Curbside Classic: 1973 Plymouth Road Runner – Evolving Priorities

We all experience a change in priorities as we go through life.  Many of the things that we strive for in our 20s quickly fade over time and bear little resemblance to priorities that develop in our 40s, 50s, and 60s.

The same concept, to a lesser extent, can be applied to automobiles.  It’s pretty obvious by looking at this delightful Plymouth its biggest priority in life is to keep fighting the good fight and continue to do it for quite a while.  It took some time for it to get to this point, but what a terrific point it is.

For the sake of argument let’s call this Road Runner a 1973 model.  Of course it may not be a Road Runner at all; the two-door Satellite and Sebring had the same body shell as the Road Runner but they had different priorities in life.  Regardless, the hood has a callout for a 340, an engine that was for Road Runners only and was gone for 1974, replaced with the 360 cubic inch (5.9 liter) engine that would be around for decades.

Sure, hoods can be changed easily enough, but we’re sticking with the proclamation of this being a 1973 Road Runner.

No doubt this Road Runner’s first priority was to find a good home.  Odds are it looked a goodly amount different then, such as the wheels all being of identical size and the rear axle being a smidgeon wider, but who around here isn’t thicker in some areas, while thinner in others, in comparison to how they were in 1973?

Chrysler made it a priority to change the appearance of the 1973 Road Runner from the 1971 and 1972 models (1971 shown).  A distinct driver in Mother Mopar’s decision was the government’s regulatory priority about cars needing to be better equipped to escape unscathed from low speed collisions.  The solution often brought bigger, more prominent bumpers to the automotive party.

In the big scheme of things, the Mother did pretty good; no chrome plated guardrail or railroad ties here.  It all integrates reasonably well and is infinitely better than anything from, say, Dearborn.

In an unusual move for them, one of Chrysler’s priorities from 1971 to 1974 was having a two-door intermediate with a substantially different body than that of the four-door.  We’ve been looking at a two-door B-body so far; here’s a sample of the 1973 four-door B-body, seen here in Plymouth Satellite guise.  It presents a totally different aura than the two-door, with the four-door having a distinct no nonsense, Dirty Harry vibe to it.

For 1975, this Chrysler priority evaporated as the B-body two-door morphed into something looking an awful lot like the four-door, with both being rechristened as Fury.

The Road Runner still existed but it seemed a bit forced, almost as if offering one was a habit.  A convincing execution didn’t seem to be a priority at Plymouth, especially with a brochure saying “to remind you driving can still be fun.”  That sure entices a person to reprioritize their finances and skedaddle to the Plymouth dealer, does it not?

Though to be fair, this could be a subtly snarky comment about the market moving to isolation chambers.

But we are running down the road from our featured Road Runner, a car whose priority in life was to appeal to younger people given how Plymouth had proclaimed it to be “young America’s favorite bird”.

It should also be noted the Plymouth GTX, the upmarket sibling of the Road Runner and Satellite, last saw the light of day in 1971.  During the years the Road Runner and GTX were both offered, their priority in life was quite different.  While both came with larger displacement engines as standard fare, with the GTX in 1971 having either a standard 440 or optional 426 Hemi, their levels of equipment were generally quite divergent with the Road Runner being pretty basic and the GTX being loaded, with Plymouth going so far as to refer to it as luxury performance.

The Road Runner had always been intended to appeal to the younger set (which could also be interpreted as those with less financial wherewithal) but its priority of function had certainly evolved since 1968, as priorities are want to do.  Gone was the standard 383 cubic inch V8 as the standard 1973 mill was Chrysler’s omnipresent 318 cubic inch (5.2 liter) V8.

To Plymouth’s ever-lasting credit, a 440 could still be found on the option sheet for a Road Runner in 1973.  Their priorities weren’t the jumbled mess they would later become.


As an aside, Chrysler’s 318 was much like the slant six in as much as having oil in the crankcase wasn’t exactly a top priority in its functioning; coolant sometimes wasn’t high on its list of priorities either.  If there is ever a Question Of The Day here about what engine is most resilient to abuse and neglect, these two could easily top the list.

Chrysler’s priorities had certainly evolved in the six years since the original Road Runner’s debut; insurance rates were a distinct factor as were emission standards.  That pesky OPEC derived oil embargo thing would also make itself known during the 1973 model year.  In the places where shortages didn’t happen, prices certainly spiked to compensate.

As one who was born about ten minutes before the dawn of the 1973 model year, any memories of seeing these in daily duty are sketchy although this is partly due to the relatively modest sales of Plymouth’s two-door intermediates.  With 1973 Road Runner sales of 19,056, this is less than half the volume of the Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna.  While both the Satellite and Satellite Sebring sold in higher numbers than the Road Runner, they still paled in comparison to the Chevelle.

But seeing them infrequently doesn’t mean they were invisible.  In fact, our featured Road Runner is highly reminiscent of Satellites and Road Runners seen long ago, a time warp to the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when these Road Runners were likely with non-original owners and customization/modification was the priority of the day.

In retrospect, it seems a preponderance of these Road Runners (and Satellites) fell prey to the same law, statute, or ordinance that afflicted so many 1955 to 1957 Chevrolets – “Thou shalt be modified heavily and mightily to within an inch of thy life”.

One Road Runner (or Satellite) that is prominent in the memory banks belonged to a young gentleman who lived in the town where I grew up.  I have no clue who he was although with his frizzy permed hair and grotesque lamb chop sideburns that grew perpendicular to his face, his head looked a lot like a seeded dandolion.  But he could always be seen driving his Satellite with the fatties in the back and skinnies in the front.

However, from a personal perspective the most pervasive Road Runner from times past was this televised version, one that appeared factory original even in 1979.

That Road Runner could also be found in this scene.  Watching this can, amongst other things, make one thirsty for lemonade and hungry for chitlin sandwiches.  Food is a priority for everyone.

This second video gives the viewer a much better cornucopia of Road Runner images, especially the freeze frame at the end, even if there is the irreparable loss of a mid-sized Dodge Coronet.

While our featured Road Runner hasn’t escaped the indignity of fat fatties and extra skinny skinnies, it is still soldiering on.  While its being parked in the middle of a grocery store parking lot made a full complement of pictures a challenge, one could easily speculate this Road Runner has seen more life than nearly anything parked around it is likely to realize.

Further, this car came from Nebraska, a drive that isn’t a short one to where it was found.  For this alone the owner deserves a big pat on the back – keeping this Road Runner vibrant is obviously a top priority.

Found July 2018, appropriately enough at Lucky’s Market on Providence Road

Columbia, Missouri