It's 1967, and musclecars are being offered by everyone. Then, along comes one that not only has a real performance package, but a catchy name to match-the Road Runner.
In the early winter months of 1967, Plymouth product planning was struggling to find a name for their new entry into the affordable musclecar market. No one else had a car that did 100 mph in the quarter-mile and was priced below $3,000. It would appeal to the street cruisers, spectators, and those into performance. This is the group that can't wait for the next issue of their favorite performance car magazine to get the latest low-buck, hop-up tricks because they have the least amount of money to spend on their passion. this group of enthusiasts also represents the people that buy the most cars.
Plymouth concentrated on what was important: a big engine and dependable drivetrain. They eliminated the bright work, high interior trim, and gave it only what it needed to look good, but have the performance to back up the looks. They took a 383 engine and installed a new cam, 440 heads and intake, exhaust manifolds, and so on. It worked well.
Now for a name. Jack Smith and Gordon Cherry met with Joe Strum of Product Planning to discuss the name of their new back-to-basics musclecar. At first, the name LaMancha was a possibility, but Jack and Gordon suggested Road Runner. Gordon's kids watched the Road Runner cartoon show every Saturday morning. Gordon called Jack one Saturday morning and prodded him into watching the Road Runner. Jack was hooked. The cartoon series had a great young following and was a hit in California where taverns played Road Runner films. the name fit the car. It wasn't a number or letter like everyone else had, but a name. The car, like the cartoon character, was blindingly, unbeatably fast, yet could stop on a dime. And above all, just like the cartoon character, it could never be caught.
countless adults enjoyed watching the Road Runner elude Wiley E. Coyote, and those adults had the money to buy the car. The name and its association with the Road Runner cartoon character was a stroke of brilliance. Plymouth didn't stop with just the name. They did a special Road Runner "beep-beep" horn. The car's horn tone was indistinguishable from the cartoon charactor's beep-beep. when the idea was presented to upper management, they were a little concerned. The design studio head did not want a cartoon figure on the car. However, at the urging of his superiors, he agreed, but only if he got to pick the bird logo. For whatever reason, he picked the black-and-white version of the bird. when the car was a hit in 1969, the bird went full color.
The car was an instant hit among performance enthusiasts, and most everyone who could afford one, even winning Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year Award in 1969. with its success came options, such as the air grabber hood, some trim packages, and interior upgrades so the car would appeal to more people and sell even better. Offered standard with a 383; a Hemi engine was optional for both 1968 and 1969. a special 440-6 barrel limited edition was offered in 1969. It also featured a back-to-basics approach. A black fiberglass lift-off hood, no hood springs, just the four quick pin releases at the corners, plain steel wheels with chrome lug nuts, and redline racing tires. It looked mean, and it was. With 390 hp, it was a true contender that even out-muscled stock Hemi Road Runners.