- 440-ci “Six Pack” V8 engine
- Manual transmission featuring Pistol Grip shifter
- Interior features bucket seats, console, radio and Road Runner horn
- Highly desirable Mopar; excellent presentation throughout
- From the Duffy Grove Collection
|Vehicle:||1970 Plymouth Road Runner 2-door hard top|
|Number Produced:||697 (hard top 440 6-barrel 4-speed), 41,484 total|
|Original List Price:||$3,034 (hard top)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on the driver’s side instrument panel behind windshield|
|Engine Number Location:||Pad on top of the block near water pump|
|Club Info:||Walter P. Chrysler Club|
|Alternatives:||1970 Pontiac GTO, 1970 Chevelle SS 396, 1970 Dodge Coronet Super Bee|
This car, Lot 5044, sold for $45,650, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Auburn Spring 2018 sale, held May 11 and 12, 2018, in Auburn, IN.
In 1967, the muscle-car war was heating up. General Motors had the Chevelle SS, 442 and the GTO. Ford had its Fairlane and Comet. Dodge had the Coronet and Charger. So as not to be left behind, Plymouth introduced the GTX.
Based on the mid-size B-body Belvedere platform, it offered 440s and Hemis in a sporty, luxurious package priced a couple of hundred dollars above the Satellite and comparable GTO.
Hedging its bets, Plymouth reasoned a lower-cost model would appeal to younger buyers looking for performance on a budget. Asking automotive journalists for input, Brock Yates of Car and Driver suggested a stripped high-power mid-size car.
The econo-racer would use the 2-door coupe body (a hard top was soon added), heavy-duty police suspension and brakes, and have a bench seat and a basic interior. Power would come from an exclusive version of the 383 fitted with the camshaft, heads, manifolds and other items from the 440 “Super Commando,” which was then topped with a 4-barrel.
The base transmission was the normally extra-cost 4-speed; the TorqueFlite automatic was optional, as were power steering, brakes and air conditioning. For those looking for more speed, the 425-hp, 426 Hemi was available — but at a price. At $714, its cost was fully 25% of the car’s $2,896 base. Capable of 0–60 in seven seconds and a 15-second quarter mile, the base 383 car met its objectives by being fast and inexpensive, undercutting its competition by $200 to $300 — and the GTX by $500.
Birth of the bird
With the basic car mapped out, executives needed to come up with a name. Plymouth’s ad agency liked the name “La Mancha”— as in the musical, “Man of La Mancha.”
Fortunately, product planner Gordon Cherry was watching Saturday morning cartoons with his kids and noticed a fast bird that was never caught by his nemesis, one Wile E. Coyote. After a six-hour conference call between Detroit and Warner Brothers and a $50,000 check, Plymouth got to put a Road Runner decal on the car.
The styling department wasn’t amused, thinking the cartoon a bit too irreverent, and wanted the decals left in the glovebox, but a group of influential dealers liked the bird and convinced management to go all-in on the branding.
Buyers loved it to the tune of 44,599 units — a fifth of the division’s mid-size production.
In its 1969 sophomore year, a convertible was added, and more options were available, but the big news was that the engine lineup was expanded to include the 440 with three 2-bbls. That engine produced 390 hp and matched the Hemi’s 490 ft-lb of torque. With more than 80,000 built and a Motor Trend Car of the Year award, the budget racer had arrived.
Sadly, that would be the high-water mark for the model, as 1970 production fell to 41,000 — the victim of more competition (including Mopar’s own Barracuda/Challenger E-bodies and Duster 340), a recession and rising insurance rates that saw hefty surcharges put on anything remotely high performance. Buyers learned that it was one thing to have a low monthly payment, but quite another to afford insurance.
A nice car, but not iconic enough
Our profile car is fairly representative of its breed — a hard top with the middle engine option, a 4-speed, and aside from bucket seats and console, few other options. Its VIN confirms it was born with a 440-6 but there are no claims of it being numbers matching. Although not mentioned in the catalog description, photos show it to be equipped with the desirable Air Grabber hood — a vacuum-operated flap that drew cooler air into the carbs.
Outside, it does without a vinyl top or the matte-black “Performance Hood” paint option. Likewise it lacks the reflective “Dust Trail” decal or the iconic “High Impact” paint colors (a $14.05 option). It’s shod with the optional Rallye wheels and fitted with OEM Goodyears.
Condition-wise, the body looks straight enough, but the trunk gap is slightly off and a stainless trim piece at the front of the hood is missing. The interior is stock and correctly restored, but the gauges show their age.
Under the hood, it’s clean but far from detailed, with corrosion on the brake reservoir, paint peeling from the manifold and a modern battery. The “Six Pack” decal atop the air cleaner is incorrect for a Plymouth, as only Dodge used that term in 1970 (it should read “440 Six Barrel”). A detail like that wouldn’t escape a serious Mopar fan and casts doubt on the car’s overall correctness.
Despite those issues, with an ACC median price of $54,000, the $45,650 paid for this car makes it well bought. Comparing similar 440-6 cars in the ACC Premium Auction Database, $68,200 bought a freshly restored #2 example at Leake Tulsa 2015 (ACC# 256470), while a #2+ Vitamin C Orange car sold for $62,640 at Mecum Kansas City 2015 (ACC# 264727).
While the condition issues were obviously a factor, I can’t help but think the very period — but boring — Ivy Green Metallic paint might have played a part here. After all, if you’re looking at a muscle car, why not hunt one in an iconic color, such as Tor Red or Vitamin C?
The Road Runner fit the “power to the people” mantra of its era. By building a performance car specifically aimed at the lower end of the market, Plymouth created a legend with its price, performance and colorful irreverence. This one didn’t bring a top-shelf price thanks to its few needs and light options, but the new owner should be happy. Well bought.
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)