In the past, Petty Enterprises would use a traditional "Body in White" as a starting base when constructing a Grand National car. But for 1971, things got more serious; the cars were now built on a surface plate that used "panel construction" as a technique. Specific race-only components were now used, including a fabricated front frame assembly and front K-member that didn't share the factory design. Two-hundred-fifty feet of 131/44-inch tubing was used for the rollcage. A Petty Enterprise-designed front sway bar was used, and beefed suspension systems (torsion bar front, leaf-spring rear) with double Napa Regal Ride racing shocks on each corner were also used. Bigger brakes were part of the package (11x311/42-inch ribbed drum front, 11x3-inch drum rear), and specific Petty-designed hubs and steering components were fitted. A 22-gallon fuel cell was incorporated, as were other safety items, such as a check valve installed in the fuel tank (to prevent fuel from pouring out in the event of a rollover), a nylon driver's window net, and an on-board fire extinguisher.
The racing seat was installed along with a tubular steel-reinforced headrest (mounted to the rollcage assembly). The '71 Petty cars were the start of "pure race car" construction, but still had stock sheetmetal and retained factory stampings for the floorboard. the body looked basically stock, except for the enlarged wheel openings for tire clearance.
Maurice built the 426 Hemi engines and was known for his ability to coax the maximum amount of power from them, all the while keeping them reliable enough to last. A Chrysler "bathtub" intake manifold with a single 4500-series Holley carburetor was used, as was a dry-sump oiling system.
When it was time for the '71 Daytona 500, the Petty team came to the track with a blue Plymouth and a white Dodge. Petty won the race (the first ever to win it three times), and Baker, in the Dodge, took home second. A 1-2 punch and the most successful race ending ever for Petty Enterprises.
In the late '80s, the R.J. Reynolds Company used a 1978-era Dodge Magnum as a "No. 1 Winston" promotional display car. This car, which began life as a Petty Enterprises '71 Road Runner, was obtained from Petty Enterprises. Several years ago, Kim Haynes of Gastonia, North Carolina, discovered this car. Kim, proprietor of www.racetorations.com, sold it to Simi Valley, California's Pat McKinney. The car was complete, but needed a re-body back to the original Road Runner skin, plus the engine was a NASCAR-style 355-inch small-block, which needed to be replaced with a Hemi.
Dick Landy was called in to work his magic on the new powerplant, which pulled 616 hp on the dyno. with the help of Pat's brother Michael, the fully-restored '71 No. 43 Petty Road Runner rolled out of the garage some five years later looking like a time-warp machine from the '71 Daytona 500.
A ton of research using old photographs, movies, and conversations with people who were around the Petty race cars in that era (including one with Richie Barsz, a long-time Petty crew member) was extremely helpful in putting together the proud old Plymouth. When the letter of authenticity came on April 9, 2003, from Richard Petty, The King himself, the hard work and determination of the project was all justified.
The restoration of this racer was done with great accuracy, and the end result is a car that looks as close to the way it appeared some 34 years ago as you can get. Perhaps one day King Richard himself will see the historical car in its current state, and that surely would bring back some great memories.