The styling of the '71 Plymouth B-Bodies changed dramatically from their earlier predecessors. The new design was done in Dick Macadam's studio by John Herlitz. The '71 B-body two-door was an opportunity to develop a different philosophy toward shaping metal.
"The '71 Road Runner/GTX was a clean-sheet-of-paper approach to form versus lines," Herlitz stated. "The grille was an evolution of the '70 version, except the entire bumper and grille was used to present a visual image. The effect was inspired by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom. Once the basic shape was derived, the park/turn signals and air intake assumed their logical positions. As the eye moves from the hood to the side view, note the almost seamless transition from horizontal to vertical surface. The body of the car is shaped to emphasize the beauty of the wheels. This was accomplished by flowing the fender shape from plain view-looking down from above-and side view to the wheel cutouts. The resulting wheel flares were tied to the bone-line (lower sill area) of the car and emphasized by the single lower character line."
With the new '71 body style laid out, the GTX enjoyed one last year as a separate model, yet sales plummeted, almost overnight. When the '72 model year Plymouth debuted, the GTX had ostensibly been put to rest, but not entirely. Rather than let the GTX dwindle entirely, the GTX became an option package on the Road Runner. This means all '72 through '74 models are technically Road Runner GTXs, wearing both Road Runner and GTX emblems. Only 672 examples were sold. Of that number, almost all of them had the 440 four-barrel rated at 280 horses for 1972, with a few examples built with the 440+6 before the option was dropped. Of the 672 cars sold, 453 were automatics, and 219 were four-speeds.
In late 1971, this particular Road Runner was delivered to Northland Chrysler Plymouth in Oak park, Michigan, apparently, as a promotional car. It seems a certain professional hockey player was going to be driving the car as a promotional aid for Chrysler. After that, it was to be sold to the first person with the cash-through the dealership, of course. That was way back in late 1971, but let's fast forward several years to a young man named David Bardeen of Powell, Ohio.
It's 1995, and David has just made connections with a guy in Spokane, Washington, who said he had a '72 Road Runner GTX with one problem: someone had put a sunroof in the car. The owner was fairly certain it was a dealer-installed sunroof. The condition was described as an older repaint, but it was a running and driving car. David wasn't too enthused, but the car's options enticed him to investigate further. the '72 was a four-speed, Dana 60-equipped car that was supposedly matching numbers. David contacted Galen Govier with the information he'd been given and soon got a call back.
This is the main draw of David's GTX-the factory installed sunroof with the full vinyl top
David's no stranger to rare Mopars, and he knew that a factory sunroof car should have the code M51 on its fender tag, which was the order code for a sunroof and vinyl top. The Road Runner GTX in Spokane didn't have this code on its original fender tag, leading one to assume the sunroof had been added at some point. However, an often forgotten fact about the '72 was that sunroof-optioned cars didn't have the M51 code designated on their fender tags. The only telltale sign on a '72's fender tag that a car left the factory with a sunroof is a G in its vehicle order number. Sure enough, the GTX's order number was G99073. Galen told David where to look under the wheelwells for the rain drain tubes used in factory sunroof cars. David was off to Spokane, and after a quick inspection, he tucked his head under the rear wheelwells, and, sure enough, the drain tubes were there. David had the car on his hauler and was headed east before the owner realized this was a 1 of 34 sunroof car with a very special past.
The first year the GTX was considered an Add-On option for the Road Runner label was 1972.
The history of this rare bird was uncovered through shear determination, hard work, and a lot of luck. David stumbled across a previous owner by chance while he was working for Caterpillar. That lead directed him to a Mopar club in Texas, which led him to his strongest lead-a State Farm agent who had owned the car previously. Bryan Tilbrook in Abilene, Texas, told David that he once owned a bright orange Plymouth with a sunroof and a four-speed. How many bright orange Plymouths with sunroofs could be in a town of 100,000 people?
Bryan had purchased the car from his college roommate, Jerry Tucker, in 1980. Jerry had purchased the car from a Michigan man. Bryan told David the car had been designated as a Chrysler PR (public relations) car and had supposedly been driven by a Canadian hockey player. This is why the car was so highly optioned. Bryan said when he got the car there was a hockey puck from the player in the glovebox. The puck had stuck with the car to remind all of its origin. David said, "OK, I'll bite, who was the hockey player?" Bryan couldn't remember, but thought it might be Bobby Hull. Bryan sent David onto the man he sold the car to, Mike Farmer, who teased David with some repair receipts, an owner's manual, and even the ASC sunroof operating instructions. David had only one question, "You wouldn't happen to have the buildsheet would you?" Mike said, yes, he did.
A factory sunroof, power windows, an AM/FM, cassette player, a full roof vinyl top, a four
Well, now that David owned the car, what was to become of it? the body was given to Huffman Auto body in Hadley, Pennsylvania, where the necessary body repairs were made, and a new shell of Tor-Red paint applied. Inside, the seat frames were covered with new material from legendary Auto Interiors. The interior accoutrements include: power windows, brakes, and steering, a console-shifted four-speed, tinted glass, Tuff wheel, AM/FM stereo complete with microphone, and the aforementioned sunroof.
Under the hood of David's Road Runner X, is the completely rebuilt 440, filled with parts from Crane, Keith Black, Hughes, and Ma Mopar herself. The 346 casting heads feature some porting and over-size valves to give the RB a little more airflow. Fleming Engine Service got the nod to make sure the 440 lived up to its history, and according to Dave, the guys did it proud. Behind the RB is a manual gearbox that has been treated to a rebuild courtesy of Brewer's Performance in Troy, Ohio. Rounding it out is the original Dana 60 sporting 3.54 gears and a Sure Grip.
The engine in David's RR-X is the factory installed powerplant with a few upgrades by Flem
Intrigued by this story, we at Mopar Muscle hope our readership can help identify the hockey player who drove this ultra-rare '72. it's more the story than the numbers that makes a car a legend-and this could be one legendary '72 GTX.
Owner: David Bardeen, Powell, Ohio
Car: '72 Plymouth Road Runner GTX, restored by Huffman Auto Body, Hadley, Pennsylvania
Engine: 440 RB block, Six-Pack rods, Hughes HE 1423 camshaft, .538 lift, mildly ported heads with over-sized Manley valves, Holley 750 double-pumper. Rebuilt by Fleming Engine Service, Utica, Ohio
Transmission: A-833 four-speed manual, Hurst Pistol Grip shifter rebuilt by Brewer's Performance in Troy, Ohio
Rearend: Dana 60, 3.54 Sure Grip rear, stock axles. Rebuilt by Allen Driveline Service, Butler, Pennsylvania
Wheels/Tires: Front and Rear: Ralley 15x7, Goodyear Polyglas GT G60x15
Mike informed David of the '72 GTX's history in a letter:
The name of the hockey player that originally drove the GTX in 1972 is unknown, but we believe he was a Red Wing and friends with Gordie Howe. Gordie has driven your car and supposedly wanted to buy it. The story is that the day the GTX showed up on the transport at the delivering dealer, Duane E. Hildreth of Melvindale, Michigan, (the original owner) wanted to buy it. He was in a 340 Swinger at the time. The dealer personnel told him that he would have to wait six months until the hockey player who was using it for ads and promotions returned it. When the six months were up, Mr. Hildreth was told by the dealership that they were sorry, but that Gordie Howe wanted to purchase it. Gordie found out that Mr. Hildreth had been waiting six months and said that he should be given the right to purchase. Duane Hildreth registered the vehicle 10/24/1972.
The car came to Texas when Duane Hildreth's employer transferred him to San Angelo, Texas. The next owner, Jerry Tucker, was attending Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. Jerry saw Mr. Hildreth's wife driving the GTX, chased her down, and asked Duane Hildreth to sell the vehicle. That was in the fall of 1978 or spring of 1979. Mr. Hildreth didn't oblige him at the time. During the summer of 1979, Jerry returned home to Abilene, Texas. Mr. Hildreth placed a classified ad and tried to sell the GTX with no luck. Jerry picked up an old copy of the paper when he returned to school in the fall of 1979 and called Mr. Hildreth on the off chance that it didn't sell. He hadn't sold the car, and Jerry purchased the GTX.
Jerry Tucker sold the vehicle to Bryan Tilbrook of Abilene in 1980. Bryan never registered the car. I sold a '79 Corvette and purchased the GTX in March 1981 from Bryan. My registration receipt dated 3/11/81 shows a transfer from Jerry Tucker to me. I sold the vehicle in 1982 to an Airman stationed at Dyess Air Force Base so that I could pay the down payment on my first house. I made him promise me that he would give me first option to purchase in the event he was transferred and wanted to sell the Road Runner. This is how I came to possess the owner's books and broadcast sheet. I kept it because I had every intention of purchasing it again. Needless to say the Airman's phone call never came, and the GTX was gone for good, or so it appeared.