The Muscle Car Icon: Exploring the Power and Attitude of the 1968 Plymouth HEMI Road Runner

In the late 1960s, there was a growing demand for powerful cars, but many of them came with a hefty price tag, making them inaccessible for the average American. Recognizing this gap in the market, Plymouth introduced the Road Runner, a mainstream model with an affordable price and a special engine.

Inspired by the cartoon character, the Road Runner featured a distinctive horn that emitted a recognizable “beep beep!” sound. The marketing campaign also included the popular character Wiley Coyote. The air cleaner carried a cartoon logo called the “Coyote Duster,” and depending on the model and year, the steering wheel had a small Road Runner emblem. The Superbird models even sported a helmeted Roadrunner on their rear spoilers.

The Dodge Super Bee, which was the sister model to the Plymouth Road Runner, had its own unique design and branding. It featured a cartoon bee with a helmet, headers, stinger, and fat tires. Based on the Coronet, the Super Bee boasted larger brakes, a different hood, heavy-duty shocks and suspension components, and an inch longer wheelbase compared to the Road Runner.

Initially, both the Road Runner and Super Bee were available as pillared coupes, which were the lightest and most affordable versions of the new Belvedere body. The base engine for the Road Runner was a 383 cubic-inch V8, but it was equipped with manifolds, valve springs, camshafts, crankcase, and heads from the more powerful 440 Magnum. With the help of a Carter four-barrel carburetor, hydraulic valve lifters, five main bearings, and an unsilenced air cleaner, the engine delivered 335 horsepower. Standard features included a four-speed manual transmission, 3.23:1 gears, 11-inch heavy-duty drum brakes, Polyglas F70x15 tires, and a reinforced suspension with high-rate leaf springs. Optional features included a TorqueFlite automatic transmission, power front discs, power steering, and various interior upgrades. The base price for the Road Runner was an attractive $2,896.

To obtain the rights to use the name and likeness of the Road Runner cartoon character, Plymouth paid Warner Brothers studio $50,000. The playful cartoon character was known for its speed, which perfectly aligned with the image Plymouth wanted for its Road Runner. This combination of factors, including the cartoon character, the affordable price, the powerful engine, and the distinctive styling, made the Road Runner an instant success. While Plymouth initially estimated sales of 2,500 units, they were proven wrong as nearly 45,000 Road Runners were sold.

For those seeking even more performance, Plymouth offered additional options, such as the High-Performance Axle Package with a 3.55:1 Sure Grip differential. Additionally, buyers could choose the mighty 426 Hemi engine with 425 horsepower, of which only 1,019 were selected. This Hemi option required a mandatory $139 Dana 60 axle with a 3.54:1 Sure-Grip differential. Other engine options included the Commando 440 V8 with 350 horsepower and the Super Commando 440 V8 with 375 horsepower.

Various appearance and convenience options were available, including tinted glass, upper belt moldings, two-tone paint, Road Runner body accent stripes, solid-state or stereo AM radio, deluxe or sport-style wheel covers, black-out hood finish, tachometer, and power windows.

In the middle of the model year, a hardtop coupe variant was introduced alongside the existing pillared coupe. An optional under-dash knob was also offered to open the otherwise decorative hood vents.

The Road Runner was essentially a stripped-down version of the Belvedere intermediate coupe, offering the perfect balance of performance and affordability. It did away with sound insulation and luxurious interior appointments, and initially, it was only available as a two-door post coupe. The 383 Magnum V8 engine allowed the coupe to achieve mid-15-second quarter-mile times, or even faster with the 426 Hemi.

The pillared coupe had a base price of $2,870, and 29,240 units were built. The hardtop coupe, with a factory base price of $3,035, saw 15,359 examples produced. The Road Runner shared its 116-inch wheelbase platform with the Belvedere, Satellite, and GTX, all measuring 202.7 inches in length.

 

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