Lots of things start out simple and direct, only to get high-falutin’ as time goes on. Muscle cars are no exception. By 1968, power and speed were less important to automakers than add-ons and doo-dads. The GTX was a prime example. The suits at Plymouth actually had the gall to market it as a “gentleman’s sport car,” to the disgust of purists everywhere. In the war between sizzle and steak, substance was taking a back seat to style.
For many enthusiasts it was simply too much. Who needs chrome gas caps and designer grilles anyway? Plus, all the accessories were pricing muscle cars outside the average working man’s budget. The folks at Plymouth took note, and the Road Runner was born.
Everything about the car was no-nonsense, from the beefed-up suspension and brakes to the lack of options like bucket seats and FM radio. Early models had no carpet. Even air conditioning was banned in models with the 425 ci hemi engine. Everything about the vehicle was purposely Spartan. After all, this was a car built to do one thing only: go fast in a straight line.
And “go fast” it most certainly did. The base engine was a 383 that used the same cam found in the 440 Commando. It turned out 335 horses. An extra $714 bought a 426 ci hemi engine rated for 425 hp. A four-on-the-floor gearbox was standard, though a TorqueFlite automatic was also available. With the 426 installed, the Runner went from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. It wrapped up the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 105 mph.
Best of all, a buyer could own one of these insanely fast vehicles for a mere $2,896, around $20,000 in today’s money. This meant that a plumber or factory worker could own one while still having enough money to put food on the table. The working-class public roared its approval of the new car, buying almost 45,000 of them in 1968. That was more than twice the company’s projected sales of 20,000 units.
Ironically, despite its no-frills design and cost, there was one thing the Road Runner’s designers did splurge on: the name. Plymouth paid $55,000 for the right to use the cartoon character’s name. They spent another $10,000 to create a horn that made the trademark “beep, beep!” sound. It seems that a little sizzle always comes with selling a steak, no matter how much meat is on the bones.