ALL IN THE FAMILY
One family’s love affair with a classic Mopar
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.
THE DAD FACTOR
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.
A SKILLED ARTISAN
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.”
BACK HOME AGAIN
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.