Curbside Musings: c. 1973 Plymouth Road Runner – Worth Beyond Appearance

1973 or '74 Plymouth Satellite Road Runner. Ft. Myers, Florida. December 2009.

I had sat down to write this on Friday, just two days before Father’s Day.  There was a combination of semi-recent events that had contributed to my selection of today’s featured car, including that the vehicle I had always associated most closely with my father was another yellow Plymouth from this era, a ’71 Duster.  I had profiled that car here at Curbside Classic all the way back in June of 2015, but this essay isn’t a rewrite of that one.  Almost fifteen years ago, I was back in Fort Myers, Florida a bit earlier than normal for the December holidays, as my dad was nearing the end of his time on this earth.  Significantly older than my mom, he was by then an octogenarian and his health was fading fast.  It was during this time of my own uncertainty and inability to fully process my feelings about all of this that I had found a certain car-based website on my company-issue qwerty Blackberry with trackball.  That site wasn’t Curbside Classic.  That discovery would come only a short while later.

1973 Plymouth Satellite Road Runner brochure page as sourced from

Things were bleak at the house.  My dad was in and out of coherent thought and speech, spending most of his time in the hospital bed that had been installed in the screened-in back porch where I had lived about thirteen years prior when I had taken a year off from college.  While I understood that I had a limited amount of time left with my dad and wanted to make the most of it, I also seriously needed breaks from everyone and everything.  Once I had sensed that things were basically done for the day and the music and Bible readings had stopped, I’d take a set of house keys and my MP3 player and would walk through the neighborhood to a small shopping center complex called the Bell Tower Shops, where there was a TGI Friday’s restaurant amid the upscale retail stores.  I wouldn’t go there to eat, but rather to take advantage of their specials on martinis and appetizers.  Out of respect for my family and everything going on at the house, there was no way I was going to be loudly shaking up a batch of Manhattans in the kitchen.

1972 Plymouth Duster brochure page, as sourced from

The ’72 Duster above was similar to the ’71 my dad drove almost exclusively when I was young.

I would sit at the bar, making friendly chit-chat with my server as I’d sip on cold, stiff, delicious cocktails that somehow made me feel like more of an adult and in control of at least a few aspects of my life in those moments.  (For the record, I wouldn’t trade my four years of sobriety for anything.)  However, once I got to the Ate Up With Motor website, I was soon completely and utterly engrossed.  There were hourlong stretches I would spend reading at that restaurant in the evening that passed like nothing.  My absorption in that site would often continue when I got back to the house, with a small desk lamp perched on a bookcase that acted as a headboard providing me with just enough light to keep me from straining my eyes.  It wasn’t just the photography or the clever bylines.  These articles at AUWM were (and are) academic-grade, in-depth reading about the genesis, development, and history of an entire library of individual car models that had long fascinated me.

The discovery of AUWM was akin to having been gifted my very first copy of The Encyclopedia Of American Cars by the editors of Consumer Guide when I was thirteen.  The Pontiac Fiero.  The AMC Gremlin and 1974 – ’78 Matador Coupe.  Even the Pontiac Banshee show car made an appearance, likely in an article about the origins of the Firebird.  At a time when dire circumstances around my father were adversely triggering not only me but everyone else in my family of origin, the AUWM site gave me a much-needed diversion, and site founder Aaron Severson, through his entertaining and engaging style of presenting factual data, had felt almost like a friend.  That site buoyed me tremendously at a time when I really needed it, and I thank him very sincerely.

1973 or '74 Plymouth Satellite Road Runner. Ft. Myers, Florida. December 2009.

I took these pictures of our featured car the day after my father had passed away, while walking to that same TGI Friday’s.  Though I felt present at the time, there was a part of me that was so busy worrying about how everyone else was doing that I’m sure there were some subconscious things at work with some of my choices in those days immediately after Dad died.  Here was a ’73 (or ’74) Plymouth Road Runner in a shade of yellow similar to that of my dad’s old Duster, from one of the final two years it was offered as an option package for the Satellite before becoming part of the “small Fury” line for ’75 (and as a compact Volaré from ’76 through 1980).  Just over 19,000 were built for ’73, with another 11,600 made for ’74.  These sales figures were a far cry from the 84,400 sold for ’69 when the Road Runner, then its own model, had won the Motor Trend Car Of The Year award.

1973 Plymouth Satellite Road Runner brochure pages as sourced from

Other numbers reflected the times.  According to my Encyclopedia Of American Cars, the base engine in a ’73 Road Runner was a 340 four-barrel V8 with 240 horsepower, but the factory brochure shows that a 318 V8 with dual exhausts (and 170 horsepower, according to the internet) was standard.  The top engine option was a 440 four-barrel rated at 285 horsepower for ’73 and 275 hp for ’74.  The condition of this particular car also reminded me of my father in his then-current state, and also of his and my relationship.  My dad had always seemed like a mentally strong, cognitively bright, genuinely empathic person who loved teaching at the university and really wanted to help others maximize their potential.  His students, coworkers, and fellow faculty, staff, church members, and many others loved him.  He was the real deal – a great listener, analytical thinker, cool head, calming presence, and easy to love.

1973 or '74 Plymouth Satellite Road Runner. Ft. Myers, Florida. December 2009.

At home, however, the man I often got was my mother’s passive enabler who basically let her handle everything the way she wanted, with Dad probably just wanting to keep the peace at any cost.  I’m sure there were racial dynamics at play under the surface in the relationship between my sub-Saharan African father and white American mother, things that probably won’t ever be discussed with the frankness and honesty they deserve.  Things were what they were, and my radical acceptance of my experiences of unhealthy family enmeshment have helped free the adult me to just be.  Thinking about some of the letters Dad had written me occasionally after I had moved away, it seems apparent that he had wanted to bridge our gap, but that maybe he just didn’t know the best way to go about it.  I look at this Road Runner in its dented, rusty state from almost fifteen years ago, and recognize that despite its myriad imperfections, it was of much greater worth than would be apparent at first glance.  Just like my complicated relationship with my late father.

Ft. Myers, Florida.
December 2009.

Brochure pages were as sourced from