• 440-ci 390-hp Six Pack engine • Hemi 4-speed transmission • Dana 4.10 Sure-Grip rear end • Standard wheels with Redline tires • Beautiful chrome, trim and stainless • Correct white vinyl upholstery • “Performance Red” exterior finish • Highly detailed engine bay and undercarriage • Mopar expert Galen Govier registry documents and fender tag decoding are included (Introductory description courtesy of Russo and Steele.)

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1969 Plymouth A12 Road Runner
Years Produced:1969
Number Produced:1,412
Original List Price:$3,546
SCM Valuation:$70,000–$100,000
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:$22.58
Chassis Number Location:VIN plate on the driver’s side instrument panel behind windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad located on the right side of the block to the rear of the engine mount
Club Info:A12 Registry
Alternatives:1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee, 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge, 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396
Investment Grade:A

This A12 Road Runner, Lot A714, sold for $90,200, including buyer’s premium, at Russo and Steele’s 13th Annual Scottsdale Auction on January 19, 2013.

This is no ordinary muscle car. It had the purposeful form-follows-function look of a pure race car, including a lift-off fiberglass hood and painted stamped-steel wheels. It did without the garish stripes, spoilers and other gimmickry of its wannabe peers. While hardly flashy, it quietly served a fair warning to lesser machines. Marketing hung the “Six Barrel” moniker on its hood scoop, but the faithful just call it the “A12.”

It’s not the legendary Hemi. No, the 1969½ Plymouth Road Runner A12 may just be better. Nothing against the Hemi — the 426 earned the respect of the automotive world on the bullrings and drag strips of America right from its first public appearance in the 1964 Daytona 500. The Hemi powered Dodges and Plymouths to numerous championships and helped create racing heroes from Richard Petty to Ronnie Sox.

Considering the premium any vehicle originally equipped with the legendary 426 “Elephant” commands today, you’d think they were the fastest car on the block. Think again.

Faster than a speeding Hemi

Properly prepared with racing induction and exhaust components, the Hemi was a dominating force. But with factory equipment, the Street Hemi was always gasping for breath. Then there were the race-ready mechanical valve lifters, which, said Super Stock magazine, gave the 426 “a maintenance schedule like an Apollo capsule.”

Add the weight of this ponderous pachyderm to any vehicle, and the cornering and braking abilities were compromised. It wasn’t just the Hemi that had these issues — other race-derived street engines such as Ford’s 429 Semi Hemi and Chevrolet’s 427 L88 suffered the same fate. Forget the myth. There was a less expensive, more practical way to go even faster.

A maximized Road Runner 

On March 11, 1969, the first A12 Plymouth rolled off the Lynch Road assembly line in Detroit. This Code R4 “Performance Red” hard top took the original Road Runner philosophy of maximum power with minimal fluff and injected an overdose of steroids.

Under the fiberglass hood was a brilliant combination of off-the-shelf Mopar components and big-name aftermarket performance parts. Three deuces were nothing new, as a number of cars in the ’50s and ’60s offered them (including the original Pontiac GTO), but the A12s were mounted atop Chrysler’s powerful 440 Magnum.

The intake manifold was an Edelbrock aluminum unit with factory part number, loaded with 2300-series Holley two-barrel carburetors. Around town the central carb did all the work, but stomp the throttle and the outer carbs kicked in for a total of about 1,200 cfm. Also included was a dual-breaker distributor, special camshaft, heavy-duty valve springs, chrome-flashed valve stems, moly-filled rings, Hemi oil pump and Magnafluxed connecting rods. Chrysler said the “Six Barrel” produced 390 horsepower at 4,700 rpm, with 390 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. The NHRA begged to differ. They factored it at 410 hp.

The A12 performance package didn’t stop with the engine. Heavy-duty manual and automatic transmissions were borrowed from the Hemi cars. The only differential offered was the bulletproof Dana 60 Sure-Grip with 4.10:1 gears. That’s right; those gears were made for racing.

Function over fancy

Underneath was the Belvedere’s S15 Police Handling package. The “Hi Impact” colors (Performance Red, Bahama Yellow, Rallye Green and Vitamin C Orange) were standard, but any other Road Runner color could be ordered. If you wanted air conditioning, cruise control, fancy wheels, or a convertible top, you were out of luck (and quite likely the A12 was just not for you). 

In a famous Super Stock magazine road test, the legendary Ronnie Sox wrung that first A12 Road Runner to a best time of 12.91 at 111 mph, completely in stock trim. Mere mortals got that same car into the low 13s. This was no fluke, as history has shown the A12 Road Runners to be 13-worthy, and capable of times well into the 12s with slicks and open pipes. 

So how could a 390-hp “Six Barrel” beat a Hemi, when the famous 426 monster has been proven to produce nearly 500 hp in street trim on a dyno? That’s easy: We don’t drive dynos. The A12 had a better power-to-weight ratio and a more usable power band on the street, and the lighter 440 engine kept more weight over the rear wheels, aiding traction. Only two production automobiles of the era were typically faster — the 427 Cobra and the L88 Corvette — and both were hardly low-cost, mass-produced sedans.

The Hemi engine was an $813.45 option — a shocking amount for a car with a base price of $2,599. No wonder just 784 Hemi Road Runners were built in ’69. At $462.80, the A12 package was a real deal, and despite its late debut and spartan nature, 1,412 were built.

How to identify an A12

Although many A12 “tributes” have been created in recent years, the real cars are easy to identify: the Six Barrel’s “M” engine code is the fifth character from the left on the VIN, so coupes start with “RM21M” and hard tops begin with “RM23M.”

Despite the low production numbers, OEM and reproduction part are still available for these cars. Dodge also built an A12, the Coronet Super Bee “Six Pack,” that actually outsold the Six Barrel by a small amount, but the Plymouth tends to be a bit more collectible. Both cars returned for 1970, but were somewhat less potent and sold in much larger volumes.

Hemi Road Runners can bring near the $200,000 mark today, but an exceptional A12 with original equipment and documentation will be at the bottom of Hemi price territory — Russo and Steele sold the first A12 Road Runner, the subject of the famous Ronnie Sox road test, for $110,000 at Scottsdale in 2012. A nice A12 like our feature car is about right at $90k. That’s not inexpensive, but it’s not an inflated Hemi price either. Then again, more bang for less bucks has always been what the A12 is all about. Well bought and sold.

Comments are closed.