PLYMOUTH ROADRUNNER, THE BARGAIN MUSCLE CAR
The Roadrunner came out in 1968 as Plymouth’s attempt to create a low-priced muscle car. The goal was a $3,000 car that could do a 14-second quarter mile. Unlike the GTX, which came with loads of equipment standard and cost more for it, the Roadrunner would come stripped of nearly everything that wasn’t essential, bringing the price way down, and leaving it up to the customer to order the options that were important to him. It was a winning strategy and a market niche that no one else seemed to be serving. Although it went 3 generations, we are concerned with the first two, because they are the only ones with muscle car cred.
PLYMOUTH ROADRUNNER HAS ATTITUDE
The 1st-gen was really a thinly-disguised boxy old Belvedere with different front and rear facia, wheels and trim. Yet somehow, they pulled it off very convincingly. The Plymouth Roadrunner was a tough looking car. And it was loaded with attitude, not just badass attitude, but playfulness also. The cartoon figure of Warner Bros. “Road Runner” as the car’s logo was wild enough. But the horn actually made the same “meep, meep” that the cartoon character did on Saturday mornings. What a kick! They also came in all sorts of bright, flamboyant colors and stripe packages.
BELOW: 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner Convertible.
PLYMOUTH ROADRUNNER ENGINES
At launch, the standard Roadrunner engine was the 383 big block V8 making 330hp. The only optional engine for the first year was the 426 Hemi with 425hp. By 1969, they added the 440 Six-Pack with 390hp, and the Air Grabber hood became an option. The Super Commando 440 with single 4-barrel was available only on the 1970 Superbird, along with the 440 Six-Pack and the 426 Hemi. When the 2nd-generation came out in 1971, smog laws and crappy gas were killing performance, and so performance shrank quickly. The Six-Pack and the Hemi went away at the end of the 1971 model year, and what 383s and 440 remained were low compression smog-dogs. The small block LA-series 318, 340 and 360 made their appearance in the 2nd-gen. By 1973 the base engine had gone from the 383 big block to the small block 318 wheezing out all of 170hp. 1974 was the last year of the 2nd-generation. The 3rd-generation isn’t worth considering in our muscle car discussion.