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Southern Survivor: a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner

MoPar enthusiasts Tim and Pam Wellborn care for a coveted final-year Hemi Road Runner.
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This survivor Plymouth Road Runner has only 41,000 miles on it, and its
Winchester Gray Metallic paint is original.

It came to an end quite quickly and fairly quietly in 1971. Chrysler Corp., hurt by changes in the marketplace, emissions control requirements and the general economy, pulled the plug on the legendary 426 Hemi (as well as the 440 Six Pack) late that summer; no such beasts would be unleashed in 1972 after the curtain fell in 1971. Indeed, in 1971, Hemi sales had fallen considerably; only 55 people decided that their Road Runner, Plymouth’s muscular answer to the need for affordable performance, should come equipped with the big NASCAR-derived powerplant. Some even opted for the peppy 340 in ’71, which was the first time the Road Runner could be had with a small-block engine.

The unrestored Hemi Road Runner seen here was purchased new in July 1971 from Cantrell & Guy, Inc., a dealer franchise in Dayton, Ohio, by a man named John Terrell. He paid $4,155 cash, plus traded in his nine-passenger 1964 Rambler station wagon for $1,046.11 in credit to take the MoPar home. That was real money; Road Runners were no longer cheap rides when it took five large (in 1971) dollars to put one in your garage.

In addition to the 426-inch lung, this customer-ordered machine received the A727 TorqueFlite automatic and a 3.55 SureGrip-equipped 8-3/4 rear axle. Exterior options included the scarce canopy vinyl roof and the A87 Road Runner décor package (stripes, wheel trim and custom vinyl trim). Both of the corporation’s performance B-Bodies, the Dodge Charger R/T and Plymouth Road Runner/GTX models, underwent radical aerodynamically efficient redesigns for the 1971 model year — designs that Richard Petty and other drivers quickly began to take toward Grand National victories during the early 1970s.

By 1971, the outrageous excesses of MoPar’s muscle car era had peaked. In addition to the aggressive styling, special High Impact colors, huge graphics and frills and trim galore were part and parcel of the hot offerings from Chrysler. The car Terrell bought was much more conservative, painted in code GA4 paint, which was Winchester Gray Metallic for Plymouth (and Light Gunmetal Metallic in Dodge country). Perhaps he was afraid to scare the neighbors who were used to his Rambler, but a more practical guess is that Terrell really did not plan on using the car to get attention, as GA4 is not common on muscle cars.

Inside, the bucket seats were trimmed out in gray with slightly darker inserts. The car also had an AM radio and optional center console with Slap-Stik shifter; it retains these features today and is pretty presentable for a “budget” muscle car. Noted MoPar enthusiasts Tim and Pam Wellborn of Alexander City, Ala., bought the Plymouth for two reasons — to have a representative ’71 Road Runner in their collection, and because of the car’s incredible condition for an unrestored vehicle.

The only major work previously done to the car was when former owner Rick Jones pulled the engine out for high-level detailing and re-gasketing. Otherwise, it is unmolested and has seen just 41,000 miles since day one almost 40 years ago.

The Wellborns, who have specialized in Hemi Chargers from that final year, also have a similarly hued Dodge Charger in their Alabama-based collection, creating a nice pair. So instead of proclaiming “look at me” like a majority of their mechanical brethren, the Hemi Charger and Road Runner pair is something like grey-coated Confederate stealth fighters, taking an experienced and well-aimed viewpoint into the highway battlefields. Given enough running room on the interstate, taking that speedometer to 150 mph was easily possible with this combination.

The battles of Civil War revealed bravery and honor on both sides, and, regardless of today’s political correctness, the heirs of the Confederacy refuse to forget those attributes of their ancestors.

Thanks Deep South.

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