Road Runner restoration revved up

by Larry D'Argis . Dec 29 2017
Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressRichard and Joanne Gregoire with their restored 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. Richard bought the car in 2012 and the overhaul was complete in the spring of 2014.

Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Richard and Joanne Gregoire with their restored 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. Richard bought the car in 2012 and the overhaul was complete in the spring of 2014.

For 1968, Plymouth was searching for a low-cost, intermediate muscle car. Stuffing a powerful V-8 into the cheapest and lightest body style available wasn’t a new idea and savvy buyers had been doing it for years just by checking off the right boxes on the option list.

That all changed with the Road Runner. Plymouth took the lead in offering just what the performance buyer wanted and wrapped it up in low-price package that was easily affordable. Thanks to a whopping (for the time) US$50,000 marketing fee paid to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, it also had a name that was easily identifiable.

The Road Runner came complete with its cartoon icon and a unique beep-beep horn that Chrysler spent US$10,000 developing. Listing for a base price of US$2,970 for the pillared two-door coupe model, it was pretty bare bones. Built on the “B” body Belvedere line, the Road Runner came with an all vinyl interior with bench seats, rubber floor mats and few options. The base 383 cubic-inch, V-8 engine produced a respectable 335 horsepower and could be had with either a four-speed manual or three-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission. The chassis saw the use of heavy-duty 11-inch drum brakes, heavy-duty suspension, included shocks, heavier ball-joints, high-rate rear leaf springs, front torsion bars and sway-bars. The lone optional engine was the 426 cubic-inch Street Hemi V-8. Producing 425 horsepower and 490 lbs./ft. of torque, thanks in part to its dual four-barrel carburetors, it not only added US$714 to the price tag, but the Hemi gave the Road Runner some serious muscle.

For Richard Gregoire of Winnipeg, his plate was full with the restoration of a 1966 Satellite Hemi car. The car was missing its engine and the search for another took Gregoire to the southern part of rural Quebec, where he found a usable Hemi engine that an old boat racer had since the 1970s. With the engine back in Winnipeg he found the date code indicated it was from an early 1968 produced car.

“I could have used it for the Satellite, but a friend told me he knew of a 1968 Road Runner that was a part and missing its engine, so I went to have a look at it,” Gregoire says.

Purchased in 2012, the Road Runner was treated to a full rotisserie restoration, including the installation of new rear quarter panels. With the help of his brother Dave, Gregoire rebuilt the brakes, suspension and steering components to factory specifications and the 426 Hemi V-8 engine was rebuilt by Ken Murray at Ken’s Kustom Auto Machine. With the final bodywork and prep was completed, a new Matador Red paint finish was laid down by Kenny Lang Autobody.

For the interior, new black vinyl upholstery with black cloth inserts, black headliner and carpet were supplied by Legendary Auto Interiors Ltd.

Gregoire says, “I really need to thank local Mopar guru Aime Verrier for lending his expertise and helping me find the very specific parts needed to complete the build.”

The Road Runner features the optional 426 cubic-inch Street Hemi V-8, Chrysler’s A-833 four-speed manual transmission. An early-built car, it features the Chrysler Inland manual floor shift.

Sporty looking yet trouble-prone, Chrysler began replacing the Inland shifters with more dependable Hurst units early in the year. Rounding out the driveline is a stout 3.54:1 geared Dana 60 Sure-Grip rear axle, a mandatory $139 option when equipped with the Hemi V-8 and manual transmission.

Optional equipment on Gregiore’s Road Runner is minimal. Solid state thumb-wheel AM radio, 8,000 r.p.m. dash tachometer, remote driver’s side-view mirror and power steering. The 116-inch wheelbase Road Runner rides on factory stamped steel wheels, shod with raised white letter, BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires and “dog-dish” chrome hubcaps.

The car was completed in the spring of 2014 and Gregiore and his wife, Joanne, debuted it at the Piston Ring World of Wheels car show, where it won Best Mopar in its category and received first place honours in the Muscle Car Corral.

For 1968, Chrysler expected to hopefully sell 20,000 Road Runners. By the time the year-end totals were in, 44,599 found their way to new owners — solidifying the Road Runner’s return for 1969. Of the 1968 production, there were 29,240 of the pillared coupes built and 15,359 hardtop models; 1,019 of those Road Runners received the Street Hemi V-8 option, with 576 of those equipped with the four-speed manual transmission.

Today, the Road Runner continues as a crowd favourite among the muscle car set. A desirable classic, especially when equipped with the Hemi V-8, it just makes other cars look slow.