1973 Plymouth Road Runner
My 1973 Plymouth Road Runner as it looked the day I bought it.
Before I bought this car, I was going to buy a motorcycle. I was always into bikes when I was younger and over the years I've owned about a dozen different ones. I sold my last one a few months after I got married. It was a tricked out Suzuki GS1100. Fast forward about 17 years later and the bug came back. Or maybe it was a midlife crisis. Whatever, I figured I could pick up where I left off and I budgeted $5000 to get a decent used crotch rocket toy. Then my younger daughter, who was 13 at the time, burst my bubble. She told me that if I bought a motorcycle every time I left the house on it she would be worried about me not coming back. Man, those kids know how to wrap you! So I put the crotch rocket idea on hold and switched to Plan B.
What was Plan B? We are all molded by our experiences. I graduated from Southgate High School in 1970. That's in the downriver suburbs of Detroit. Back then the area definitely was the Motor City. Gas was 35 cents a gallon. On Friday nights everyone would go cruising on Telegraph. Peeling out was still socially acceptable and the whole place smelled of premium leaded and burned rubber. Gratiot, Woodward, Fort Street - it was all the same. My buddy's older brother had a heavily modified Chevelle SS 454. Black with white stripes. Cowl Induction. Bad Ass. He made us both sit in the back seat for traction so he could do wheelies. I kid you not - they would come up at least 6 inches. The guy that lived across the street had a convertible Cuda. It was Sublime Green with black stripes and it had cherry bombs. He went to work at 6:00 am or something and I never needed an alarm clock to get to school on time. My mom had a Dart with a 318 - PRNDL on the tree baby! Occasionally she would let me drive it to the A&P for a loaf of bread. Even that thing would light 'em up real good. Oh shit - I hope she doesn't read this! Anyhow, Chargers, Novas, 442s, Mustangs, Camaros, Road Runners, etc., etc., etc. - there were so many awesome performance cars and they were everywhere. That's what I grew up with. Yeah!!!
I always liked those cars, especially the Mopars, and especially the Road Runners. I wanted one. Plan B was my chance. I started looking around to see what I could get with my budgeted $5000. Actually I wasn't expecting a lot, nor did I really care about it enough to be willing to spend any real money. I just wanted a cheap toy to drive around for kicks every once in a while. My goal was to find something Moparish from the late 60s or early 70s, preferably a Road Runner. If it ran reasonably OK and looked halfway decent and had that good old muscle car feel and didn't break down every couple days I would be happy. I wasn't planning on doing anything with it. I had no thoughts of restoring an old car. In fact, I figured I would bomb around with it over the summer then sell it in the fall and hopefully recoup most of my money and eventually use it to buy a bike.
I looked around for a month or two but most everything I found was total crap. Finally I came across this one. It was beater but at least it was a drivable beater. It had some good points too. It was a real Road Runner. It had a recently rebuilt 440 and 727, both with some mild performance mods. It had headers and Flowmasters and a Dana 60 with 4.10 gears and posi-traction. It started right up and sounded good. We went for a ride and it had that old muscle car FEEL all right. It had nice wheels and brand new big fat tires (f=225-70R15, r=255-60R15). The interior was rough but intact. The chassis seemed fairly solid and straight. The brakes and lights worked. The body had some rust around the wheel wells but from 25 (well maybe 50) feet away it looked OK. The guy that owned it had started working on it but then he decided that he wanted to do a small block instead. At least that's what he told me. His ad said $6000 firm but he was willing to take $500 off for a cash deal. I bought it. It was April Fool's Day, 2004.
I drove my new toy home and it made it just fine. It was fun. People would smile and give it the thumbs up. When I got home my wife and kids liked it. A couple days later I took it to the Chrysler dealer and asked them to put in on a hoist and check it out to see if the wheels were going to fall off or anything. The worst thing they saw was a half-ass floor pan replacement job. The frame rails still looked OK in all the typical problem areas. There was a lot of general wear and tear and looseness - but nothing they considered really bad or dangerous - and overall they thought it was a pretty good car.
I drove it around a lot and the more I drove it the better I liked it. I got to thinking that maybe I would just keep the car a bit longer and fix the rusted areas that showed, give it an Earl Schieb paint job, and do some other cosmetic repairs that didn't cost too much. I figured I could spend a couple months working on it and maybe another three or four thousand dollars and have a reasonably nice looking, solid, and reliable driver for under $10,000 total. Yeah, right!!!
By the end of November 2004 I had done considerably more than originally planned. It took way longer than I thought it would and cost a whole lot more too. I had the body completely rebuilt and got a very, very nice paint job. PRH Inferno Red Crystal Pearlcoat - the thing looks like red liquid metal. I went through the interior and fixed it up too. I cleaned up the mess under the hood and in the trunk. I repaired the grill, got new rechromed bumpers, and more parts from eBay than I care to think about. When I got done it was pretty nice. Not a show car by a long shot, but definitely not an embarrassment any more. If you like these older cars and want to see the first things I did to fix this one up, I have a bunch of pics of the project. They are all text linked by date. Click PHASE 1 to see them.
Project on Hold
After doing all that work on the car I was hooked. I had grand plans at the time - but things did not work out like I had envisioned. Funny how a divorce, having to buy a new house and everything in it, and paying child $upport for four years changes your priorities and financial situation. Fortunately I got to keep my Road Runner!
I didn't do any more significant work on my Road Runner for the next four years but at least I used it pretty frequently. I drove it all around locally and took it to work a bunch of times and to various local cruises and car shows. All together I put about 9,000 miles on it in that period of time. There was a big list of things that weren't right like a too-small carb and a persistent exhaust leak and spots on my garage floor, but overall I really enjoyed my car. And still it never gave me any real problems at all.
I am happy to report that in 2009, I finally got back to working on my car. The list is long but highlights include a rear axle rebuild and gear ratio change, new heavy duty rear springs and driveshaft, driveshaft loop, complete steering linkage overhaul, new power steering pump, new brakes and new shocks all around. I also replaced the old beat-up rusty headers with some polished ceramic TTI headers that don't leak and I switched to a new dual-feed 750cfm Holley so it breathes better. Pics and details of this phase are included on my PHASE 2 page. In summary, everything went pretty good. No nasty surprises but a few changes. It turns out my rear axle is not a Dana 60; it's a 9 1/4. See HERE for the difference. And Mopars don't have posi-traction, they have Sure-Grips. Duh - I feel stoooopid! The old axle ratio was 3.90, not 4.10. Based on the actual diameters of my tires, and how it was kind of obnoxious to drive on the highway with the 3.90 gears, I went with a 3.21 gearset instead of the 3.54 I had planned on before. I believe that 3.21 was stock for a 1973 Road Runner GTX.
I call my Phase 1 and Phase 2 pages "restoration" but some people would argue that I haven't really "restored" my car. I can understand that. At least, I haven't tried to restore it to its like-new original condition. I didn't spend a bunch of money on NOS parts. Good used "driver quality" is fine. I didn't strip it down to bare frame rails and rotisserie it. Why not?? Well, by the time I bought it, it was already pretty extensively modified so original condition would have been impractical. And boring too, considering that it was originally a 318 car. And costly (more than I could afford) and stupid considering that even a totally original perfect 1973 Road Runner with 16 miles on the odometer and a 1973 bug still stuck on the radiator would not be remotely as valuable as a half-decent 71 Hemi Challenger Convertible.
So what DID I do to this car? Does it really matter? I did what I felt like doing with my limited knowledge and limited budget. For lack of a better term I'll stick with restoration. Now that it's pretty much done it's actually a damn nice car. At least I think it is. I've gone through just about everything. The only completely original, un-changed, un-fixed survivor part that I can think of is the headliner. It's definitely the best 1973 Road Runner that I've seen in person so far. But it's still just a 73 Road Runner and as such unfortunately it's probably not worth the $26K or so that I have into it. Oh well, I don't plan on selling it anyhow.
So what's the bottom line? Beats me. If I had it to do all over, financially I would have been better off spending more money and buying a better, more desirable car up-front and then doing a real restoration. On the other hand, if I had to do that, I probably would not have spent the money in the first place - and thus never would have had something I wanted for my whole life. Despite the dubious financial investment, I really do like the car. I'm glad that I bought it and I'm glad that I fixed it up the way I did. It's fun to have a car that you don't see every day, that sounds totally badass just idling, and it still gives me a thrill every time I drive it.
Oh yeah, it still leaves a few spots on my GARAGE floor too....
My 1973 Plymouth Road Runner as it looked November 8, 2009, and still looks now.
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