By Brian Earnest
Wayne Bradley is pretty sure he’s going to have the best of all worlds with his 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Not only is his Plymouth the car he’s always wanted — a worthy successor to his long-lost high school car – but it’s a wonderfully restored show machine that will no doubt rack up its share of trophies and, best of all, it eventually figures to be really cool daily driver.
That’s Bradley’s master plan, anyway, and so far, the plan is working out great.
“At this point, I’ll tell you what, I still refrain from driving it because I have a few more big shows to hit, so I’m trying to keep it as clean as possible,” said Bradley, a resident of Carrier Mills, Ill. “I spent so much time and have been so meticulous with it … but eventually I’m going to start driving it. It will be my weekend car.
“Just not on gravel roads!” he added with a laugh.
Bradley owned a 1971 Road Runner with a 383 and a four-speed when he was just 16. It was a lot of car for a teenager to drive, but Bradley admits he probably didn’t appreciate how nice it was and how much he liked the car until it was gone. “I bought it for $1,300 and that was in 1975,” he said. “I had that for probably close to a year, but then I saw a ’73 Rally Charger with that bulge in the hood with those letters that said ‘440 Magnum’. I thought, ‘I got to have one of them,’ and I sold the Road Runner.”
Even though he has had plenty of Mopar muscle cars come and go from his garage over the years, Bradley has always had some seller’s remorse for his 1971 Road Runner. He kept his eyes open for years for a similar car that he could restore, and he finally found one in rough shape that still had some potential. The second Road Runner was an automatic, not a four-speed, but it was close enough that Bradley wasn’t going to pass on it.
“I found this thing in a truck terminal — Runge Trucking company in Herrin, Ill.” He said. “It was actually sitting inside the building. The owner’s name is Karl Runge, and his son-in-law had purchased it previously, but they weren’t doing anything with it. Actually, I ended up buying four cars they had there — I also bought a ’71 Satellite Sebring plus two ’73 Chargers. I parted out one of the Chargers and wound up selling the other Charger and the Satellite Sebring.”
Bradley wound up doing a ground-up reclamation of the Plymouth. Being a master mechanic by trade, he was certainly up to the challenge, but he admits it was a relief when he finally finished the car in 2009. “It’s been a stressful three years,” he chuckled. “Actually, I spent almost four years on the car, so you can imagine how meticulous I was.
“It needed everything. Gosh, I replaced the rear quarters, and not just the skins, the complete rear quarters; the trunk floor, the rear frame rails … Behind the front seats there is a factory seam there, and I replaced everything from there back. I called everywhere and found a guy with a set of rear quarters that had been in storage for 14 years in New Hampshire. I was very lucky to find them …
“I completely went though everything on the body, the engine … I rebuilt the transmission, the suspension, brakes. I coated or painted everything on the car. There is no rust anywhere in that car!
“I wasn’t expecting it to be that bad, but I thought, ‘Well, it’s a big-block car and a big-block car is worth it to me to spend the time and the money.’ If it had a been a small-block car, I would have been disappointed and wouldn’t have wanted to spend the money and time on it.”
The 1971 Road Runners were quite different from their predecessors, with a more streamlined “fuselage” look and a new front-end appearance that featured a recessed grille and headlights. Its new grille looked like a big loop around the front of the car. The Road Runner’s totally revised sheet metal was shared with the Sebring and Sebring Plus coupes. The sedan and convertible did not get translated onto the newly designed Mopar mid-size body shell.
With the more expensive GTX still around, the Road Runner again filled its low-priced muscle car niche with its trick “beep-beep” horn, hot graphics and solid performance. Standard in the Road Runner model was a 300-hp version of the trusty 383-cid V-8. It had a 4.25 x 3.38-inch bore and stroke and a single four-barrel carburetor and developed 400 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2400 rpm. The Road Runner listed for $3,120 early in the year. Around May 31, the price increased to $3,147.
The convertible disappeared from the Road Runner lineup, and the wheelbase dropped from 116 inches to 115.
On the powertrain front, the famous Hemi was still available for one last hurrah, but only 55 Road Runners got the big engine. The 383 cars were still popular muscle choices, but the horsepower output dropped 35 ponies to 300. Clearly, the muscle car era was fading by this time. Government regulations and emission controls were putting the brakes on performance cars, and Road Runner sales plummeted to just 14,218 units for the model year.
Bradley wasn’t sure he’d find any survivor that he could tackle after a lengthy search had turned up nothing promising. “I actually figured I would probably never find one that was in decent shape or restorable shape unless I found one that somebody had already done,” he said. “This thing has a 727 automatic and 323 ratio 8 3/4 rear axle. I kind of would have preferred if it were a four-speed, because the car I had was a four-speed … but I was just glad to find it.
“The hardest thing to find were the complete quarters — and they were complete quarters with windows and window regulators inside them. There were a lot of companies that I went through to find things. They were all very helpful, and eBay was a very good place to find parts also. But it’s still pretty tough. Up through 1970 — ’68, ’69, ’70 B-bodies, you can get just about anything you want for parts. During that 2006-2009 time period I was working on it, everything for the ’71s was still very hard to find, but more parts are becoming available now.”
Bradley said he went with a factory-correct restoration from beginning to end, with the exception of the paint. “The original color was Rally Red, but I put on what they call Inferno Red Crystal Pearl, because I just really love that color.”
Bradley figures he came by his Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth affection through heredity. His father worked for Chrysler for years “and the only thing I ever saw in my driveway growing up was a Chrysler,” he said. “I’ve owned probably 20 to 25 of what they call ‘Mopar muscle cars.’ I had them before they became in demand. If I would have known then what I know now!”
He insists he hasn’t becoming overly attached to any of his previous Mopar muscle machines, but Bradley’s current Road Runner figures to be different. After making the car as nice as he could and spending so many hours in the garage with his Plymouth, he figures he’ll keep it for good. “Yeah, I guess I plan on keeping this one,” he said. “I went further on it than I went on any of my other cars.”
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