- First year for the Plymouth Road Runner
- One of only 391 Hemi Road Runner Coupes produced in 1968 with automatic transmission
- 426-ci Hemi V8 engine
- Dual 4-barrel carburetors
- Believed to be 66,000 miles
|Vehicle:||1968 Plymouth Hemi Road Runner|
|Number Produced:||44,599 (1968 total, 391 Hemi automatics)|
|Original List Price:||$3,619|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250|
|Chassis Number Location:||Top driver’s side dash|
|Engine Number Location:||Passenger’s side of block by oil pan|
|Alternatives:||1968 Dodge Hemi Super Bee, 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396, 1968 Pontiac GTO Ram Air III|
This car, Lot F170, sold for $66,000, including buyer’s premium at Mecum’s Glendale, AZ, auction held March 11–14, 2020.
“To beep or not to beep,” reads a Plymouth ad from 1968. Below the text is the front end of what Plymouth was hoping would be its ticket into the youth market, a stripped-down, hopped-up muscle car called the Road Runner.
If your buddy turned to you in 1967 and said, “$10 says Plymouth is going to make history next year by selling a car that’s a bare-bones taxi cab on the inside, has a 425-hp Hemi engine under the hood and a cartoon bird on the fender,” you’d have made that bet and lost a tenner. In the later-’60s, Plymouth was square with a capital SQ, but the Road Runner was about to change that.
Win you over
In the mid-’60s, Pontiac was making waves with the attractive, powerful GTO. Plymouth’s first effort to reach that audience was with the 1967 GTX — a fully loaded Belvedere trim. Of course, it failed. Although the GTX could perform with the GTO, it couldn’t beat it on price or style.
There’s a charm these days to a ’67 Belvedere’s Clark Kent sleeper vibe, but compared to the swept-back C-pillar and arched rear haunches of a ’67 GTO, Plymouth’s blocky straight lines weren’t bringing any young buyers into the showrooms.
By 1968, Plymouth had a new advertising agency and a new goal. Get hip, fast.
It was time to make good on its latest advertising campaign, “Plymouth is out to win you over,” with a redesigned Belvedere that was still a little on the conservative side but certainly getting closer to cool, with a graphic rectangular grille and clean, uncluttered body panels.
Yet, something was missing. Plymouth VP Robert S. Anderson had a chat with Car and Driver editor Brock Yates, who told him the kids liked big power in cheap cars.
Yates said that the way to the youth market’s hearts was to build a lightweight, simple, mid-size car, and stuff the biggest engine they had in it. The result was the 426 Plymouth Road Runner, the “Hellcat” of its time. More accurately, maybe, the 392 Challenger AND the Hellcat of its time, since you could get the bird with either a 383-ci V8 or the big monster 426-ci Hemi, and both were impressive performers.
Someone ponied up an extra $714 to get the 426 Hemi with its dual Carter carbs in this Road Runner — a substantial increase over the base car’s $3,000 starting price.
The original buyer also splurged on the carpeted floor (base models had vinyl flooring like a fleet car), AM radio, automatic transmission, 8¾ Sure Grip rear axle with 3.23 gears, and chrome side mirror. They cheaped out on the brakes, though, with four-wheel drums and no power booster.
While I’d prefer the optional power disc brakes in front, the manual drums on this car will stop you. At least once.
As for the steelies, I’m into those, which is good, since you couldn’t get anything but 15-inch steel wheels on the Hemi B-body in 1968. The color-keyed rims and dog-dish caps help this car stand out in a sea of chrome Magnum 500s, and highlight the Road Runner’s “less is more” philosophy.
Speaking of color, this car’s color combo is another standout. The white exterior may seem like an appliance-like choice for a high-performance muscle car, but when you get close enough to see the metallic blue vinyl and cloth interior, the overall effect is like walking up to a swimming pool — a swimming pool that can run the quarter-mile in 13 seconds at more than 105 mph, and that’s on skinny bias-ply tires!
A closer look
Hemi cars lived hard lives. More than a few found their way into telephone poles and ditches, and even those that stayed in one piece likely made multiple dragstrip runs — officially or on the street.
The advertised low mileage on this car is appealing, but it’s important to note that it’s not claiming to be a survivor or all original. Going by the photos, the engine has been modified from stock, likely with electronic ignition replacing the points distributor, and a later-model battery. I also spied a flipped belt, but hopefully someone caught that before it rolled across the auction block.
People get all hot and bothered for Hemi cars, for good reason. They didn’t make a ton of them, and with a little know-how, they are staggeringly good performers, as well as sure-fire crowd-pleasers at any car meet — Mopar or otherwise.
There are a few details on this one that make it less than ultimate, at least from a collector standpoint. The first is that column-shift automatic transmission. Automatics just aren’t as hot in muscle cars as 4-speeds, despite being a pricey option in 1968. Another minor ding on this car’s collectibility, depending on your viewpoint, is that it is a coupe “post car,” rather than the rarer and more elegant hard top. Of course, if you’re planning on racing, the post cars are stiffer, and slightly lighter weight.
From the photos the paint and interior look nice, and the engine bay, aside from the belt, looks tidy. Median value on Hemi Road Runners is $78,000, so this good-but-not-perfect example is fairly bought at $66,000. Both buyer and seller should be happy. Beep-beep!
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)