Classic Plymouth Road Runners

The Plymouth Road Runner, a back-to-basics mid-sized car with a focus on performance, appeared on the scene in 1968. By this time, the original muscle car was moving away from the former trends of cheap and fast and moving towards more features and larger price tags. The Road Runner was competitive on the market as a lower priced, basic trim model of the Plymouth GTX. As the name might make you think, Plymouth paid a pretty price to Warner Bros. to use the Road Runner name and likeness from their popular cartoon featuring Wiley E. Coyote - they even took inspiration from the cartoon to develop the sound for the car’s horn (beepbeep!). Plymouth expected to sell about 20,000 units in 1968; actual sales numbered around 45,000. This placed the Road Runner third in sales among muscle cars with only the Pontiac GTO and Chevy's SS-396 Chevelle outselling it. In 1968, the base engine was a specially modified 383 V8, with heads, intake, cam, and exhaust manifolds from the 440 Super Commando. Those changes made it the fastest 383 ever, with 335 horsepower. Rather than the usual three speed manual transmission, the Road Runner had a four-speed. There was minimal glitz and chrome, to cut weight and cost.

Plymouth expanded the line for 1969, adding a convertible model and a host of new options. An “Air Grabber” pop-up hood scoop was newly optional, as was the 440 cu. in. (7,206 cc) V8. Motor Trend named the Road Runner its 1969 Car of the Year and total sales rose to 82,109. Since Plymouth also still offered the GTX, which sold some 15,602 units for 1969, Plymouth’s sporty-intermediate sales now outpaced Pontiac’s by about 35%.

The Plymouth Road Runner came back in its original body shell one last time in 1970, but fell victim to sky-high insurance premiums for performance cars. The Road Runner also lent its name and decals to the Road Runner Superbird, Plymouth’s response to the Dodge Charger Daytona.

The Road Runner remained a B-body through 1975. While the Road Runner name was planned to be on a B-body in Plymouth's published literature for the 1976 model year, the name was transferred to an optional appearance package for the all-new Volare. In 1976 the Road Runner name was switched to the 2-door model of the replacement for the compact A-body Valiant/Duster series. The new F platform was marketed as the Plymouth "Volaré" and the new Road Runner became primarily a trim and graphics package. Ultimately, the Road Runner continued as part of the Volaré line until its discontinuation in 1980.