It's 40 years since The Blue Flame became the first car to achieve 1000km/h, setting a World Land Speed record that lasted 27 years. It could have gone even quicker - but it very nearly didn't make it at all.
Beep-beep! Beep-beep! That’s the sound that started the affordable musclecar revolution. Plymouth product planners had noticed an upward creep in musclecar prices that left many younger customers out of the loop. They reasoned that a no-frills musclecar with a sub-three-thousand-dollar price tag could be a great way to get customers into their showrooms.
They accomplished the dual goals of low price and high performance by using the lightest possible B-body, a Belvedere two-door sedan, with minimal equipment – a vinyl bench seat, non-roll-up rear windows, and drum brakes (disc brakes were optional) – and fitting it with a powerful but affordable engine. The engine was the “small” big-block 383-ci V-8. Horsepower was boosted to 335 with the addition of cylinder heads, intake manifold, camshaft, and exhaust manifolds from a 375-hp 440 (as used in the Plymouth GTX). The 335-hp 383 was unique to the Road Runner and Super Bee. A low-restriction air cleaner was good for a few horsepower and, more importantly, added to the desirable high performance “roar” when all four barrels were wide open.
The Road Runner’s horsepower rating was probably a little conservative – good for young customers’ insurance rates. A four-speed manual transmission was standard equipment (except for some very early cars, a Hurst shifter was used). A column-shifted TorqueFlite automatic was optional. Redline tires, steel wheels, and dog dish hubcaps were part of the minimalist package. The standard rear axle ratio was 3.23:1.
The Road Runner was essentially a “sleeper” built by the factory instead of someone handy with an order form. Affordable performance was a great idea, but the topper was the Warner Brothers Road Runner cartoon tie-in, which was brilliant marketing. The horn mimicked the Road Runner’s signature “beep-beep” – heard every time he blew by Wile E. Coyote. Road Runner decals were strategically placed on the car.
As so often happens, the price leader, hot rod/taxi cab Road Runner got customers in the door, but many found the base coupe a little too Spartan. To accommodate those customers, Plymouth quickly added upgrades. A two-door hardtop Road Runner arrived mid-year. Doug Moshy from Camarillo, California, owns this beautiful 1968 Road Runner hardtop with the deluxe bench seat and optional Magnum 500 road wheels. Even as a late addition, the hardtop still managed to find 15,358 buyers, while the coupe sold 29,240 units.
The Road Runner body was shared by the more expensive Plymouth Belvedere GTX, which added to the Road Runner appeal. Both cars used the same hood with unique power bulges/fake hood vents with engine callouts. GTX numbers were 440. Road Runner hoods said 383, unless the optional 426 Hemi was ordered. Only 1,019 Road Runner buyers coughed up the extra $700+ for the Hemi.
Dodge brought out their version of an affordable, high performance B-body based on the Coronet two-door pillar sedan and called it the Super Bee. Apparently, the birds were more popular than the bees, as only 7,842 Super Bees were sold in 1968.