In 1968, Mr Muscles met Road Runner, with Plymouth paying Warner Brothers a handsome fee to use the name of that speedy cartoon character who never quite gets caught by Wile E Coyote. Plymouth even developed a signature ‘beep beep’ horn for their lean new beast, which was introduced because muscle cars were getting plump with the passage of time.
Plymouth’s own GTX of 1967 underlined the point, being billed as a ‘gentleman’s muscle car’. In fact, it was no more than a beefed-up Satellite with special suspension, and Plymouth shrewdly guessed that all those who loved no-frills muscle cars might respond better to something that more closely adhered to the original ‘cheap and fast’ concept. They were not wrong.
The Road Runner outsped and outsold its more expensive stablemate, swallowing the GTX (a mere option package on the Road Runner after 1971). Plymouth’s idea was simple — leave out anything non-essential to performance and crank up everything else. The Road Runner was based on the mid-range Belvedere and had a spartan interior with no external embellishments. The first style was a pillar coupe, later joined by a pillarless coupe.
There was a choice of engines. The base motor was the 6.3 litre V8, with a 7 litre 426 Hemi available for a (good) few dollars more. A convertible appeared in 1969, along with a distinctive ‘Air-Grabber’ scoop on the bonnet. The Six-Pack Road Runner version with a 7.2 litre engine was produced to qualify for Super Stock racing. In 1970 came the aerodynamic Superbird with goalpost rear spoiler. The Road Runner exceeded all Plymouth’s sales expectations and continued through a revamped second generation (from 1971) before running out of sales oomph and being demoted to a tweaked version of the short-lived Volare line from 1976 until 1980.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1968 (until 1976)
6.3 I (383 cid), 7.0 I (426 cid) or 7.2 I (440 cid) OHV V8
With 6.3 I engine – top speed of 107 mph (172 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Nothing better illustrated the very spirit of the American muscle car than the 1970 Road Runner’s Air-Grabber bonnet feature -operated from within the car, it opened to reveal a menacing shark like grin consisting of fearsome zig-zag teeth in lurid colours.