The Hemi brand is now potent enough that DaimlerChrysler is fashioning its entire North American automotive operation around it


Plymouth added the Road Runner to its model lineup in 1968, a bare-bones performance car built to a price. At only $3,000, Road Runners came with standard Plymouth Belvedere equipment, plus heavy duty suspension and shock absorbers, F70-14 tires on wide rims, armrests with ashtrays, a simulated air scoop hood, and a blacked-out, horizontal-bar grille. For a generation of drag racers who did not need bucket seats for the negligible lateral g-forces of a 1/4-mile sprint, it was just the ticket.
The Road Runner’s standard engine was the 330-hp, 383-ci Wedge V8. It made gobs of torque and performed superbly with either the TorqueFlite automatic or a four-speed manual transmission. An extra $714-nearly one-fourth of the cost of the basic model-put Chrysler’s legendary 426-ci, 425-hp Hemi V8 into a Road Runner. As pricey as it may have been, it made for an unforgettable combination.
The Road Runner Hemi offered here is an original, numbers-matching Hemi car documented by Galen Govier. It is-as most were-sparsely equipped. Fully and carefully restored, it runs as you would expect of a proper Hemi, which is to say both scary and fast.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1969 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi
Years Produced:1968-1970
Number Produced:2,090
Original List Price:$3,034 (base hardtop)
Tune Up Cost:$12.30
Club Info:National B-Body Owners Association, 216 12th St., Boone, IA 50036-2019
Alternatives:1969 L71 427 Corvette, 1969 Mustang Mach 1 428 Super Cobra Jet
Investment Grade:B

This 1969 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi sold for $77,000 at the RM Monterey sale held on August 13-14, 2004.
By 1969, the horsepower wars of the 1960s were in full effect, but it was getting harder to find an example of the original muscle car concept-a cheap, stripped-down car with a big motor. With many GTOs and Mustangs coming off the line laden with expensive optional equipment, the budget Road Runner’s debut heralded the return of the entry-level drag strip rocket.
Standard Road Runner power came from the 383-ci V8, with an optional 426 Hemi available. Manual trans cars were equipped with Hurst shifters that smashed your hand into the ashtray with every second-to-third-gear upshift. Both the 1968 and 1969 Hemi Road Runners featured solid lifters for drag strip prowess. A 440-ci engine with three two-barrel carbs was offered in mid 1969 to fill the gap between the 383 and the Hemi. For just $462.80 extra, the six pack offered Hemi-like power for about half the cost. Contrary to popular belief, the Road Runner didn’t have a 440 four-barrel option, one that was reserved for the upmarket Plymouth GTX series until the models were merged in 1971.
By 1970, the Road Runner had become a bit flashier, with high-
impact colors, rally wheels, Pistol Grip shifter, and vacuum-operated Air Grabber hood scoop. Purists will argue that 1970 models lack the purity of purpose of the earlier cars, citing the loss of the solid-lifter Hemi (hydraulic lifters were now standard) as evidence. Still, most auction buyers will pay extra for a nice 1970 due both to their posh goodies and smaller production numbers.
Matching-number Hemi Mopars are hard to find because most saw duty on the drag strip, and to that crowd, changing a blown engine was about the same as a regular guy cleaning his windshield. When looking for a Hemi Road Runner, be aware of the prevalence of clones and replacement engines, both of which can have a huge impact on price.
Real Hemi-equipped cars contain many special parts particular to the big-block package. These include:
. A 26-inch-wide radiator and a corresponding radiator frame support.
. Reinforced torque boxes at the leaf spring perches that were spot-welded at the factory, meaning that signs of torch work suggest a clone conversion.
. Rear suspensions with five leaves and two half-leaves on the right side, with six leaves on the left.
. Hemi torsion bars are thick, 0.92-inch-diameter units, not the 0.90-inch-diameter ones found on 383 cars.
. The K frame, or engine cradle, has a skid plate and the proper
engine mounts for a 426.
. The rear axle should be a Dana 9-3/4-inch unit.
. Metal gas lines and hoses should be 3/8-inch in diameter. (Cars with the 383 used 5/16-inch diameter lines.)
Hemi Mopars can be verified by the option codes on the fender tags, so a no-excuses, numbers-matching car can and should be authenticated by an expert. Partial VINs were stamped on engines as early as 1968, and on some body parts, like the radiator frame support, the cowl, and the trunk lid weather-strip liner. That said, before you drop six figures on a Hemi Road Runner, be aware that both fender and VIN tags have been reproduced, so the best examples will come with a production broadcast sheet to further document legitimacy. All of my own Mopars have had broadcast sheets, which can be extremely helpful in restoring the cars to factory-original specification.
It’s no secret that anything tagged “Hemi” is selling like gangbusters right now, and for good reason. The original engine set drag racing records, the name became a touchstone of American auto history, and the brand is now potent enough that DaimlerChrysler is fashioning its entire North American automotive operation around it. This makes a good Hemi Road Runner a strong collectible, a more affordable alternative to a “million-dollar” Hemi ‘Cuda.
During the first muscle car revival in the late 1980s, Hemi Road Runners generated astounding returns. In 1982 a typical 1969 Hemi Road Runner hardtop sold for around $5,200. By 1991, the average price had shot up to $43,000. A market correction in the early 1990s saw speculators jump off the wagon, but today the muscle car market has rebounded and very good cars can sell for between $50,000 and $60,000, depending on options, originality and provenance.
The 1969 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi pictured here made substantially more than that when it sold for $77k at RM’s Monterey auction last August. Just eight months earlier, at the 2004 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction, it did even better, selling for $105,300. I think it’s pretty clear what happened here-someone paid a “Speed Channel price” for the car in Arizona and unloaded it at a closer-to-market-correct price after doing a few smoky burnouts over the summer.
I am not surprised that this particular car didn’t live up to its Barrett-Jackson selling price and meet its $90k-$120k estimate in Monterey, for a number of reasons. First of all, there are more 1968 and 1969 Hemi Road Runners than the more desirable 1970 models. Secondly, while this car is typical of the breed, it is finished in one of Chrysler’s various hues of metallic green with a green bench seat interior and column-shift automatic-not exactly the most exciting combination.
At least the car has the Air Grabber option and décor group with green carpet, horn trim ring and stainless steel trim. A large plus is that it has been restored and documented by a specialist as numbers-matching. But still, for the Arizona six-figure money I would have expected the car to have better options, like bucket seats, power brakes and a console for starters. Being a 1970 model wouldn’t have hurt either.
Even at the $77k Monterey price, the buyer paid a strong premium for matching numbers and correct restoration on a low-option car. Still, the way the muscle market has been raging as of late, driving the price of entry for any Hemi-equipped car into the stratosphere, this is just a case of the famous (and oft-discredited) Rick Cole maxim at work: “You can never pay too much, you can only buy too early.”
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)

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