In-Motion Classic: 1971 Plymouth Road Runner – Just Once

1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Downtown Flint, Michigan. Saturday, August 15, 2015.

Watching Looney Tunes cartoons on Saturday mornings was a highlight of my childhood, a regular occurrence that I would look forward to throughout the school week.  It didn’t matter that these cartoons were already decades old by the time I had first seen them in the late-’70s or early ’80s.  It was also of no concern exactly how many hundreds of times I had seen each particular five-minute spot.  I would suspend my disbelief each and every time, as I sat on the living room carpet in my Fruit Of The Looms in front of our tube TV on its stand, watching completely enrapt as Daffy Duck lisped and spat through his mangling of the English language.

Bugs Bunny & Me in the third grade.

Bugs Bunny & me.

Then there was Bugs Bunny, my personal hero, with his prominent front teeth like mine, who would use his wit and charm and glide his way through a perilous situation, often without even breaking a sweat.  Neither one of us was the most masculine thing around, and as a kid, I found strength in Bugs’ complete lack of machismo and total likeability, and I related wholly to it.  I love so many of those Warner Brothers characters, and even to this day, when the MeTV Plus cable channel runs a three-hour block of classic cartoons on Sunday nights, I tell myself I’ll watch just one episode, and will sometimes end up spending fifteen minutes or more doing so when I should be getting ready for bed and work the next morning.  It’s like playing Candy Crush Saga on my phone or eating Lay’s potato chips.  It takes real self-control not to overindulge.

The Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote.

There were a few characters, though, that I just never warmed to.  I’ve written things in my essays over the past six years that I do not question have turned off readers at some point, which is never really my sole purpose, but here might be the granddaddy of them all:  I hate the Road Runner.  Okay.  Maybe “hate” is too strong a word, and I really try not to use it, feel it, or even think it, but it’s fair to say I have an extreme dislike of the Road Runner.  Did he ever say anything offensive in one of his cartoons, or be involved in one of those horribly racist bits where something explodes in his face and he is then styled to look like an ugly caricature of an African American before fade-out?  Not that I was aware of.  No, the Road Runner would never have been penned-and-inked into a situation like that simply because he got away with positively everything and avoided every single bomb and trap laid in his path.

1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Downtown Flint, Michigan. Saturday, August 15, 2015.

I have thought about bringing up my distaste for the Road Runner with my therapist, and time and time again I vote myself out of doing so, so as not to devote time, the cost of my health benefits, or copayment money to the subject.  I have a pretty good idea of where all of this comes from, in all honesty.  With all of the myriad details of my personal life, upbringing, and family of origin that I’ve woven into my musings about the cars I’ve written about, suffice it to say that for much of my existence up to a certain point, I had felt like I could do nothing right and felt powerless to change things.  As this relates to Wile E. Coyote, I’m not ignoring the fact that he was spending basically all of his energy trying to kill the Road Runner, who was only living his life and trying not to get eaten.  However, it also seems like there was a lot of unwarranted taunting going on.

Wile E. Coyote & The Road Runner.

And, there’s more.  Coyotes have to eat, too.  Is this not correct?  For all the money Wile E. spent in mail orders to ACME, Inc., wasn’t there some rundown diner in the desert where he could have sat down for regular meals at a reasonable price?  Forget all that for a second.  What really kills me is that when Wile E. Coyote’s plans backfire in his face, sometimes the Road Runner returns to the site of whatever destruction has just occurred, sticks out his tongue at the would-be carcass of his nemesis, gives a “Meep-meep!”, and then takes off after disrespecting his pursuer (who was unquestionably in need of medical attention).  Let’s talk about our featured car for a moment.

1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Downtown Flint, Michigan. Saturday, August 15, 2015.

Seventy-one was the year that the midsize, bargain-oriented Road Runner (and the rest of Plymouth’s intermediate coupes, including the Satellite and GTX) was restyled into the swoopy, “fuselage”-styled beauty we see in these pictures.  Within two years of the Road Runner having been the second-most popular muscle car in the U.S. with over 84,400 units sold for ’69 (outsold by less than 2,000 units by Chevy’s Chevelle Super Sport), sales for ’71 at 14,200 were but a small fraction of its former high figure.  Standard power came from 383 cubic inch V8 with a four-barrel carburetor and 250 net horsepower (300 gross, with both figures sourced directly from the factory brochure).  It also came with a four-speed manual transmission, dual exhausts, and heavy duty brakes and suspension.

1971 Plymouth Road Runner & GTX brochure pages were sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.

The upmarket Plymouth stablemate GTX included a host of upgrades, including a standard 440 four-barrel with 305 hp (net), a standard three-speed automatic Torqueflite transmission, and an upgraded interior, with vinyl bucket seats versus the Road Runner’s standard front bench.  For ’72, the GTX was no longer a stand-alone model, but became a top-line Road Runner designation before being discontinued after ’74.  This was kind of like how the AMX became a top-tier Javelin for ’71 over at AMC.  The price difference in base price between the two Plymouths was substantial, with the Road Runner listing at only $3,147 (~$21,700 / adjusted for 2022) and the GTX costing almost $600 more at $3,733 (~$25,700).  Predictably, the Road Runner far outsold its fancier sibling for ’71, by a ratio of almost five-to-one, with just under 3,000 GTXs sold that year.

1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Downtown Flint, Michigan. Saturday, August 15, 2015.

I used to wonder why a rival make didn’t introduce a “Coyote” model to do battle with the Plymouth Road Runner, but the truth is that by ’71, which was only the Road Runner’s fourth year on the market, the muscle car phenomenon had almost completely run out of steam, and new models take development time to execute properly.  Also, I can imagine that the very existence of, say, a “Chevy Coyote” might have lead to a lot of street racing activity with bad consequences.  I think I may have set a record today for how many tangents one of my essays can splinter off into, but if anything, I hope you have gathered that I like the Road Runner the car much, much better than the Road Runner the cartoon bird.  Also, there will probably always be a part of me that hopes, when watching these old Warner Brothers cartoons, that I will witness Wile E. Coyote whoop the Road Runner’s butt just once.

Downtown Flint, Michigan.
Saturday, August 15, 2015.

Brochure pages were sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.  Screen grabs were sourced from YouTube.