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1971 Plymouth Road Runner - The Parts Runner

This guy makes his own air-grabber kits. See one on his '71 Road Runner daily driver.

Photography by Geoff Stunkard

Remember the old days, when factory muscle had not gone into the stratosphere? As we watch the insanity of auction and asking prices rise, most of us know that we are now a pretty long way from getting our hands back on a lot of the cars we used to own. Some of us were wiser than others, and, if the space was available, a few gems got tucked away for future use.

For Dale Mathews of Lenoir, North Carolina, the projects that got tucked away were a pilot Hemi Road Runner, a Superbird, and some other prime pieces. Living in the heart of NASCAR country meant that there were still undiscovered cars in garages and barns, and Dale had a way of talking to people and getting some of the stuff moved into his own garage. Unlike a lot of us who sort of horse-traded our way into automotive frustration, he doesn't tend to flip cars unless the money will either buy something better or help get parts to finish something he plans to keep. He still has the '73 Challenger he bought as his first car.

In 1993, this Road Runner was for sale on a front lawn near Rockingham, North Carolina, and Dale gathered up $2,000 cash to take it back north to the Carolina foothills. Originally powered by a 383 with a column shift and highway-geared 3.23 rear, the Plymouth would likely have been a sales-pool vehicle at a dealership in the waning days of the supercar era. (It was reportedly built on the very last day of 1971 production, July 9.) The big plus was the blue vinyl interior, which really stands out on this white car, but the original engine was disassembled and a 318 was under the hood.

"I had really planned on paying about as much for a Satellite that I could clone into a Road Runner," he recalls. "I bought it from the second owner. This one was complete, including the rare A45 spoilers, but the interior was shot, the vinyl top was aging, and the car had some surface rust on it. Still, it was a great deal and had all the extra parts thrown in."

The plan was to just keep it as sort of a driver/parts-runner for some of the more impressive projects Dale owns. That changed when Dale and friend Ken Blewis decided it would be a great way to learn and practice restoration techniques, and the car was given a garage restoration, including paint, at Dale's house in the late '90s before it debuted at the Mopar Nationals. After it appeared at the Carlisle's All-Chrysler Nationals in 2001, Dale began moving the car away from its basically stock beginnings to the restomod it is today.

Other than replacing the vinyl top with the cooler strobe-stripe decals, the body had been left mostly stock. Dale decided he would tackle the job of creating aftermarket Air Grabber reproductions, and the one on the car is a version he makes and sells. Together with the rear gear change, the e.t.'s began to fall when the 383 was rebuilt with more compression and some aftermarket bolt-on goodies.

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