Thrashing The ’69-1/2 6-Bbl Road Runner

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When Lester Willey contacted us about being the first registered private owner of the 1969-1/2 6-Bbl. Road Runner that Ronnie Sox track-tested for Super Stock magazine back in ’69, we wondered, knowing what he did, if the car held a certain reverence for him. His butt was in the same seat as Ronnie’s and his hands were on the same wheel and Hurst shifter that Ronnie controlled back in the day. Les didn’t tell us if he picked up on any of those vibes.

But before Les had a chance to slide behind the wheel of his new ride, before Ben Hurley purchased the ‘Runner for his dealership at a Chrysler auction for dealers, before the car was turned in by the press fleet after having made the rounds of the various magazine and newspapers for “evaluation,” I got my shot at flogging this Plymouth during a Cars magazine road test orgy back in ’69.

To be honest, some of the details of that day are a little fuzzy. They say “if you remember the sixties, you really weren’t there.” I was there. To help prod my memory, I called up my good pal, and then east coast editor of Cars who was also present at that test session—Joe Oldham. Joe reports on the beeper in his hot-selling book, “Muscle Car` Confidential: Confessions of a Muscle Car Test Driver.” A must-read, if I say so myself.

The Road Runner was one of about five cars that were tested in one day at the Suffolk County Raceway at Westhampton dragstrip on Long Island, NY. At the end of the strip, to the right, was a half-mile oval  in the middle of which was a road course. My job that day was to evaluate handling on that course.

The Road Runner suffered from two main problems that were evident on the strip and road course. The vacuum-operated carb linkage caused poor, or no,  transition between running on the center carb and both end carbs flopping open or closed. It was like an on/off switch. It caused a traction problem on the track, and when I opened the throttle exiting a turn, I would go from understeer to violent oversteer. This was also a royal pain on the street. Les Willey stated that when he got the beeper there was a screw in the linkage to convert the vacuum to mechanical operation of the end carbs—a trick commonly used by the tripower GTO guys.

The other problem was that Chrysler had cheaped out on the shifter. Sure, the handle sticking out of the floor said Hurst, but the linkage under the floor was Inland. So, it was loose. And when you slammed from second into third, you rammed your knuckles into the dashboard.

Joe wasn’t a big fan of Mopars to begin with, leaning more towards GM. So, Joe enjoyed giving the Mopes a “little extra” thrashing. To protect Ma Mopar’s interests, Al Kirschenbaum and his crew from Rockville Centre Dodge would come along to keep the Mopars in top form– changing plugs, adjusting the carbs and timing, etc. at the track. Both Joe and I remember that the Six-Pack beeper ran pretty good, the aforementioned problems notwithstanding. A set of Goodyear slicks cured the traction problems on the track and netted some decent times. We all tried our hand at the Chrondeks, but the top gun was Marshall “Mash” Gold, who drove one of those Hurst-built Super Stocks. He turned 13.79 @ 106 .50 MPH on the stock F70-15 fiberglass belted tires and, 13.18  @107.01 MPH with slicks.

Today, if I came across that Road Runner. I would treat it with the respect and reverence it deserved as an important piece of Chrysler performance history. Back then, who gave a rap, you just treated a road test car with all the respect and reverence you would the local punch. It sure was a heck of a lot more fun.

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