Saturday, January 7, 2012

1974 Plymouth Road Runner - Fell Off A Cliff


Chrysler paid Warner Brothers for their use of the Road Runner logo. Chrysler spent a small fortune developing the unique "meep-meep" horn

When my brother and I were kids we loved to watch Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner on Saturday mornings. We'd "meep-meep" when the Road Runner would  "meep-meep".  Our house on Long Island booming with the sound of us meeping, our subsequent laughter waking mom and dad. The house booming even more with their their subsequent, "SHADD-UPPPP!"

Is this what Starsky and Hutch drove? No. They drive a Ford Gran Torino.

We counted, on average, six incidences per episode where something happened to Wile E. that we felt resulted in his death. Whether that was falling thousands of feet off a cliff, with that distinctive fading whistle and puff of dust when he hit the ground, a 50 ton boulder crushing him, his bursting into flames or whatever, if something catastrophic happened to Wile E. during an episode and they cut to black, to us, Wile E. bit the big one. We joked that they had a whole stash of coyotes waiting in the wings to replace the Wile E. that had just gotten killed. "Ok, he's dead! NEXT!" There were many times though that they cut back to Wile E. for us to see the aftermath. If he walked away from the incident or was somehow still breathing; in our mind he had not perished. Hey, it was a long time ago before the Internet, video games or cable TV. We had to entertain ourselves someway.

Federally mandated 5 mph bumpers for mucked up a lot car designs.
So, which came first the car or the cartoon? Let's cut to the (ha ha) chase---the cartoon did. The first cartoon where Wile E. Coyote chases The Road Runner through some desert landscapes was in 1948. There actually is a fowl known as "roadrunner" that is native to the southwestern U.S., Mexico and Central America. It doesn't look anything like the cartoon.

A lion in librarians clothing

The car came out in 1968. Designed to be a return to muscle car roots; a mid size sedan stripped to the bare bones of accessories and powered by a big engine just like the "original" muscle car, the 1964 Pontiac GTO, it sold well its first two years. It kept sales pace with established muscle cars from General Motors even outselling the (much more expensive) GTO. Chrysler had a special licencing deal with Warner Brothers to use the Road Runner logo and at considerable expense, Chrysler engineering developed the special "meep-meep" horn.  My brother and I believed the Road Runner "meeped" as opposed to "beeped".

The Road Runner Superbird was Plymouth's NASCAR design for 1970. Back then, if a manufacturer wanted to race they had to offer a version of the car for sale to the public. Hence the term, "stock car (racing)". Richard Petty was a big fan of this car.

While a restyle for 1970 complete with a "Superbird"  version (above) with a rubber nose, crazy rear spoiler (more like a wing) and zesty color options made the cars truly "far out", sales cratered because of sticky insurance premiums. 1970 Road Runner sales where down by roughly half of what they were in 1968 and 1969.

The 440 was the biggest V8 Plymouth (Chrysler) ever bought in a passenger car.

Beginning in 1971 smaller available engines and "coke bottle" styling, like our '74 here has, moved the Road Runner sales back into the black. The smaller engines were exempt from the heavy insurance surcharges.

This body colored rear bumper was done by the car's owner. It did not come from the factory looking like this.

What high insurance premiums couldn't finish off the first of the two '70s gas crisis' in 1973 certainly did. After good sales years in 1971 and 1972 sales fell off a cliff during the first gas crisis. A long whistle (sales) followed by a cloud of dust ensued when Plymouth yanked production on the Road Runner mid way through the 1974 model year.

While Plymouth did offer a Road Runner on a Volare through 1980, the last "Road Runner" rolled off the line in 1974.

The Coyote never caught the Road Runner but the insurance man and OPEC did.

If you're on the highway and Road Runner goes beep beep.
Just step aside or might end up in a heap.
Road Runner, Road Runner runs on the road all day.
Even the coyote can't make him change his ways.
Road Runner, the coyote's after you.
Road Runner, if he catches you you're through.
Road Runner, the coyote's after you.
Road Runner, if he catches you you're through.
That coyote is really a crazy clown,
When will he learn he can never mow him down?
Poor little Road Runner never bothers anyone,
Just runnin' down the road's his idea of having fun.

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