If it was 1970 and you needed a new car to tow with, what would have been your choice? Before going any further, this particular towing need wouldn't be for long jaunts; in fact, no more than a mile at a time. It would, however, have to be able to get the payload up to speed as quickly as possible. For researchers at Wayne State University near Detroit, the just-released '70 Road Runner equipped with a 440-6bbl engine option was perfect for this task.
The University needed a car to tow other cars to their demise. Working in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a series of tests were performed to demonstrate and evaluate the strength of various guardrail designs. Tests were conducted by hurling occupantless cars into the guardrails at various angles and speeds, after which both the cars and the highway railing were examined for damage and documented so the data could be used to determine future guardrail construction and replacement. While it was once mistakenly stated in one magazine that cadavers in the tow cars were part of this equation, this was untrue. The only "dead" was the cable-pulled remains of Detroit iron that was piled up in the name of science.
Further deductions had the tow vehicle driving away from the guardrail being tested, with the tow cable (attached to the rear of the car) looped through a stanchion, where it connected to the crash vehicle. This car faced the opposite direction (toward the guardrail) and the length of the cable attached to it was exactly one-half the length attached to the tow car. As the tow car accelerated one way, the crash car accelerated in the opposite direction, moving at twice the speed. The tow car released the cable and the crash car headed toward its meeting with automotive oblivion.
For this reason, the budget-model Road Runner was ordered with a 727 TorqueFlite and the Super Performance axle package 4.10-equipped Dana 60 rearend, though drag racing or street cruising weren't part of the equation. It was painted EV1 (Alpine White) and had only basic equipment (AM radio, no hood or sidestripes, no additional gauging [clock or tach], no exhaust tips, and so on). The Air Grabber received the nod, however, to maximize the car's performance, and since the interior color was optional, the purchaser selected Burnt Orange. On the glovebox door, a tag was applied that said "Do not exceed 50 mph" (remember, the crash car would be accelerating at 100 mph at this speed!). Door-size decals declaring Wayne State University were applied as well, and the Plymouth went to work in the summer of '70 at the project's site on the Willow Run Airport property near Romulus. The tests were successful, the researchers were able to compile a monstrous, phone book-sized analysis for the NHTSA, and the Road Runner-its tour of duty complete-was parked in a building of the school and ignored, with less than 14,000 miles on the odometer.
Mopar enthusiast (and future founder of Sherman & Associates) Jim Sherman was a freshman attending Wayne State back in 1976 when he noticed the classic B-Body lines under a cover in the corner of the Engineering Department. The bracket for the tow cable and testing-speed data recorder were still intact on the rear bumper. The interior was still perfect, and the car had never been driven hard (though later one professor involved with the program admitted with a smile he'd found out it was a pretty strong-running car on the highways around Detroit). After talking to university officials, it was agreed the car's usefulness to them was over. However, since it was technically the property of the State of Michigan, to deaccession it, an auction was required. Jim could only put in his bid and hope for the best; as it turned out, he was the only bidder, so the car was his.