Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner

The 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner (and its later companion, the Dodge Super Bee — from here on, we’ll talk about the Road Runner incarnation, since it was more common and first out the door) were fairly unique. Based on the heavy luxury cars in the B-body line (Belvedere / Satellite), the Roadrunner was lighter than the smaller ‘Cuda. To make it both light and cheap, the Roadrunner had few amenities – forget about carpet, for example. Creature comforts gave way to sheer performance and cost considerations.

The Roadrunner was not fragile. Unlike some sports cars (such as the Corvette), it was built for serious street work, which might be why so many have survived. The Roadrunner was reportedly a favorite of moonshiners, faster than almost any police car and tough enough to take practically any bump, with good ground clearance to boot. The only thing it didn’t have was aerodynamics; that was the province of the Dodge Charger 500, Charger Daytona, and Plymouth Superbird.

The idea behind the Road Runner had been running around Highland Park for a while, but management had turned it down. Reportedly, it was eventually produced “despite” management opposition, like the Duster — and like the Duster, Dodge immediately clamored for and got its own version when sales figures turned up.

1968 Plymouth Roadrunner
1968 Plymouth Roadrunner

Yes, the Road Runner was based on the cartoon, and came complete with a horn that went beep beep! and an ad campaign featuring Wiley Coyote. Depending on the model and year, the steering wheel had a little Road Runner, and the air cleaner had a cartoon with the logo “Coyote Duster.” The Superbird put a huge, helmeted Roadrunner onto its massive rear spoiler.

In 1968, the base engine was a 383, with heads, intake, cam, and exhaust manifolds from the 440 Super Commando; those made it the fastest 383 ever, with 335 (gross) horsepower. A four-speed manual was standard (three speeds were par for the course in those days). The Road Runner was free of glitz and chrome, mostly to reduce weight.

Though it was a hefty price in 1968 and 1969, $714 extra would buy the ultimate street engine, one unmatched by any other (except the Viper-10): the 426 Hemi. That pretty much guaranteed the ability to win at streetlight races.