One 'Plum Crazy' Barn Find

One-owner 1970 Road Runner found 50 miles from new owner's home
Publish date:
1956 Mercedes

The original owner installed Keystone wheels and new tires
immediately after buying the Road Runner, but kept the original
Polyglas tires and steel wheels. Larry Fechter, the car’s new owner,
has reunited the car with the original wheels and tires.

Larry Fechter of Iola, Wis., has wanted a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner since his big brother bought a new Lemon Twist (yellow) hardtop nearly 40 years ago.

“They have a 150-mph speedometer and we got close to pegging it,” Fechter said. “It’s the fastest I’ve ever gone in a muscle car.”

That’s saying something, because Fechter has restored many muscle cars through the years. His current stable includes a documented Daytona Yellow 1969 Camaro Rally Sport Z/28 nearing the end of a body-off-frame restoration and a 1967 Pontiac GTO sport coupe wearing a very presentable older restoration. There’s also a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 in his past and a 396-cid 1965 Impala convertible in his future, but memories of his brother’s Road Runner never went away.

“I wanted a ’70 — I didn’t want any other year,” Fechter said.

Less than 50 miles away, another Larry (we’ll call him “Larry Smith”) also wanted a 1970 Road Runner, and ordered a new Plum Crazy (purple) hardtop from Clark Motors, a Chrysler-Plymouth-Imperial dealer in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. The 335-hp, 383-cid Road Runner was optioned with the Dust Trail Stripe, hood performance paint treatment, black vinyl top, fresh air pack carburetor (Air Grabber), light package, vinyl bucket seats and a solid-state AM radio. These options, plus the four-speed manual transmission and performance axle package (3.55, heavy-duty Sure-Grip 8-3/4 rear axle), brought the final price to $3,934.55 after the destination charge. All told, the final price was quite a bump over the Road Runner’s $3,034 base price.

After taking delivery, Smith immediately removed the original steel wheels, poverty caps and the F70x14 fiberglass-belted tires and put a new set of Keystone wheels on the Plymouth. Smith didn’t care for the factory wheels, and planned to install aftermarket wheels well before he checked the first box on the order sheet.
“He didn’t like the rims they had, so as soon as he got the car, he took the rims off and put the Keystones on it,” Fechter said.

Smith also immediately mounted a Sun tachometer and a statute of Jesus Christ to the top of the instrument panel and took his future wife on dates with the car.

“[Smith] dated his wife in the car and installed red lights under the seat with a switch for when they parked,” Fechter said.

All of that cruising and parking was done in the summer months. Wisconsin weather can be brutal, and the salt used on the roads can be devastating to sheet metal, but this Road Runner never saw the street in the winter. But even with all that care, the Plum Crazy Road Runner’s 383 developed an oil leak after six years and 55,000 miles and was pulled from the road.

“In ’76, the car had a rear main oil seal leak, so he pulled the engine out and never got to it,” Fechter said. At that time, the transmission was also removed and the car was placed in a barn.

The meeting of two Larrys
Even though the two Larrys were less than 50 miles apart and shared an interest in ’70 Road Runners, they didn’t meet until a few weeks ago, when Larry Smith had a friend list his Road Runner for sale on a local Web site. Larry Fechter was the first to spot the ad.

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“I was working in the shop on a Saturday, took a break and went in the house,” Fechter said. While looking on the Internet, Fechter stumbled onto the Road Runner and called the phone number and left a message. Like the Coyote chasing the Road Runner, Fechter left another message on Sunday, even though the ad had been pulled from the Web site. The Road Runner could run from Fechter, but it couldn’t hide.

It took until Monday evening for Fechter’s phone to ring. On the other end was the person who listed the car for Smith. Apparently, the seller had been deluged with calls and pulled the advertisement after four hours. Smith knew interest in the car was high, but since Fechter was the first to call, he was offered the first chance to see the car.

“Someone had offered them [more than] the asking price,” Fechter said, “but the person in charge of selling it had integrity and honesty and said, ‘You have first dibs.’”

But the chase wasn’t over. Fechter had to wait until the following Friday to see the car, and since interest was strong, he wasn’t sure the deal would go through.

“With these things, you don’t even talk about them with other people until they’re settled,” he said.

When Friday arrived, Fechter and his wife, Rhonda, had their cash in hand, but it was hard to tell if the Road Runner was worth the chase.

“It was so dusty, you couldn’t even tell what color the vinyl top was,” he said. Underneath the dust gathered from years of barn storage, Fechter determined he was looking at a solid, one-owner car that wouldn’t be hard to get back on the road again. On top of that, the car came with all of the right documentation, and like other muscle car collectors, Fechter appreciates a car with proven provenance.

“It’s unbelievable what documentation he had,” Fechter said while holding the original window sticker. In addition to paperwork, the car also included an original bottle of partially used Plum Crazy touch-up paint and an extra set of Dust Trail Stripes. Since the car arrived with a defect in the stripes, the dealer had included new a set with the car. Smith never applied them, and they remain in the original blue-and-white MoPar boxes.

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“I couldn’t believe I found it, and one with a four-speed, Air Grabber [hood] and High Impact Paint,” Fechter said. “It’s one of those things you dream about. To find a car like that is like getting hit by lightning — it only happens once.”

Knowing the price was not negotiable, Fechter looked over the car with its engine and transmission parked nearby and contemplated its value. Smith said he’d throw in a set of manifolds and carburetors removed from an old street racer’s Chrysler engine to seal the deal, and Fechter finally had caught his Road Runner.

“It wasn’t easy for Larry to sell it,” Fechter said. “When we saw the car, his wife was gone, and after I said, ‘I’ll take it — here’s the cash,’ his wife came back. She started crying because they dated in it.”

The Road Runner meets its second owner
Fechter wasn’t prepared to haul the car, so after completing the deal, he returned home with original parts that Smith had removed from the car when the engine was pulled. Smith had kept track of all the removed parts, including the long-handle Hurst Pistol-Grip shift handle, barely used original wheels and tires and other bits. Fechter loaded those parts, as well as the odd intake manifolds and carburetors from another MoPar, took them home and returned Saturday for the car. That day, the dusty Road Runner slowly rolled into the sun’s rays for the first time in more than three decades, courtesy of an Oliver tractor employed to pull it from the barn.

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Once he got it home, Fechter sprayed off the years of dust from the exterior and engine compartment. He also cleaned the cobwebs and dust from the black vinyl interior and found it to be in like-new condition. Likewise, the vinyl top quickly returned to its as-new luster. Fechter removed the back seat and found two build sheets that confirmed everything in the paperwork he already received on the St. Louis-built car. The glove compartment revealed more documents of the car’s history, such as period road maps and a registration sheet.

To check the electrical system, a battery was hooked up and all of the headlamps lit up; even those bulbs under the seat emitted a red glow again.

Now that the car is cleaned up, Fechter isn’t sure what to do with it. Should it be restored? Should the engine and transmission be cleaned up and returned to their place otherwise untouched?

“I want to solicit ideas from people what to do as far as restoration,” Fechter said. “You don’t want to devalue it [by restoring a good original.]” Noting its overall good, solid condition, he noted, “It’s a good problem to have.”

In the meantime, Fechter is doing his research before he tears into any part of the car, a process he expects will take about two years.

“I’m going to gather as much information as I can,” he said.

Some of that information may come from the original owner, whom Fechter remains in contact with. After cleaning the car, Fechter took photos to document it and included one photo at the end with a 12-pack of beer on the roof. He sent it to Smith and told him the beer and car would be waiting for him if he ever wants to visit.

“I don’t call it a two-owner car, I call it a ‘Two-Larry car,’” Fechter said.

And what about those odd intake manifolds and carburetors from the street racer that Smith threw in with the deal? They’re rare and desirable 1961 Chrysler 300-G long-ram manifolds, valuable in and of themselves. Not a bad bonus in a deal that already included a new friend and a great car.

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