By Angelo Van Bogart
In 1970, ads screamed, “Plymouth Makes It,” but not everyone could afford to ride with the “Rapid Transit System.”
“I couldn’t afford [a GTX] as a kid, but I wanted one. When I looked at cars, I liked Road Runners and GTXes, but the insurance was more than the car payment for us guys who were under 25,” said Roger Wilson of Moville, Iowa.
At a base price of $3,535, the 1970 GTX would have cost more than $100 per month over three years and been priced at more than half the $6,200 average wage. That’s a heavy chunk of change for any American, let alone a horsepower-crazed teen or 20-something. Many of those young Plymouth fans had to grudgingly walk past the muscle cars lined up at their local dealership to the more wallet-friendly intermediates upon which muscle cars were based, Wilson included.
“I ended up buying my Sport Satellite with a 318 in 1970, because it was a lot less insurance,” Wilson said.
Although the Sport Satellite didn’t make Wilson a card-carrying member of the Rapid Transit System — represented in 1970 by the Plymouth Duster 340, Road Runner, ’Cuda, Fury GT and GTX — the Satellite series shared the body and chassis with the intermediate-size Road Runner and GTX which were based upon it.
With a 116-inch wheelbase and a 204-inch overall length, Plymouth’s 1970 intermediates were anything but intermediate-sized in today’s world. However, when the body was originally introduced in 1968, Plymouth’s intermediate fit its class well, and thanks to a Coke-bottle-shape, it fit handsomely. It was the perfect time to uncage the bargain-priced Road Runner as an intermediate-size muscle car for the masses, and bring back the hairy-yet-plush GTX for an encore presentation after its 1967 debut.
When introduced, the flashy GTX was the James Bond of the Plymouth line. It had the square-jawed looks of the Belvedere/Satellite line, but was dangerous when confronted, thanks to its standard 440-cid V-8 with 375 hp or its optional 426-cid Hemi with 425 hp. This secret agent of the Plymouth line also packed such features as a heavy-duty three-speed TorqueFlite transmission (when equipped with an automatic) and heavy-duty brakes, suspension and battery.
The sharp creases of the Belvedere/Satellite body were made more sharply dressed on the GTX by way of rocker panel and wheel opening trim plus a “pit stop” gas cap, redline tires, dual fiberglass hood scoops, dual sport stripes and a blacked-out grille. Inside, the GTX was appointed with front bucket seats, a console, 150-mph speedometer and a woodgrain three-spoke steering wheel. At $3,178 in base hardtop form and $3,418 as a base convertible, the GTX was the most expensive Plymouth, beating out even the VIP two-door hardtop and the Sport Furys. Just 12,010 hardtop and 680 convertible GTX models were built for 1967.
The high-line muscle car from the entry-level car maker caught on and GTX production rose when the model returned on Chrysler Corp.’s new intermediate body for 1968. Combined GTX sales for the convertible and hardtop were nearly 19,000 in 1968, followed by a slight decline to 15,602 versions for the little-changed 1969 GTX models.
When the GTX returned for its fourth go-round in 1970, it was only available as a two-door hardtop wearing the heavily revised 1970 intermediate body. Although the basic structure was unchanged from 1968 with lineage still apparent in the roof, the 1970 Plymouth intermediates wore new front and rear fenders, each protected by new bumpers and dressed with new telephone receiver-shaped grilles and rear tail lamp panels with arrow-shaped tail lamps. The doors were also changed and, in the end, the intermediate 1970 Plymouth Belvedere, Satellite, Road Runner and GTX were up to 204 inches end to end, a total of 1.3 inches more overall length than in 1968 and 1969.
The basic idea behind the GTX remained unchanged for 1970: the GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod built to compete with such muscle cars as the Pontiac GTO and Oldsmobile 4-4-2, while the Road Runner combated against the Chevelle Super Sports and Torino GTs. To give GTX clientele a greater choice of power for 1970, Plymouth added the 440-cid Six Pack engine to the arsenal of engine options, which already included the 426-cid Hemi; either could be ordered in place of the standard Super Commando 440-cid four-barrel V-8 good for 375 hp.
For owners with a wilder side, Plymouth offered the GTX in one of eight Hi-Impact colors for 1970, and a grocery list of the requisite blues, shades of white, red, green and black. However, Plymouth left off silver from the standard GTX pallet from 1969 to 1970. That didn’t stop at least one person from getting one of the 7,748 GTXes built for 1970 painted silver.
“Silver was only offered in a Fury that year, but back then, you could go to the dealer and say, ‘You offer it on a Fury’ and special order it for a GTX,” Wilson said. When a non-standard color such as silver was special-ordered for a Plymouth model, the factory inserted “999” for the paint code on the car’s fender tag.
Those 999 paint codes grab Wilson’s attention, especially when they’re attached to a 1970 GTX. His affinity for the GTX is so strong, he co-founded the 1970 GTX Registry 20 years ago (www.1970gtxregistry.com). Today, the registry is an online forum through which Wilson helps fellow 1970 GTX owners and enthusiasts. Sometimes, those enthusiasts also address Wilson’s needs, including his desire to learn about unusual 1970 GTX models.
“A guy called me concerning decoding the fender tag [of a 999 paint code GTX] and having it in the registry, and a little later it came up on eBay,” he said of the EA4 Silver Metallic GTX shown here.
Although the GTX was rough, Wilson’s fascination with the car didn’t die. The weathered paint showed signs the car had panels off a rainbow of different 1970 Plymouths. The Dana 60 rear end installed as standard equipment on GTXes was gone, the original 440-cid, four-barrel V-8 had been replaced by a 318-cid V-8 that no longer ran and the original 18-spline Hemi four-speed and its Pistol-Grip shifter had been replaced by a column-shifted automatic. The interior also needed a complete makeover. And although he had no idea what color the GTX was originally painted, Wilson forged ahead and made a deal with the online seller. That was in 2004.
“I realized it was pretty rough, but I realized it was the second one that was a 999 paint code car that I am aware of,” he said. The other 999 paint code 1970 GTX is a burgundy metallic car.
“At first, I thought it was Petty Blue, because under some emblems, it was Petty Blue and that was a 999 paint code color in 1970. Then I found Petty Blue overspray and realized I had to dig deeper. Then we took off some mouldings and looked under the seats and the package tray and there was bright silver,” he said. That Plymouth color was only available on Furys in 1970.
“When we tore the car completely apart, we took pics of every part of the car that was silver. Somebody had painted the engine compartment black and it was silver under that. We were able to determine it was a silver metallic color. But the build sheet and fender tag just list 999 as the paint code, so there’s no clue as to what color it was unless you look the car over really well.”
While documenting all the signs of the original silver color in the GTX before its 2009 restoration, Wilson and his restorer also noted what parts the GTX would need to get back on the road. It was a long list.
“When I got the car, it had a yellow hood, purple fenders and a blue door, so the original pieces were long gone,” Wilson said. “The pieces on it weren’t that good, so we had to replace every panel. The doors, the hood, the fenders, the trunk lid that were on it needed more work than it was worth.”
Making the search for body and mechanical parts more difficult is the uniqueness of 1970 Plymouth intermediates. While the aforementioned 1968 and ’69 B-body Plymouth intermediates are very similar, the 1970 B-body was different, and then it was succeeded by an all-new body and chassis design for 1971.
“The problem with the 1970 Road Runner/GTX is that so much of that stuff is one year only, even the radio,” Wilson said. Fortunately, the silver car was Wilson’s second 1970 Plymouth GTX project and he could retrace his tire marks in the search for parts.
“Parts came from swap meets, online sales and friends,” he said. “There are more and more places reproducing parts, for example, including the correct bolts for the transmission and engine.
“I spent in the thousands of dollars from Year One, the Paddock and Battleson,” Wilson said. “I bought a lot of stuff from Roger Gibson [Auto Restorations] because their stuff is top notch.”
Wilson noticed that some reproduction parts have even been improved since his first 1970 GTX was restored.
“On my earlier restoration, the woodgrain dash was a decal, but now you can buy the silk screen so it looks original.”
For the quarter panels, Wilson said his restorer, Benton Warnke of Total Performance in Carroll, Iowa, used reproduction quarter panels from Auto Metal Direct (AMD) and found the fit to be superior.
Despite the availability of some new parts and Wilson’s connections to other GTX hobbyists, piecing together the correct parts to make the silver GTX match its build sheet had its challenges.
“For the silver GTX, we got a 1970 block, transmission and we figure that is as close as we can get [to matching numbers],” he said. “The carburetor part numbers are for a 1970. Rounding up that four-barrel, four-seed carburetor for a 1970 was really hard.”
By late 2010, all the pieces to the GTX puzzle were found and assembled, and the result is as close to the picture of a stock GTX as one will find.
“It had a manual front seat and I put the factory six-way driver’s seat base in it,” Wilson said. He also had some internal tweaks completed to the engine to give his “Gittix” more giddy up.
“The 440 motor was bored out so it’s a little beefier than the original, but it has the original Six Pack rods and damper,” he said.
Since the car was completed, Wilson spends a fair amount of time looking out the windshield to the road ahead. “We try to take it to local cruises within a 50-mile radius,” he said. “I have a 3-year-old grandson who is car crazy, so we drive to his place and put him in his car seat and he’s as happy as can be.
“I have always enjoyed a four-speed and it’s a fun car to drive.”
Wilson is also keeping an eye on the rearview mirror, in hopes of learning more about how his GTX came to be silver, and if there are others.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how rare this car is,” he said. “We do have a sign that has the fender tag broken down. It’s the only one known to be painted silver.”
If there’s another silver GTX with a 999 paint code, Wilson would love to hear about it. He’s also looking for information on his GTX’s past. Drop him a line at email@example.com if you can add to the story.
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