The "real" high-compression musclecar era came and went in less than 10 years-1964 to 1971. It was a time of rock and roll, hippies, and the Vietnam War.
One Vietnam veteran, Terry Laughlin, knew exactly what he wanted to do when he returned from Vietnam on June 15, 1969. He says, "I went from the Greenwood County [South Carolina] airport to the bank that morning, got out my money, and went down to Dewitt Motors [a Chrysler dealership]. This GTX was on the lot. I took it for a testdrive and owned it before noon."
A long-time Mopar fan whose first car had been a '55 Coronet with a Red Ram Hemi under the hood, Terry had decided during his time "in-country" that only a Road Runner, GTX, R/T, or Super Bee would suit his need for throttle response, and displacement had to be either 426 or 440 inches. While a Hemi certainly would have ended up in the driveway had one been in the offering, the larger wedge engine was under the hood of the car he bought that morning. For $4,208, plus a $700-per-year insurance payment, the brawler was his.
As built, the GTX was a pretty upscale monster in 1969. At the pinnacle of the Plymouth's B-Body line-up, optional engines were just one: the Hemi; standard equipment was Plymouth's Super Commando 440. That 375 hp was backed up by some serious hardware-an A833 four-speed and a 3.54 Sure Grip filled Dana 60. Terry wasted no time finding out if these items worked.
"Yeah," he chuckles now, "about two hours after I left the car lot, I got into a street race with a local '57 Chevy with three deuces on it. We raced out toward the bowling alley on a stretch of Highway 25 that measured about a quarter-mile long. at the end, I was outside of the car waiting for him."
The car spent a lot of time handling poseurs to the performance throne in the South Carolina hills those early years, until Terry met Elizabeth Rush. in the mid-'70s, with marriage and children on the horizon, he decided to park the GTX .
"It sat outside for a long time," he remembers, "and everybody came by here trying to buy it from me. I had gone through a lot in Vietnam to get that car, and it was like my baby-the first new car I ever bought. I finally moved it down into the basement where it couldn't be seen, and we just told people we had sold it to a junkyard for $25."
A career as a master mechanic in the maintenance department of Cooper Power Systems, which maintains the equipment to build high-voltage electrical capacitors, took up the next couple of decades. Terry retired early when he ended up with Agent Orange-related diabetes. In 2004, he and his son Terry Jr. decided it was time the GTX saw the light of day again and began a full-tilt restoration.
The project would be to take the car back to its as-built condition. Terry's car was factory painted Sunfire Yellow with a white interior-a great color combination for South Carolina's hot summer days. After Terry did the minimal bodywork (very little rust and never in an accident), he applied the PPG paint himself outside in the yard. Thanks to Year One, he also replaced the items that needed to be upgraded.
The Super Commando came out, was treated to an .030-inch overbore clean-up, and put back together with most of the original parts. This included the original AVS carb, intake and exhaust manifolds, and ignition system. The cam is a Mopar Performance 292 stick (.509 lift), and pistons are TRW flat-top replacements. The only other upgrade was the set of Flowmasters added to the H-pipe exhaust system.
The transmission and Dana have been thrashed hard (see sidebar) since day one, but Terry says with a smile, "I have never been able to tear this thing up!" The transmission received a Borg-Warner high-performance clutch and pressure plate, and the Dana...well, other than being repainted, the Dana is just like it was when it came from the factory. The factory leaf springs are still under the car as well. Magnum 500s shod in Firestone Wide Oval redline tires are the finishing OEM touch.
Since completed in late 2005, the car has taken several awards, including a coveted Best of Show and First Place in the Stock Division at the Mopar Southern Nationals in Valdosta, Georgia, in May. We shot it as one of the standout vehicles at the Year One Experience last April.
Terry is a member of the Rock N Roll Cruisers of Greenwood, South Carolina, and takes part in their regular cruise schedule. He also just finished restoring the other new machine he bought back in the day-a '79 Dodge pickup, 440 Super Commando-equipped and painted similar to the Plymouth he uses as a tow vehicle for the restoration.
'69 440 Super Commando GTX
Terry Laughlin Sr. • Hodges, SC
Engine: The largest displacement performance engine in the muscle line-up, the Super Commando V-8 was rated at 375 hp and had been introduced in the GTX and Dodge R/T models (Charger and Coronet as the Magnum) in 1967. The only OEM carburetion option to GTX buyers in 1969 was the factory Carter AVS. Six Pack availability was limited to the A12 code Road Runners for Plymouth, though the 390-horse package would become an across-the-board option for 1970. After an .030 overbore by a local machine shop, Terry rebuilt the engine himself to basically stock specs, adding only a mild MP cam, unleaded valve seats, OEM replacement TRW pistons, and Flowmaster mufflers to the package.
Transmission: The A833 four-speed was one of the best designs to come out Detroit. Over the production years of 1964 through 1989, this transmission evolved through several gear ratio changes based on application, which ran from Slant Six to 426 Hemi and everything in between. Hemi Red Stripe boxes like this one ratio'd out at 2.65, 164, 1.19, and 1.00. A Borg-Warner clutch and flywheel hooks the gear cluster to the end of the crank.
Differential: The truly bulletproof Dana 60 with a moderate 3.54 Sure Grip layout was stock, and this one has never been apart. Based on Terry's driving, bigger tires may have given even this beast a run for its money.
Horsepower & Performance: Though the Hemi got a lion's share of the notoriety, the 440 Super Commando was no slouch, and this example has lived through Terry's admitted years of abuse; maintenance is the key. Compared to the Hemi and its somewhat finicky characteristics, the 440 was often a better choice for all-around streetability and stop-light launching.
Suspension: Chrysler was noted for developing complete package cars, and the GTX was no exception. Heavy-duty springs help prevent axle wind-up, coupled with strong, long shocks and the pinion snubber on the top of the third member.
Brakes: While power brakes were optional, this car came with 11-inch drums on all four corners.
Wheels: Classic Magnum 500 five-spoke rims.
Rubber: Originally Firestone Redline Wide Ovals F70-14, the weak link in traction but keeps the driveline intact. These are direct replacements that came from Year One.
Body: The body on this one-owner car had never been hit nor driven extensively in poor weather. After years of indoor storage, Terry prepped it and painted it outside of his home workshop. Year One came through with the small pieces to make it look better than new.
Paint: The GTX got a nice two-tone paint scheme from the factory: Sunfire Yellow with black accents and a white vinyl top. Terry redid this back to the stock configuration.
Interior: Classic white interior is mostly original, but did get new carpet and front seat covers. Shifter is by Hurst and is console mounted; dash includes 150-mph speedo and small factory tach. An AM radio rounds it out.
In keeping with the stock...
In keeping with the stock look, a set of redline tires and Magnum 500 wheels finish the package. But don't think these tires are just for driving the car on the trailer.
The 440 Super Commando was...
The 440 Super Commando was restored to basically stock specs, with a .030-inch overbore, a little more cam, and hardened valve seats. This is the carburetor that was on the engine the day terry bought it.
The GTX offered upscale interior...
The GTX offered upscale interior styling and an attainable 150-mph speedometer.
We don't know how that mark was made."I was the one doing that," Terry admits. "Nobody could figure out how it was done. Here, let me show you." And, with that, he climbed into the restored GTX and fired it up. Putting the car in reverse, he wooded the throttle, and the tires broke loose as the car started backward. Without lifting, he slammed the Hurst stick across the shift pattern into first. the Dana ring and leaf springs bore the brunt of all those horses being turned 180 degrees, and, sure enough, white smoke poured out of the fenderwells and Road Atlanta had a couple of "unexplainable" J-marks of its own.
The police had no explanation when the local newspaper reported mysterious J-shaped tire marks on the Greenwood, South Carolina, pavement back in 1969. The track would start somewhat light and then reverse direction in a long black streak.