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Road Runner’s sponsor turns 90

by David Zatz on

Jack Smith of Road Runner fame

Jack Smith, father of the Plymouth Road Runner — a stripped-down, bare-muscled performance machine that was a wild success for Plymouth starting in 1968— is turning 90. Marc Rozman, retired test cell technician and current semi-pro photographer, caught up with Jack at the recent AutoRama and reports, “He’s still as sharp as ever.”

The story of how Jack Smith got the conservative Chrysler Corporation to make a car named after a cartoon bird and boasting a near-complete absence of creature comforts has been told before, but it is still relevant today.  Plymouth’s first attempt to compete with the Pontiac GTO had been the Plymouth GTX, which had practically no impact on the market with a mere 12,000 sales. The GTX was priced up in Dodge or even Chrysler territory, packing a top trim level. Road Runner was the complete opposite: it had just about all the performance gear, with a specially tuned 383 engine, four-on-the-floor transmission, high performance brakes, and such, but was bereft of frills. He pushed for the Road Runner name, and worked on getting reasonably priced license rights from Warner Brothers.

The official forecast for Road Runner was to gain 2,000 more sales. In 1968, Plymouth sold 45,000 Road Runners  and 18,000 GTXs — arguably, Road Runner foot traffic helped to boost the GTX numbers as well. By October 1968, Road Runner was 30% of Plymouth’s mid-sized car production.

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