If you know anything about muscle cars, then you are already aware of the Hemi, an engine built by Chrysler with hemispherical combustion chambers. The 1968 model of the Plymouth Road Runner Hemi muscle car marked the creation of an iconic car that would stamp its authority in auto history.
The first productions of the Hemi muscle cars were the barest models to be produced in the late 60’s. But the car was austerely done for a good reason. The period preceding the late 60’s was marked by a number of expensive muscle cars that came with expensive engines under the hood. The Hemi trashed the ‘expensive’ tag and by doing so, cut its own niche amongst a good number of young people.
The Road Runner was built with pure simplicity in mind. Lacking in exuberant curves and cuts, the first thing one would obviously notice on this car was it B-pillared two door outlook. One would also not fail to notice its bi-curved protruding grilles. The grilles settled into two pairs of dual single unit headlamps, something that other muscle cars of the time were trying to shed off.
The 1968 Road Runner cutely featured the Looney Tunes character of the same name, across various points of its body. Just next to the fender there was a decal of the Road Runner behind an embellished tag of the model, as well as on its back side. The Road Runner also inspired the company’s decision to come up with the characteristic ‘beep-beep’ honk. Plymouth paid Warner Bros. $50,000 to use the image, and another $10,000 to develop the honk.
The backside of this car featured a long deck lid that had a prominent ‘Plymouth’ tag running across it. The signature ‘Road Runner’ would be found on the extreme end of the lid. Like most muscle cars of this period, the vehicle had a stockier, rigid build. The shiny metallic bumpers were uninspiring and held a pair of very plain indicator lights.
The Road Runner’s hard top cover was a far cry from the increasingly popular slanted, high bump hard top cover that was being adapted in other cars. Nonetheless, all these plain features did little in the way of dimming the shiny outer appearance of the vehicles body.
Coming at a time when people were catching up with a few interior luxuries, Chrysler chose to forego all the unnecessary pieces. The bare cloth bench seats would serve as a welcome feature to the interior. The lack of a center piece console made the car’s interior rather drab, but then again, this was the 60’s. The large dashboard had a single bar gauge meter allocation. The various dashboard meter gauges were simple dials, set on simple dark backgrounds, occasioned by white scale markings.
The large steering wheel was accompanied by a floor mounted gear lever. For an AC unit, you would get driver side controls, with a single centered AC vent completing the dashboard look. The floor featured a hard thread plastic cover. One sad thing about this vehicle was the AM radio, which would have made long journeys quite boring.
Lacking in aesthetic qualities, the Road Runner was made with performance in mind. As such, the Hemi came standard with a manual four speed transmission. The Hemi’s 426 cubic inch V8 engine was capable of producing up to 425 hp at 5100 rpm. The five seater vehicle could also bear a maximum torque of 490 lb-ft at just 3600 rpm. All this meant that the Hemi could accomplish a 0 to 60 MPH speed in just 5.3 seconds.
With a 116-inch wheelbase, the vehicle was capable of holding its own stability while letting go of the steering wheel. The steering system was as basic as the rest of the car. The power steering was an additional feature that meant spending extra money. To hit a quick halt, the car came with a standard set of back wheel disc brakes. Muscle heads, on the other hand, could request for an additional set of front wheel brakes.
The vehicle was well received upon release onto the market. Chrysler sold 45,000 of them, when they were only expecting 20,000. It was the third highest selling muscle car, after the Chevy Chevelle SS-396 and the Pontiac GTO. After that, Dodge came out with a similar looking car, the Super Bee, after it saw how much success the Road Runner was seeing. Notably, the Road Runner continues to hold its spot as a legend among today’s muscle car fans and fanatics.