"Rosebud ..." The last, enigmatic gasp of Orson Wells' character, Kane, in the famous 1941 classic Citizen Kane is the subject of much lofty debate in cinema classes worldwide, but it also provides a timely lesson here. In the movie-a thinly disguised biography of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst-Kane's dying thoughts jolt to the lost innocence of his youth, and the pure joy of an old toy sled burning in a huge fire in his mansion's fireplace. In the movie, Kane has achieved wealth and greatness, but at the expense of his humanity. In the final moments of life, Kane grasps for purity-but it's too late.
By contrast, Kenny Wayne Shepherd's '70 Duster came on the scene in plenty of time for him to regain a youth truncated by teen stardom, but it was never a done deal. In case you've been hiding under a rock for the last 13 years, Kenny unloaded both barrels of his incendiary brand of rock and blues on an unsuspecting world in 1995 at the tender age of 17. So proficient was this prodigy that grown men-working musicians, even-wanted to cut off their hands in disgust.
Fast-forward to 2007. Kenny, now 30, is a seasoned pro, and firmly ensconced in the annals of rock history. As vast as his achievements, you get the tug of a feeling from Kenny that something was missing. Vaulted to fame in his teens, Kenny Wayne Shepherd went from boy to man in less time than it takes a Super Stock Hemi Dart to run the quarter-mile. Shepherd's Duster is, in one important respect, that well-deserved continuation of a lost adolescence.
For starters, this Duster is, well, a Duster. It's not a Hemi 'Cuda, a 440 GTX, a "wing" car, or any other buck'sup restoration. When pressed, Kenny will humbly admit he could ante up for that kind of steel, but the A-body is in his roots. "That was the car that my mom drove when my parents met," says Kenny. "I wanted a car with a family connection, so I started looking for Dusters. I remember looking at Dusters five years ago, and didn't think much of them. But the more I started looking at them, the more attractive the car started to look. Once you open your mind to something, you start seeing the full potential of it."
While Kenny's other famous ride, the Xtreme Lee '69 Charger, is a pair of wingtip dress shoes, the Duster is a comfortable pair of old boots. Authentic. Legitimate. Blue collar. It's right up our alley, and we dig it. "Basically, this Duster is all bolt-on parts, with a good stance, that handles great," says Kenny. "My goal was to make a car that looks custom, but is really off-the-shelf stuff, with a nice paint job. Underneath, it's still a Duster." It makes perfect sense: there really could only be one car capable of capturing a lost '90s Chryco youth- a Duster.
But sentiments are one thing, and actions are quite another. The path to purity was no straight line from point A to point B. "The search began. I looked on a daily basis, and I had buddy Shannon Hudson over at Redline Gauge Works on the hunt for me too," says Kenny. "Every day, we would talk at some point, and most of the time it was because one of us had found a car. We were constantly looking at eBay and Craigslist. We looked for months." What is it they say about nothing worthwhile ever being easy?
One day, Shannon called Kenny about a local Duster for sale in Burbank, California. ("It's amazing how good stuff can look in pictures, and how bad it can look in person," quips Kenny.) On balance, the '70 Duster in question was a survivor, with a matching-numbers 340 and original paint. The only strike against it, says Kenny, was its cracked dark green paint. After the decidedly modest sum of $9,000 changed hands, Kenny drove the Duster for several weeks as-is. "Then one day, while driving to Shannon's place, the motor went from 'tick, tick, tick,' to 'bang, bang, bang!' Just like a machine gun," says Kenny. "It was really obvious that something was wrong."
That's when Kenny made the call to Ted Moser, another friend, who operates Motion Picture Warehouse. Motion Picture Warehouse specializes in building movie cars, and Ted was a fellow Mopar nut, so Ted was more than happy to help. The game plan would be twofold: Pull the motor for an autopsy and fix the paint that had been a thorn in Kenny's side since day one. With the Duster at Ted's shop, the two pulled out the sick 340, and Kenny performed most of the teardown himself. Bad news-the bearings were toast. This would be no quick fix, so the focus shifted to the visuals.
While Ted stripped the old paint off, fixed some questionable past repairs to the door, and painted the rolling chassis a combination of dark graphite over Saab frost green metallic, another acquaintance, Chip Foose, worked the hood for a serious boost in graphic power. Meanwhile, Kenny (who is no stranger to pulling together big music industry deals) worked some promotional magic with Mopar Performance for one of their 402 Magnum crate motors. Based on the 360 (5.9L) Magnum production motor, the 402 gets extra cubes from a longer fourinch stroke. So why does the hood say "406" instead of "402"? Once new 5.9L Magnum blocks went out of production, Mopar Performance switched to seasoned blocks with a .020-inch overbore. The result is four extra "free" cubes in the deal, though Mopar Performance still calls it a 402. So while the motor was still several months out, it was imperative that the hood graphic reflect what would eventually be under it.
Part of the deal Kenny pulled together was with Year One, whom he'd had a successful relationship with since building the Xtreme Lee Charger back in 2004. Once Ted was finished with the paint, the roller would go to Year One's Braselton, Georgia, facility for completion. After the final day of the '06 SEMA show, the semi-finished Duster was trucked to Year One so it could be completed in time for the '07 Hot Rod Power Tour. In those seven months, the Year One team fortified the A-body with the Mopar Performance 402 crate motor, a Bowler Transmissions 4L60e, SSBC disc brakes front and rear, and suspension components from Addco (sway bars), Magnum Force (front control arms), Eaton (rear leaf springs), KYB (shocks), and PST (polygraphite bushings).
The interior details are an exercise in taste and restraint. The factory- appearing gauges are, in fact, custom dials from Redline Gauge Works. A stock-looking tach was added to the IP's center and was endowed with a redline equivalent to the 406 Magnum now pounding under the hood. The black leather interior was stitched together by Henderson's Upholstery (Gainesville, Georgia) using Year One items wherever possible. Of special note are the leatherswathed Cerullo front buckets, which really help with the long miles experienced on the Power Tour. From a comfort standpoint, Kenny wanted A/C, but without the garish billet controls of an aftermarket system. For this, he turned to Bouchillon Performance, which did a fine job of maintaining the stock appearance, both inside the cockpit and in the engine compartment.
By the start of the '07 Power Tour, the '70 Duster was ready right on time, and Kenny drove it the entire week without a single hiccup. "To me, having done this before-taking the [Xtreme Lee] on long trips-this is a testament to the great products that were used in this build and the talented people at Year One. They put this car together in record time. They had seven other cars to put together at the same time, and we had zero issues."
At the end of Citizen Kane, Orson Wells' character wasn't able to capture the innocence of youth that had been lost. Instead of wishing for a sled named Rosebud, maybe he should've just got himself a Duster with a healthy smallblock. At the bare minimum, it sure would've been faster!