Ron Cherry: Six-pack American muscle — the 69½ Road Runner
April 21, 2017
The phenomenon of the American Muscle car was in full swing when Plymouth brought out the Road Runner in 1968. Taking a stripped-down mid-size coupe body and dropping in a ground-thumping 383 CID V-8 gave beastly performance at a tame price. If you wanted to pony-up $714, you could have a 426 CID Hemi, but that was adding another 25 percent to the cost of the car. Then in the middle of the 1969 production year, Plymouth came out with another way to get drag race performance for about half the price: the '69 ½ Road Runner Six-Pack or 440+6. This special A12 package had a 440 CID engine with three two-barrel carbs that was underrated at 390 HP and 390 ft-lbs of torque. Like the Hemi, it came with a "maximum cooling" radiator, a Dana 60 posi rear end, heavy-duty brakes and "police" performance suspension. This model also had oversize 15×6 inch stamped-steel wheels with chrome lug nuts and no hub caps. Its most distinctive feature was a matte-black fiberglass hood with a wide, functional hood scoop that was fastened on by four hood pins. That meant completely removing the hood, even to check the water and oil. A12 was a very desirable option.
MOPARS FOR SALE
When a co-worker told Kim Pierson about someone selling three Mopars in 1977, he was interested. The owner had purchased them, intending to fix them up, but they had just been sitting for a while and he was getting rid of them. The co-worker was buying a Dodge Super Bee with a 383 engine from the man, but told Kim about a '69 ½ Road Runner Six-Pack and he checked it out. It was Rallye Green with a black vinyl roof. For options, it had a Torqueflite 727 auto trans with a column shift, a deluxe interior that consisted of two-tone green door panels and pleated bench seats, power steering and an AM radio. It also had pop-out rear side windows that were more desirable for the track because they were 250 lbs. lighter than crank-ups. "The paint was faded and the vinyl top shredded from sitting out in a back yard, but it was 100 percent correct," Kim said. "It was rust free, a California car, and had all the hard to find parts. I saw it and thought, 'Wow.' Then I found out how rare it was. The price has escalated a lot since then."
Kim has long liked Mopars. He bought a '69 Dodge Charger R/T with a 440 CID engine when it was new. That car he made into a Six-Pack by dropping on an intake with three two-barrel carbs. "I did everything to it that kids did back then," he recalled. "Big cam, headers, low gears, big tires. It was pretty fast." Although he has owned a lot of cars over the years, he had gotten away from big-block American iron. "I had been wanting to get back into American Muscle," he said. "I came back to it because of the Road Runner."
After Kim got it home, he did a complete restoration, doing most of the work himself. He stripped it down to the unibody and did a ground-up. "I did the interior, the vinyl top, the body work and prepped it for paint. I had it shot by someone else," he said, "I should have done that myself, too. I'm not happy with it." Although he had the trans professionally rebuilt, he did the engine and all the suspension himself, as well as rewired the dash. One alteration he did make was changing the stock 4.10:1 rearend gear ratio to more freeway-friendly 3.54:1 ones. "It's the only thing not original on the car," he said. "But they're easier when you're on the highway." It took about two years to get all the work done on his Road Runner.
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CARS & COFFEE
When Kim first put the car back together, he installed bias-ply red line tires, like it came with. "They were a little scary, especially if you put your foot into it," he noted. "They tracked every groove in the road. Now I have radial reproduction red lines. They make a big difference." However, Kim has not put a lot of miles on his Road Runner, maybe 1,000 miles in 20 years. "I need to drive it more," he said. "I fire it up every so often, but I don't drive it much." Mainly, he goes to some local car shows and cruise nights, but he does take it occasionally to Cars and Coffee, which meets every Saturday morning from 8 'til 10 at the K-Mart parking lot off McKnight. Although he doesn't really get on it, there's something nice about just knowing that you've got a nice, muscular six-pack, even if you don't show it off.
Ron Cherry's four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out soon. His website is http://www.rlcherry.com.