How Do You Improve On Greatness?
During the '69 model run, Plymouth's product planners faced that very question. The Road Runner line had sold very well in 1969; the hardtop model was that year's best-selling two-door Plymouth. Our sister publication, Motor Trend, honored the Bird with its 1969 Car of the Year award.
The guys in Highland Park added a midyear-'69 option package for the Road Runner that wasn't a Silver Special trim package, but one that stayed true to its "budget musclecar" heritage. For around $400 (sticker price), you got option package A12, built around a new version of the 440-the 440 Six Barrel. Three two-barrel Holleys atop an Edelbrock aluminum intake joined the 440 Magnum's existing hardware, resulting in a new RB that spun the factory dyno to 390 hp at the flywheel.
Also included was your choice of an A-833 four-speed with a Hurst shifter or a column-shifted 727 TorqueFlite, a Dana 60 rearend with a 4.10-geared Sure Grip differential, heavy-duty springs and shocks, 11-inch drum brakes all around, 15x6-inch wheels wearing G70-15 bias-ply tires, and a scooped fiberglass hood held on by four pins.
It was also as famous for what it didn't include as for what it did. Among the deletions and "can't-gets" were hood hinges, hubcaps, wheel covers, air conditioning, and power brakes. This Road Runner was a quicker Bird than its 383-powered counterparts, nearly as quick in the quarter-mile as the Hemi, but without the Hemi's added weight, higher price, or borderline streetability.
Does this sound too good to be true? In a way, it was. Edelbrock didn't have the aluminum foundry and manufacturing facilities it has now, so it was hard-pressed to keep up with Ma Mopar's OEM order. That led Chrysler to design their own iron 3x2-barrel 440 intake, which debuted in 1970 and was seen again in 1971, before disappearing from the Mopar parts bin, yet to be reproduced to this day.
Thankfully, the intake on Alan Fincik's A12-optioned coupe is an original Edelbrock-made item. Though it and the rest of the engine aren't the originals that went in on the assembly line, they do have the proper casting and date codes for 1969.
Alan found the car-one of 388 '69 four-speed A12 coupes--when he called on restorer Chuck Kuhn in Columbus, Ohio, for work on a Bird he already had. "I was in the process of restoring my '70 Road Runner, which I still own, and at that time the '69 was being completed [by Chuck]. He said, 'You need to sell the '70 and buy this '69 Six Barrel car.' I replied, "But I like my '70 Road Runner."
Three years later, Alan's phone rang, and it was Chuck on the other end of the line. Unlike the phones in the Road Runner cartoons that Wile E. Coyote answered, this phone didn't blow up . . . though the news was dynamite. "Remember the '69 Six Barrel car?" Chuck asked. "The guy's getting divorced. He's got it for sale, and says he's got a pretty good deal if you want to make an offer." The offer was made and accepted, and Alan's '70 had a new garage-mate.
Alan says this A12 has an interesting history; some of it racking up on the odometer (which now reads 89,000 miles) a quarter-mile at a time. "The car was out of Tennessee, and my understanding is that it had been drag raced quite a bit."
Now that it's been restored, what's it like to drive? "Very nice," Alan says without hesitation. "It's a very good car." He did, however, need some professional help getting the 440 Six Barrel to run as it should. "I had the car sent to Detroit to Mr. Six Pack-Bob Karakashian," he recalls. "I sent the car to him because when I got it, there was a pretty decent size cam in it, and it was burning a lot of raw fuel. He tuned the car and put one of his cams in it-one that's a little over the factory grind." That new cam, plus the attention he gave to the Holleys, made a big difference in the 440's performance and overall drivability.