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1970 Plymouth Road Runner

Enthusiasm started in a high-school parking lot

Mark Ehlen - November 23, 2011 10:00 AM

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DASH SWITCH The “Air Grabber” hood scoop was opened by a switch on the lower dash that activated a vacuum solenoid under the hood; it could only be opened when the engine was running. If you forgot to close it before you turned off the car, the scoop would slowly close on its own as the vacuum leaked down. There’s still something about this ’70s technology that’s just cool to watch in action.

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METAL WORK Even though the car spent its entire history in Florida, it still needed extensive metal work by MCR to return the body to like-new condition. REPAINTED Kelly’s mom had the Runner repainted blue in 1975 but as soon as the early ’80s the car was definitely showing the evidence of its hard use. This one was not pampered.

John Balow
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REPAINTED Kelly’s mom had the Runner repainted blue in 1975 but as soon as the early ’80s the car was definitely showing the evidence of its hard use. This one was not pampered.

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ENGINE Though it has been pulled a few times and even replaced once with a 440, this is the original 383 and the 727 Torqueflite that the car was delivered with. MCR did a masterful job of returning it to stock factory specs.

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Provenance nearly always improves the value of anything collectible. Being able to track any precious object back through its life to learn who has owned it and where it’s been and how it’s been used has always been very desirable — not only to prove its authenticity, but also to help establish its worth.

While most people see this as important only for works of art or historic relics, it can also be very valuable information to have when restoring vintage muscle cars. Many times, Department of Motor Vehicle records are all that’s available to track the various owners, and there are no formal records of any maintenance — especially not of modifications and parts swaps. While it can be a challenge to just be able to learn about a car’s ownership history, how often is someone able to obtain a car that they’ve personally followed since it was almost new? And, more than that, to have remained good friends with the family that originally purchased it?

Milton “Mack” Smith didn’t have to look far to find the provenance for this ’70 Road Runner. He thought it was a cool car as far back as 1972, when he would see his junior high school friend, Kelly Richardson, being dropped off for school in it. So the history goes like this: Kelly’s dad, Al Richardson, bought the car as a dealer demo in August of 1970 while he was working as a mechanic for McKee Motors in Ocala, Florida. Though most car enthusiasts today would consider this a highly desirable muscle car, back in its day, a 383 4-bbl auto was considered basic transportation and it was in fact, Mrs. Richardson’s daily driver.

It’s doubtful that she cared much about the Air Grabber hood scoop or the cartoon decals on the body, so one might imagine that Al simply got a good deal on the car through his boss. The ’Runner stayed original until about 1975 when Louise thought the Lime Light Green paint was getting too faded and she had the car painted blue. So, it was “mom’s car” until January of 1976 when it became a gift to Kelly for his 16th birthday.

Well, you can imagine how long it would take a 16-year old to decide that his car needs to be faster. Over the next few years, the car was slowly modified for street/strip use and it goes without saying that it did not have an easy life. At one point, the 383 was pulled in favor of a 440 but fortunately the original 383 and transmission stayed with the car.

Kelly eventually sold the car in 1982 to a friend who kept it until 1984. Kelly kept track of it and was able to buy it back in 1986. After a few years, Kelly reinstalled the original 383 and, with some modifications, was able to manage a best of 12.50 with it. Mack remembers Kelly being pretty extreme at the track even to the point of waxing the front of the car, including the headlights, before each race.

By the late ’90s, the car was getting pretty rough looking so Kelly decided it was time to return it to its original green. But by 2006, less than professional body and paint work were coming back to haunt him as well as some mechanical and electrical issues that simply had to be dealt with.

Mack had been telling Kelly for decades that he wanted to buy the car if he ever decided to part with it but Kelly kept insisting that he had sold it once and would never do that again. Yet, in October of 2006, Mack finally got that phone call from Kelly — he was willing to sell his Road Runner. But Mack told Kelly to think about it for two weeks and then call him back. He knew how much the car meant to Kelly and he didn’t want him making an impulse decision that he might later regret.

For the next few years, Mack gathered together most of the parts that would be needed to return the car to its original stock condition and by January 2010, he was ready to ship the car to Muscle Car Restorations in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, for its complete restoration. Mack had met MCR owner John Balow several years earlier and was convinced that his shop could handle the extensive metalwork that he knew the Road Runner needed.

Being in the same family for 31 years certainly made it easier for MCR to return the car to numbers- matching fender tag specs. The only deviations from original are a tic-toc-tach and raised white letter tires instead of the white line F70/14s that it shipped with. It may have been just an ordinary car in the ’70s, but today it is a work of art with a long, detailed, and memorable history — with much more to come.

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