Name: 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner
Year(s) Produced: 1969-1970
Class: Muscle car
Body Type: 2-door hardtop coupe
Engine: 7212cc; 440.1 cu in V8
Power: 390hp @ 4700 RPM
0-60mph: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 118 mph
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Length/width/height: 202.7 in/76.2 in/52.5 in
Wheelbase: 116 in.
Base Price: US$2,900 – US$4,300
Current Value: US$70,800 (Hagerty)
Ever wondered how that famous, speedy bird from Warner Bros ended up to be an icon among automobile enthusiasts? For sure, the Roadrunner is already famous in its own right, racking up a huge success as a witty, hard-to-catch Looney Toon character. Thanks to Jack Smith, former manager of Plymouth’s new mid-size product planning group in 1965, and his team, we came to know the Plymouth Roadrunner as it is today.
It wasn’t an easy task birthing such an idea. Coming from a previous background as a mechanical engineer for Studebaker where his line of work involves peak fuel economy, it was a kind of irony that he will now promote a car that will soon have skirmishes over emission standards.
Jack is faced with two challenges in front of him in successfully marketing this new brand: very limited time and budget. He had less than six months to convert a vague, senior-managerial concept into a real, sellable car; and whatever he came up with had to be cheap—to both the company and its desired customers. It was then Plymouth’s Vice President, Robert S. Anderson who made a conscious decision to target the yuppies at the time (18 to mid 20 years old). To do this, Jack consulted the expert advice of auto journalist Brock Yates and the relatively new but aggressive advertising agency, Young & Rubicam. Credit is due, however, to Jack’s assistant Gordon Cherry for proposing the idea of using Warner Bros’ Road Runner name. It takes only one Saturday episode to ultimately convince Jack to adopt the character of the animated persona.
Once settled, Jack went with the gruelling task of negotiating with the creators of the Road Runner cartoon. Those critical negotiations were completed in just one conference call, notwithstanding a six-hour marathon call, between Chrysler and Warner Brothers. Jack managed to have WB commit to not having the bird used in any likeness by any other auto manufacturer. That being said, the next step is to create a decal that is uniquely seen and associated with the Road Runner icon. With the help of some very influential Plymouth dealers who sincerely believed in the rebellious appeal of the Road Runner brand, the bird decal was able to land a sweet spot on the car’s exterior.
The last and perhaps the most defining feature of this Plymouth is the installation of its horn. Jack wanted it to have the distinctive Road Runner, ‘beep, beep’ sound. It was Spartan Horn eventually that took the challenge, and within 24 hours came up with a horn that will be a trademark for all of Plymouth’s Road Runner cars.
Such feats and other after this may all be credited to Jack’s one-on-one negotiating skills. He was both able to follow through with the car’s development within a very tight budget, and making sure that it was delivered on time. Since then, as they say, the rest is history.