Performance numbers were anemic at best during the mid- and late-70s, even though advertisements in 1975 for the Dodge Aspen-based Super Coupe claimed it "enough to moisten the eye of any veteran car fan." To quote from Muscle Car Color History: Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee, "If you had driven a Hemi in the late-'60s and then been offered this as a performance car ten years later, you'd cry too."
So why are we featuring Barry Butler's Spitfire Orange Road Runner? Because not only is it a super-clean, home-restified street machine, but it hauls some serious '76 F-Body tail.
The middle of the '70s was not a good time for high-performance musclecars. Gas embargos from the OPEC nations thrust the U.S. into a deep gasoline depression with price-per-gallon rates at record levels. That, combined with mounting insurance rates and federally regulated safety equipment, slowly strangled the musclecar trend. Internally, Chrysler was scrambling to keep up. The millions of dollars invested in their intermediate, midsize cars were in jeopardy as consumers began leaning towards smaller, more economical vehicles. Bill Brownlie, who had spearheaded the redesign of the now legendary '68-'70 Dodge Chargers, left the B-Body design team and transferred to Chrysler's A-Body line. Two years later in 1973, he was brought over to fine-tune the new F-Body series that was quickly approaching its launch date the following year. The '74 Mopars suffered at the hands of designers who drafted the new Charger and Cordoba as a rolling homage to Cheverolet's all-new Monte Carlo.
Many design cues of the mid-'70s...
Many design cues of the mid-'70s Chargers and Cordobas were "inspired" by their Bow Tie competitors.
Over at the Plymouth camp, things were only slightly better for the '74-'75 model years. The base Satellite was extinguished, leaving the Road Runner marque to be stapled to the new Fury Custom sport coupe that was noticeably designed by the same hands as the Charger and Cordoba duo. Engine selection was equally weak-the only vehicles available with the 440 plant were police edition vehicles and larger C-Bodies. The heftiest of powerplants was the 400 B-Block topped with a four-barrel carburetor that eked out 190 hp at 4,000 rpm. Car and Driver magazine mourned in their review of the '75 Road Runner: "a Road Runner without acceleration is just another Plymouth." The next production year saw several attempts to buoy the once proud Scat Pack and Rapid Transit members with the revival of the Daytona nomenclature for the Charger and the transplantation of the Road Runner badge to the smaller Volare-based F-Body. No longer a vehicle of its own, the Road Runner was reduced to an optional package to an existing car, much like the demise of the Super Bee label years earlier.
Starting with an LA small-block,...
Starting with an LA small-block, Barry cleared and bored the block to swallow a 4-inch stroker crankshaft, pushing it up to 408 cubes. With Eagle rods, Diamond 9.8:1 pistons, a Comp Cams hydraulic cam, ported and polished factory cast heads, Comp valves, double springs, and Mopar Performance rockers, the Torker II-topped lung hungrily eats up the 100-shot of nitrous.
Barry's older brother Todd purchased this Plymouth used from a car lot in Brandon, Florida, over 24 years ago. Barry was busy trying to get a '65 Mustang to run right, as his brother was busy harassing the neighbors and disturbing the peace. when Todd decided to put the Road Runner up for sale for $1,200 in 1984, Barry sold the ponycar, borrowed a little equity from his mother, and purchased the F-Body for himself.
Since that date, Barry has had a constant relationship with the vibrant orange coupe, including a slew of engine swaps, transmission exchanges, a rearend trade to a beefier Chrysler 8 3/4, and general bodywork. Over the years, the evolution of the Road Runner into a street-wise performer has been a slow crawl from stock to something else. An A500 overdrive transmission was rebuilt by a close friend of Barry's who works as the head transmission man at a local Chevrolet dealership. Manned by a B&M ratchet shifter and a SMR 2,800-stall converter, the Runner can now snap the 3.91 Sure Grip-spun rubber loose, leaving twin tracks down the asphalt.