a car that she could tinker around with and not be so precious with. That’s where the Duster came in. It arrived from California in August.
She wanted something she could work on, but wasn’t looking for a complete rebuild project. Her dad* is a big car guy, so Wendy had been around cars her whole life, but she says she definitely didn’t have the experience to rebuild a car from the ground up. The Duster fit the bill perfectly.
* Wendy’s dad is a Pontiac fan. That’s his blue 1967 2+2 convertible in the picture next to Wendy’s Duster.
With a background in textiles, there were two things about the Duster that really appealed to Wendy. “I wanted to do a vinyl top myself,” she told me, “and I wanted to do a headliner. The stuff most people are scared to tinker with. I’m more scared to tinker with the carburetor.”
She successfully installed both of them. Wendy reported that the vinyl top was easier. And even though she really wanted to install a headliner, she said she’ll never do another one.
The Slant Six hasn’t needed any carb work yet, but Wendy has had to do some work on the venerable Chrysler power plant. She had to replace a leaking gasket under the valve cover, and while she was at it, she replaced the valve cover itself – with one that was in the trunk of the Scamp when she bought it.
Other than the valve cover and a mini starter that someone installed before Wendy got it, the engine is pretty much bone stock. Matched up with a 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, the Slant Six is serving Wendy well. “It’s a little tired,” she said, “but it’s reliable. It’s very smooth and gets great gas mileage. I get 25 in it.”
Wendy thinks the Duster is going to need a new exhaust in the near future. She had to put one in her Scamp as well and even though she kept a single exhaust on it, she got a little more horsepower by installing a 2¼” pipe. She’ll do something similar with the Duster when that time comes.
She also had to replace a rusted fuel tank and a leaking master cylinder for the four wheel manual drum brakes. Since I also used to own a Duster with manual drum brakes, Wendy and I discussed the brakes’ truly remarkable ability to fade, but she’s not too worried about it. “It’s a driver, she said. “I’m not doing anything crazy in it.”
Wendy’s approach is to have fun while working on the Duster. As she described it, laughing, “I’m trying to treat it like a 70s bro would treat it.” So to address the sagging rear end of the car, she used a classic 1970s solution: air shocks. Wendy installed the shocks, pumped some air in them, and got the back end of the car right where she wanted it.
One other chassis component needed to be replaced, somewhat unexpectedly. I’ll let Wendy tell the story:
“We were driving home on the Taconic State Parkway and there was this crazy rattle. We pulled over a few times and couldn’t see anything. And then I saw something fly off in the rear view and bounce into the median. And the rattle was gone. I walked back about half a mile to get what flew off. What the hell is this thing? I took a picture and texted it to my dad. He said ‘I don’t know what that is’, but a few minutes later he called back and said ‘I think that’s a pinion snubber.’ So that was kind of fun.”
Wendy got the pinion snubber back in place and is happy to report that “nothing else has fallen off. I haven’t had it long enough for anything else wild to happen. But I’m sure it will.”
The interior is very stock, including the factory bench seat. Wendy has repainted the dashboard and replaced the wood panel decal on it. But the dash pad still needs help. She doesn’t want to buy a new one so she’s going to look for a replacement when she’s at swap meets.
No doubt the part of the car that appeals most to Wendy’s artistic side is the exterior. The body has some dents and dings. The original paint is getting thin and there’s some patina. But Wendy’s not planning on changing any of that.
“I just can’t do it,” she told me. “I love it. I love the history of it – a grocery cart bonking it or whatever happened. Those knocks and dings and scrapes – together all those things tell the story of the car, even though I don’t know exactly what it was, and I’m kind of into it. I feel like once you get rid of that stuff you can’t get it back.”
One of the most obvious features of the exterior is the orange door that came off a 1971 Dodge Demon. I asked Wendy if she was going to keep the door.
“Yes!,” she said immediately. “That’s the best part. I obsess over that door. I’ve always loved a stray panel on a car. I love the door. It’s staying.”
There have been a few subtle updates on the exterior. Wendy’s installed side stripes from a 1970 Duster, but used a 1972 tail panel stripe kit to match the taillights.
“I wanted the Duster to be kind of high-and-low,” she told me. “I wanted to leave the original paint, but I thought new stripes and a new vinyl top against the original paint could be a best of both worlds scenario.”
There’s another aspect of leaving the Duster’s exterior as it is that’s a big plus for Wendy. “I wanted something that I could drive around,” she said. “Something I could street park in New York and not have to worry about it. I can drive it and park it and have a good time in it and not obsess over every little thing. If I didn’t have the Scamp first I don’t know if I would have done that. The Scamp helped me get my mind into having a daily driver that I can rip around in.”
And rip around she does.
“I love driving that car!,” she told me. “Driving over the Brooklyn Bridge in a ‘72 Duster is the coolest thing. I wish I could drive it all the time, but I live in Chinatown so parking is not really an option. I keep the cars in Brooklyn in a warehouse and I have to get them back there by 5 o’clock or I’m street parking it all night. It’s a little bit tricky having classics in New York, but I’ve been working it out.”
The Duster has already been to a car show, the ‘Mopars in the Valley’ show in upstate New York. Wendy had taken the Scamp there a couple of years ago, and she and her husband want to take both A-bodies to this summer’s event. She also expects to have the Duster at some local car shows in Coney Island and Staten Island around the city.
I asked Wendy if she’ll take her Plymouth to the drag strip. “I am tempted,” she replied. “It has crossed my mind, but I’m intimidated. Since I’m so new I feel like I don’t know enough, but my husband says that’s the best way to do it. Just go for it.”
Wendy gets a lot of comments from people from the Duster – sometimes more even than she gets from the Scamp.
“People freak out over the Duster,” Wendy told me. “They just lose their minds. The Scamp gets a whole different group of people that are interested in it. It wins trophies because it’s original and has this great paint job. But the Duster seems to be the one that people have a memory attached to. So many people react to it.”
Although her Dad has always really been into cars, and worked on them at home, Wendy wasn’t involved in that with him while she was growing up. “I should have invited myself into the garage,” Wendy said. “It’s just something that I came to much later on my own.”
She may be coming late to hot rodding, but Wendy’s doing it with her Dad’s help, and with his philosophy. “He doesn’t fix anything that doesn’t need to be fixed,” Wendy said. “And he’s a master at getting the car to run really well – of getting it in a sweet spot. That’s kind of rubbed off on me.
“I wish I’d started earlier but I’m trying to glean every bit of knowledge that I can. He’s been there every step of the way. I have a fun relationship with my dad now through cars. It’s been awesome.”
As much as she enjoys hot rodding, Wendy is an artist first and foremost. She’s primarily a painter but also does sculpture and artistic installations (three-dimensional works). And she’s good too. Her art supports her and her family, her husband Michael and their son, Avery, who is 12. Her work has been shown all over the world, including Japan, China, and much of Europe.
“It’s my job and my lifestyle,” Wendy said. “It’s awesome. We have so much freedom. I have a studio in Brooklyn. My dream is to have a studio where I can have the cars downstairs and the studio upstairs. There’s a lot of car related work in my art.”
Of course, Wendy’s art is not just something to look at. There is meaning and purpose to her work. That includes the Mopars as well.
“I bought the Scamp as an extension of a project I was doing,” Wendy said. “I was thinking a little differently about car culture – about the exclusivity of the culture.
“I wanted a car to take to car shows and immerse myself in the culture and see how it feels. That’s kind of the reason I bought a Slant Six. Very often men rip out the Slant Six and put something bigger in. That started to feel like it was a theme – always wanting bigger, better, faster, stronger.”
Wendy suspected that people wouldn’t take her seriously at car shows, that when people saw a Slant Six under the hood, they would just walk right by. She thought she would find a lot about the culture that she didn’t like. It didn’t turn out that way.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said. “It’s been a great way to meet people. Everyone’s been super helpful and I haven’t encountered any bias at all. I’ve met almost nothing but great people who are willing to help.”
Wendy’s excited about the growth of the sport as more women get involved. “People’s eyes are being opened,” she said. “I’d like to see if there really is much of a difference between what women would do and what men would do for a build. It’s fascinating. I’m loving being involved in it and I’ve been surprised every step of the way.”
Whether she’s driving around New York City, going to car shows, or driving across the Brooklyn Bridge, the Duster is everything Wendy hoped it would be.
“The Duster is my new baby,” she said. “I feel guilty about which car I want to get in and drive. I’m trying to give them equal time but right now I’m obsessed with that Duster, because it’s still a work in progress. I just wish I could go back and have more time but I’m doing whatever I can from here on out and just having a blast.”
All photos courtesy of Wendy White
Click here to see more pictures of her Duster
You can follow Wendy, her art, and her Mopars on Instgram via @dubz19