My 1973 Plymouth Scamp Shorts to Death

September 07, 2011

For years, I had a strong preference for imported cars. Even so, every few years I would give an American manufacturer another chance. In 1973, I bought my wife a Plymouth Scamp, which was the P version of the Dodge Duster.

After a year or two, strange things started to occur with the electrical system. I experienced short battery life and the light bulb burned out early. I also experienced the intermittent operation of various subsystems.

After several trips to the dealer with no clear resolution, I discovered that the charging system was the source of the problem. It had an alternator with a separate voltage regulator mounted on the firewall. The firewall was painted, as was the voltage regulator box, and there was no ground wire in the harness. In order to work, it required the ground connection to be provided by metallic contact between the voltage regulator box and the firewall mounting bolt -- only one bolt, by the way.

In an apparent cost-reduction move, they didn't use a star washer or any other type of lock washer under the bolt head. Thus, after time and miles accumulated, the voltage regulator lost its ground connection -- intermittently, of course. So it started to overcharge the battery. I installed a star washer (OEM cost: 1/10 of a cent) under the head of the bolt, and I had no more issues with that problem.

I talked about this with a couple of co-workers who had also owned Chrysler products over the years (all EEs, of course). They told me that Chryslers always had these kinds of issues. They said it was well-known to Chrysler for years, but nobody would fix it. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only electrical issue. About two years later, we were driving down I-95 in South Florida (I worked for Motorola in Plantation then) when the car suffered a short in the wiring inside the steering column and caught fire!

This entry was submitted by Ratsky and edited by Rob Spiegel

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