Q: Greg I’m a big Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Super Bee enthusiast from the years 1968 to 1970.  When both were introduced in 1968, they became boulevard cruising classics. However, while these mid-size MOPARS were fast, especially with the 426 Hemi and 440s, they were both affordable and stayed that way right on through 1970.

Can you give us your recollections of these great MOPAR muscle cars and any differences of note? Thanks for your interesting columns. Gene A., Jacksonville, FL.

 

A: Gene thanks much for your comments. Having owned a ’67 GTX back in 1968, I was an active participant whenever anything MOPAR was going on and drove many of these Road Runners and Super Bees in drag racing events.

You hit the nail on the head when you mention the affordability of both these initial MOPAR muscle cars. The Road Runner and sibling Dodge Super Bee were stripped down, 2-door post coupes high on horsepower and low on creature comforts when introduced in 1968. They came standard with four-wheel drum brakes that weren’t known for stopping ability, especially after making a quartile-mile run on short shutdown area tracks.

Following a successful 1967 sales year with the more expensive  B-body Plymouth GTX and Dodge Coronet R/T,  Chrysler decided it was time to get even more serious for 1968 with lower cost, mid-size muscle cars. So, they paid Warner Brothers $50,000 for the naming rights of its famous ultra-fast cartoon Road Runner, along with predator Wiley Coyote, and everything was set in motion.

Plymouth then utilized higher-compression and “cammed up” 383 V8 engines and Road Runner decals added to stripped down Plymouth Belvedere/Satellites, and the Road Runner was born. Ditto for the Dodge Coronet Super Bee, which I still feel should have been called the Dodge Coyote like the character always in full pursuit of the Road Runner.  

Chrysler felt a sub $3,000 muscle car would increase sales and combat the GM, Ford and AMC muscle car offerings, which were already firmly established ala GTO, SS396, Fairlane GT, Mustang 428, Buick GS and many more.   

The initial ’68 Road Runners featured the famous “beep-beep” horn, rubber floor mats, a bench seat, manual roll down windows and rear windows that flipped opened sideways. The buyer had a choice of either a 727 Torqueflite automatic or a 4-speed manual. Following corporate guidance on price, the 1968 Road Runner 383-inch, 335- horse performance V8 came in at a base of about $2,896. There was one engine option known as the “Elephant” and for just $714 more, you received a 425-horse 426 Hemi, the all-out king of muscle car engines.

As for the Super Bee, it retailed for a tad more at $3,027, and was not an identical twin to the lower priced Road Runner. The Super Bee had a one inch longer wheelbase at 117-inches, and weighed about 70 more pounds than the Road Runner. Super Bees also had more chrome, nice wheels and actual die-cast chrome insignias instead of decals, which pushed the price higher. Mechanically, however, they were identical twins.   

As for that important transmission choice, anyone who ever tried speed-shifting one of those big Chrysler A833 4-speeds hooked to a 383, 440 or 426 Hemi, clearly understands why the automatic was a popular choice for less than $40 more. Compared to Chevy’s Muncie M20, M21 and M22 four-speeds, the Chrysler A833 was probably twice as difficult to speed-shift based on the length of the shifter alone. It was possible, just a bit more difficult.

Further, thanks to the noted Chrysler Corp. group of mechanical engineers known as “The Ramchargers,” they figured out back in 1961 how to make an automatic perform better than a four-speed (thanks to smaller converter technology) and the die was cast as to the future of high performance. Today, few exotic cars come with manual transmissions as even the all-new 2020 Corvette Stingray does not offer a manual transmission.  As for speed shifting a Super Bee, it was easier as the 4-speed came with a Hurst shifter and, more importantly, Hurst linkage as compared to the Road Runner that did not have the Hurst shifter initially but did so later in the year.   

As for showroom activity, Plymouth executives hoped to sell 2,500 Road Runners in 1968 to help satisfy the growing thirst for a lower cost muscle car. By year’s end nearly 45,000 Road Runners were sold, making it one of the most successful muscle car introductions of all time. The Super Bee didn’t fare as well but still out did projections at 7,967 units.

In 1969, sales improved  big time as 27,800 Super Bees were sold while Road Runners skyrocketed to 81,125. Also in 1969, Road Runners and Super Bees offered an A12 “Six Pack” option that included a 390-horse 440 with three two-barrel carbs for just $462 more. With a 4:10 ratio Dana rear and some aftermarket bolt on upgrades like headers and a set of slicks, 12-second quarter miles were easy.

Surprisingly, the A833 Four speeds were more popular than the 727 automatics when it came to the A12 cars, regardless of driver speed-shift abilities. Of the 1,907 Super Bee A12s produced, 1093 were four speeds while over at Plymouth, of the 1,487 A12s built, 826 were four-speeds. And to ward off any letters, Plymouth called its 3-2 setup “Six Barrel.”

 In 1970 both featured new exterior designs although sales dropped to 41,000 for the Road Runner and 15,506 for the Super Bee.  Most attribute the drop to very high insurance rates for younger, muscle car owners, however the ’70 Road Runner outsold the Pontiac GTO by near 1,000 units. As for the Super Bee, it left the Coronet platform and joined the Dodge Charger lineup in 1971.

By mid- 1971, lower grades of fuel, even higher muscle car insurance rates and upcoming government clean air mandates spelled doom to one of the most exciting eras of muscle car history.  By 1974, no real muscle cars were available from any manufacturer.  

 Thanks for your letter Gene and bringing back these great memories.

 

Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist. He welcomes questions and comments on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.