One fam­ily’s love af­fair with a clas­sic Mopar

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - BENTY TEXT AND PHO­TOS BY CAM

When Rob John­son and his twin brother, deal­er­ship Rick, worked at their fa­ther’s (Val­ley Chrysler Ply­mouth) South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Chrysler Ply­mouth in the early 1970s, they didn’t know in Reseda, Cal­i­for­nia, dur­ing cars for sale like 440 and Hemi the seeds they were plant­ing. Prep­ping 340 Dusters, and GTXS was a dream ’Cu­das along with Road Run­ners, on per­for­mance thirst that would live come true and deeply em­bed­ded a Run­ner you see here is a case in point. to this day. The ’73 Ply­mouth Road for these car his­tory, John­son de­vel­oped a love From that great era in clas­sic mus­cle into the act, a fam­ily af­fair. Even his mother got cool clas­sic cars that was to be­come fa­ther’s Run­ner as her daily driver. While his driv­ing a Cu­ri­ous Yel­low (Y3) ’71 Road ’Cuda, he re­mem­bers the time was clearly a ’70 440+6 (Robert John­son Sr.) fa­vorite car at thrilling. Af­ter the wheel of a Hemi ’Cuda par­tic­u­larly his fa­ther’s ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind when you nail he said, “Be sure it’s pointed straight ex­it­ing the 426-cid-pow­ered E-body it!” Those were the days.

In sub­se­quent years, Rob would own a num­ber of clas­sic ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing a ’58 Corvette, ’64 Ford F-100 pickup, ’73 Duster 340, ’69 GTO, and a ’66 427-cid Corvette. But it was dur­ing a run through a lo­cal car lot at the now de­funct Devon­shire Downs in Northridge in 1981 not far from his home that he discovered a Jet Black ’73 Road Run­ner packed with a long list of op­tional equip­ment. For what seems like a minis­cule amount of money to­day ($1,875), the Mopar came home with him. To date, the shiny black Road Run­ner has only been sold twice in the last 45 years — John­son and his fa­ther have been cus­to­di­ans of the Mopar’s care and up­keep through­out that time.


With new keys in hand, John­son’s first stop was to show his fa­ther his new­est Mopar fam­ily mem­ber. It was clear that his pur­chase was well re­ceived. His fa­ther noted, as he did just about ev­ery visit af­ter that, “One of these days, I’m gonna buy me one of those.”

John­son worked on the car to im­prove and per­son­al­ize it over the next year, but as is the case with many en­thu­si­asts, the bug to build some­thing new bit him, and he started look­ing around. To al­low him to pur­chase that new ve­hi­cle, he worked out a good guy deal with his fa­ther, sell­ing it to him for what he had in it, about $2,350.

So for the next 35 years, Robert Sr. be­came the owner of a shiny black ’73 Road Run­ner. Dur­ing that time, he en­joyed work­ing on the car to im­prove its drive­abil­ity and per­for­mance. Best of all, he en­joyed the no­to­ri­ety the car gen­er­ated wher­ever it was driven, jump­ing at ev­ery chance he had to take his wife of

70 years, Con­nie, out for an ice cream shake. Truth be told, his wife en­joyed those trips just as much as her hus­band did, specif­i­cally for that great mus­cle car ex­haust tone em­a­nat­ing from the Road Run­ner’s tailpipes.


While most would be­lieve Robert Sr. lim­ited his car build­ing skills to tune-ups and a few easy-to-in­stall per­for­mance parts, he was, in fact, a skilled body and paint man. And since the ex­te­rior of the Road Run­ner wasn’t as per­fect as he en­vi­sioned — and an im­per­fec­tion in­flicted in the body­work by a neigh­bor’s in­abil­ity to ex­e­cute a tight enough turn — that was all the mo­ti­va­tion re­quired to make him tear into the Road Run­ner the first time.

Years later, he sharp­ened up the ’73 a sec­ond time with its cur­rent paintjob. Work­ing over­time to per­fect, smooth, and shine, Robert Sr. (shown at the right) demon­strated the skills he learned decades be­fore. The 87-year-old fin­ished all of the body­work and ap­plied the Dupont Acrylic Lac­quer Di­a­mond Black paint us­ing his fa­vorite Devil­biss spray gun (which was given to him back in the 1950s) and his 20-gal­lon com­pres­sor, while in his home garage in Lake Havasu City, Ari­zona. Clearly, this be­ing the last paintjob of his fa­ther’s il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, notes Rob, “He took great pride in his work to make the ’73 Ply­mouth Road Run­ner look per­fect.”


To­day, the Road Run­ner is again parked in Rob’s garage. His fa­ther gave him back the car two years ago when he de­cided to pass down the keys and stop driv­ing. At 91, Robert Sr. still en­joys look­ing over the car, which has since been fully re­stored by

Roger Gib­son of Roger Gib­son Au­to­mo­tive in Scott City, Mis­souri.

“Roger is a good friend of mine and was the per­fect guy to re­store the car,” says Rob. “But in so do­ing, I had one spe­cial re­quest that he must ad­here to dur­ing the modifications — that the body only be lightly color sanded and buffed to re­store it to full shine. My feel­ing was that we pre­serve the body­work and paint as a trib­ute to my dad. The ex­cel­lent ef­fort and re­spect­ful restora­tion in­cluded ev­ery­thing else shown here.”


Un­der­hood the Road Run­ner sports the orig­i­nal 400-cid en­gine — Chrysler mov­ing to the larger dis­place­ment with their 383-cid en­gine line in the early 1970s. The en­gine was over-bored 0.030 inch, out­fit­ted with fresh pis­tons, and then fully blueprinted to en­sure dura­bil­ity and per­for­mance.

Key to John­son’s ini­tial at­trac­tion to the ’73 Road Run­ner was the vast amount of orig­i­nal pa­per­work that ac­com­pa­nied the car. From the win­dow sticker (orig­i­nal price was $5,300) to the build­sheet found in the web­bing of the back seat struc­ture, the his­tory of this car is well doc­u­mented.

The el­e­gant shape of the ’73 Road Run­ner is demon­strated here. The stance of the body looks just right float­ing over the Ra­dial T/AS, which are set in mo­tion through the fac­tory Hemi-spec Torque­flite trans­mis­sion. A TCI torque con­verter with a 2,300- to 2,500-stall speed and 3.55:1 Posi rear gear­ing (up from the fac­tory orig­i­nal 3.23:1 unit) means this Mopar re­ally jumps when the throt­tle is mashed.

Roger Gib­son Au­to­mo­tive re­worked the Vinyl Deluxe in­te­rior to achieve the cur­rent con­di­tion. A cus­tom amp sys­tem and speak­ers greatly en­hance the out­put of the AM/FM ra­dio. The ad­di­tion of the af­ter­mar­ket Auto Meter tachome­ter keeps tabs on the en­gine rpm and a fully re­stored con­sole with fac­tory-spec Slap Stick shifter stands ready for ac­tion.

The last year of “big chrome” be­fore the ar­rival of the 1974 Bumper Im­pact Cush­ions, the ’73 Road Run­ner is a clas­sic shape. Just for the record, Rob’s son, Miles, was as­signed the task of mak­ing the rear quar­ter per­fect by his grand­fa­ther. Looks like he did a good job.

Rob knows ev­ery piece of the ’73 Road Run­ner start­ing with the en­gine, which has been lightly en­hanced for added power. Un­der the fac­tory orig­i­nal air cleaner is the orig­i­nal Carter Ther­mo­quad carburetor, which was re­worked by Rob’s buddy, Bryant Seller at Jet Per­for­mance. The en­gine sports an Edel­brock in­take man­i­fold for in­creased breatha­bil­ity and a Comp Cams 440-cid Six Pack Mopar en­gine camshaft backed up with fresh­ened Mopar val­ve­train com­po­nents.

No mat­ter where you look, the de­tails of the en­gine com­part­ment are im­pres­sive. From the fac­tory A/C com­pres­sor to the up­graded gel-type bat­tery (brought to fac­tory ap­pear­ance) and the Hot Box Mopar CD ig­ni­tion mod­ule, it just looks right. The up­graded Mopar Per­for­mance valve cov­ers are a nice en­hance­ment, and the fac­tory ex­haust man­i­folds were port matched and ceramic coated to en­sure they never lose their orig­i­nal gray ap­pear­ance.

The car is sup­ported with 15x7 Amer­i­can Rac­ing wheels up front wrapped with 245/60-15 T/A Ra­dial tires. In the rear, siz­ing jumps up to 15x8 Amer­i­cans and 275/60-15 tires.

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