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.
The Road Runner was the getaway...
The Road Runner was the getaway car for Barry and his bride Cathy on their wedding day. Notice the original Rallye rims painted to match the body color.
As with all in-house projects, the hardest part was the bodywork. Brothers Barry and Todd worked together to straighten the F-Body back to better-than-factory condition. In fact, nearly everything external is factory original except for an aftermarket hoodscoop. The side window louvers, trunk wing, and wheel flares are all '76 equipment. Barry drove the Plymouth into the nearby Maaco paint shop to be recoated in the original Spit Fire Orange hue. Once cured, the Runner received new side striping and badging. Phil Mos Upholstery in Palm River, Florida, restored the factory bucket seats to the original black-and-gray vinyl and cloth wrapping. A Grant GT wheel replaced the factory steering wheel, and a Pioneer stereo and speakers replaced the wornout sound system.
The latest lung between the fenders was built by the brothers and their pal, Bud. The warmed-over LA small-block was bored and clearanced to accept a 4-inch crankshaft, pushing the cubes up to 408 inches. Eagle 6.123-inch connecting rods press the Diamond 9.8:1 compression slugs up and down, while the Comp Cams Extreme Energy .510-inch lift hydraulic camshaft directs the Comp-made valves when to open and close. The factory-cast heads were ported, polished, and fitted with 2.02 valves and double springs. A Torker II intake is topped by an 850-cfm Demon, while the spark is ignited by a Mopar chrome box ignition with a yellow Super Coil and a high-performance Mopar distributor. Large Hooker headers plumb the gases through 211/42-inch aluminum galvanized tubes and Hooker Aero mufflers. the 831/44 is fed all this power via the aforementioned gearbox, and stout Moser axles replaced the factory sticks to turn the BFGoodrich T/As that are wrapped around the 15-inch aluminum Eagle Alloys. KYB shocks help smooth out the ride, while the Road Runner glides on factory torsion bars and heavy-duty Mopar leaf springs. A 100hp-shot of nitrous was plumbed into the small-block to give the stroked 408 the motivation to sprint down the 1,320-foot track in 12.6 seconds at 110 mph.
Barry's older brother Todd...
Barry's older brother Todd was the first to bring the orange Road Runner into the Butler home. Within two years, Todd sold the F-Body to his younger sibling, and that, as they say, is where it all started.
Fast Facts: '76 Plymouth Volare Road Runner
Barry Butler • Brandon, FL
Engine: A 408 ci based on a LA small-block, bored and cleared to fit a 4-inch Comp crank. New Eagle 6.123 connecting rods, Diamond 9.8:1 compression pistons, and a Comp Cams hydraulic .510-lift camshaft provide the power. Factory cast heads have been ported, polished, and fitted with Comp Cams stainless valves, double springs, MP rockers, and topped with a Torker II intake and a Demon 850-cfm carburetor. Hooker headers plumb into 211/42-inch galvanized tubes via Hooker Aero mufflers.
Transmission: An A500 overdrive automatic with a SMR 2,800-stall torque converter and a B&M ratchet shifter was rebuilt by Tom, a close friend.
Rearend: A Chrysler 8 3/4 replaced the original rear now filled with 3.91 gears and a limited-slip differential. Moser axles replaced the originals.
Horsepower & Performance: Barry didn't give us any hard horsepower numbers, but an added boost of 100 hp from a nitrous kit launched the little F-Body down the quarter-mile at 110 mph to click off a 12.6-second pass.
Reduced to an added trim and...
Reduced to an added trim and performance package on the existing F-Body Volare, the Road Runner was a shadow of its once-proud Hemi-powered, four-speed self. Barry has done his part by adding an aftermarket hoodscoop, wheels, tires, and dual exhaust.
Suspension: Factory torsion bars up front with heavy-duty Mopar Performance leaf springs in back give the Plymouth some added stiffness, while KYB shocks smooth out the ride.
Brakes: Power disc brakes up front and 9-inch drums in back are enough to bring the F-Body to halt.
Wheels: Up front, 15-inch aluminum Eagle alloys sizing up at 7-inches wide and 10 inches in back.
Rubber: The lightweight rims are wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/As, P215/65R15 and P275/50R15, front and back, respectively.
Body: The Butler boys, Barry and Todd, labored on the body for a span of 22 years. Though it was never in an accident, a thirty-year-old car has a way of accruing lots of door dings, rock chips, and scratches over its lifetime. Barry retained the original tail wing, wheel opening flares, and quarter window louver covers. Only an aftermarket fiberglass hoodscoop was added before the paint was shot.
Paint: Once the bodywork was completed, the Road Runner was wheeled into the Brandon, Florida, Maaco where it was repainted in the original Spitfire Orange paint. striping was added by hand once the paint cured to the sides and tail valance.
Interior: Barry had Phil Mos Upholstery in Palm River, Florida, recover the seats in the original black-and-gray vinyl and cloth seat covers. New black carpet was added; a Grant GT wheel replaced the cracking original; and a Pioneer head unit and speakers took the place of the aging factory sound system. A small blackened tachometer rests on the dash pad, and the B&M shifter with its small red nitrous switch reveals that the Road Runner packs far more than most would expect from a mid-'70s coupe.