Naturally, Detroit followed suit, and the muscle car horsepower wars were declared from all sides. Mother Mopar had the HEMI ace up its sleeve, and it played it perfectly. First, by releasing the A990 factory racers of 1965, the Dodge Coronet and its sibling, the Plymouth Belvedere, with the 426-cube (7.0-liter) Race HEMI in limited numbers. The following year was one of the most important in the history of American carmaking: the Street HEMI came round, firing 425-hp and 490 lb-ft (431 PS, 664 Nm) broadsides from the Dodge Charger battleship.
However, one small detail didn’t go very well with Plymouth’s image: the performance price wasn’t exactly affordable for the hard-working, steel-driving average Joe. And the Chrysler division had a budget-friendly reputation to defend. Enter the Road Runner of 1968. Four wheels, a duo of big-block V8s, a bullet-proof transmission, and a low-price tag. Full stop.
The pen-savvy duo brought the muscle car to its knees and delivered the final blow. The bullfight was over, and horsepower was slowly fading away into memory. The Road Runner, together with pretty much every single muscle nameplate, dwindled into nothingness. The tell-tale signs were there: the first strike was called in 1972 when the HEMI didn’t rise anymore.
Slowly and quietly, the V8s bowed their big-bore guns into unconditional surrender, although mutinies sparkled hither and thither. By 1973, it was pretty much game over, and in 1974, the surrender was closed. The GTO itself retreated to being an option on a Pontiac Ventura. At the same time, the Road Runner sang its swan song in a sad chorus of Barracudas, Challengers, Chevelles, Torinos, and many others.
Sales had been on a downward spiral since 1969 – the model’s all-time best sales year – and the second generation (which debuted in ‘71) fell flat on its face. Between 1971 and 1974, the nameplate garnered a little over 49,000 units in total. Compare this to the 43,000 of its inaugural year or the similarly-performant 1970 model year (44,000) – to say nothing of the 84,000 units sold in its heyday of ’69 – and we see why Plymouth was in shock: the coyote had finally caught the bird, and it was plucking it with vengeful anger.
The second generation offered more engine options than the first – four, unlike the three choices for the 1968-1970 model years. First, the 383 gave way to the 400-cube V8 (Plymouth’s bigger big-block) in ’72, and the Road Runner used the four-barrel version as standard. The 340-4 V8 (5.6-liter) was added to the same year's line-up as the 4-BBL 440 (7.2 liter). The 440-6 remained, but nothing could hide the ugly truth: the HEMI was no more – and sales fully echoed this end of an era: only 6,861 Road Runners were assembled for the model year.
One axle in the grave and the other on an oil stain is the best description for this example auctioned on eBay. The car is a good candidate for a project, with its original engine (the 340 V8) and a Torqueflite automatic transmission. The seller advises that the Jasper tag on the tranny could indicate a rebuild or a replacement under previous ownership, and the 8 ¾ rear axle ratio is also unknown.
The good news is that the motor is not seized and does bar over, but rust has eaten away some of this Road Runner – particularly the roof and front floor panels. We don’t know if the engine runs – the current owner never started it because the 340 lacked the air cleaner housing, and the man didn’t wasn’t to clog the engine with debris.
The price is set at $3,500, with a ‘Buy It Now’ option, with five more days to go – and the seller confidently encourages prospects by claiming the drivetrain alone is worth more than the three-and-a-half grand asking price.