“One well known Chrysler legend denied that the car had ever been built”
The Clean Air Act of 1970 probably helped us breathe better, but it also killed the muscle car momentum that had been building for at least a decade. Low-lead/no-lead fuel mandates resulted in lowered compression ratios, primitive emissions equipment, and decreased horsepower by 1972, a downward spiral that only got worse as the decade continued. Yet despite repressive government regulations, one illegal, coyote-asphyxiating 1972 440+6 Road Runner flew over the Mopar nest with a powerplant worthy of its high performance heritage.
Russell Morgan of Washington, North Carolina, is a serious Mopar hunter. His first car was a 1971 Dodge Super Bee. He says, “My family members were Plymouth and Dodge people, and that’s how I got into them. While I was going through college in the mid to late ’70s, I studied Mopars. I memorized how to read the serial numbers and learned everything I could about Mopar muscle cars. I loved it. I had a jump on so many others because of my family’s involvement with Mopars.”
When Russell graduated college in 1978, he got a job that entailed driving 2,000 to 2,500 miles per week. “In my travels I would find these Mopar muscle cars that people no longer wanted. My buddy Randy Feagle and I would spot these cars sitting around in driveways and garages. Remember, this was in the days of the gas crisis. People stopped driving gas guzzlers, bought economy cars, and didn’t go back. The cars were just sitting around, ripe for the picking.”
Russell adds, “I never cheated anyone. They didn’t have to take what I offered them. But I was buying cars 10 cents on the dollar. I bought a 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda in about 1981 for $480. It was the poster child Hemi ‘Cuda: red, white vinyl top, Shaker hood, elastomeric bumpers, four-speed transmission, and a Dana rear. $480!”
It was around this time when Russell found our featured car. He says, “There was a big salvage yard in Effingham, South Carolina, that had a bunch of junked muscle cars and muscle car parts. The owner and I got acquainted. He was a Ford guy, but he loved all the old muscle cars. He would let me look around his yard and buy parts. About 1983 or 1984, I saw this red 1972 Road Runner GTX sitting apart from the other junkers. It had an electric sunroof, an Air Grabber hood, a short-block was in the car, the radiator was gone, and it had no rotors. The car had the RM23V2G code in the VIN. I knew the V Code was a Six Pack. I thought to myself, I didn’t know they made a Six Pack in 1972.”
“Three 440+6 cars are known to have been built for 1972”
Few did. It was in 1971 that Plymouth offered the GTX as a separate model for the last time. It was also the last year for the 426 Hemi. For 1972, the GTX would be an option package on a Road Runner with a 440 motor. Chrysler factory materials for the 1972 models printed in spring 1971 indicated that the factory had planned to offer a 440 Six-Barrel motor in the 1972 Road Runner GTX and the Dodge Charger. But for years, most Mopar people had concluded that a factory-built 440 Six-Barrel Mopar was stillborn prior to any 1972 cars being offered to the public.
As of this writing, three 440+6 cars are known to have been built for 1972. One is this E5 Rallye Red Road Runner GTX, another is an E5 Rallye Red Charger Rallye, and the last is a Top Banana Yellow Charger Rallye. (Apparently in 1972, one could own a E5 Rallye Red Charger Rallye, with Rallye wheels and a Rallye dash.) All three were made in August 1971, very early in the production run. After the three known cars were built, the 440+6 motors were canceled for 1972 production. For the rest of the model year, the 440 four-barrel motor was the top dog available in the Road Runner GTX.
Looking back on that fateful day in the salvage yard, Russell recalls, “Always on the hunt for cool parts, I asked the owner how much he wanted for the Air Grabber hood on that red 1972 Road Runner GTX sunroof car. I bought the hood for $150. I took the hood to a swap meet in Charlotte, North Carolina. A man came up to me and asked me what car had that hood. I told him it was a 1972 Six Pack Road Runner GTX, and he said he had been looking for that car for years. He then asked me where the car was, and I said, ‘I ain’t gonna tell you.'”
Russell immediately put the hood back in his truck and headed to the yard the next Monday. The yard’s owner had a clean title for the car and factory literature from 1972 that showed the Six Pack motor offered in the Road Runner GTX. The title confirmed the RM23V2G in the VIN as an authentic two-door hardtop (RM23), 440+6 (V), 1972 model (2) assembled at the St. Louis, Missouri, plant (G).
What happened next might go down as one of the great Mopar buys of all time. “He sold me the car with a clean title for $150,” says Russell. “He knew exactly what it was, but he knew I was a Mopar guy and that I would appreciate this car.”
Upon purchasing the car, Russell began researching its history. One well-known Chrysler legend denied that the car had ever been built. When that Chrysler official was pressed, Russell was essentially told that the car was bogus. Undaunted, he continued to search for answers.
As the car became more widely known among his Mopar brethren, many attempted to buy it from him. One phone call led to the acquisition of a genuine set of three N.O.S. 1972 440+6 carburetors with tags and correct date codes for the August 1971 build. Amazingly the carburetors had originally been designated by Chrysler for installation on the 1972 Six-Barrel motor. That information strengthened the case for the car’s legitimacy.
After further digging, another well-known Mopar historian admitted that the 440+6 motor had been scheduled for 1972 models but was canceled early in August 1971. Apparently the engine did not meet emissions standards for 1972. This reputable source explained to Russell that if Chrysler admitted the existence of his 1972 V-Code Road Runner GTX, it could result in trouble from the EPA. Russell was warned that if the wrong people found out about the car, someone might actually take it away from him.
How the car ever made it into public hands remains a mystery. One theory is that the V-Code Road Runner GTX was an executive car that was built despite the corporate edict for its cancelation. Another suggests that when the 440+6 was canceled, someone simply sold the car as a 1971 model. Others speculate that the real reasons for the death of the 1972 440+6 motor were sagging sales and other financial concerns. The cancelation to build the cars simply arrived too late to the factory, thus allowing a few V-Code 1972 cars to be built and sold. Regardless of how the car came to the public, Russell had established his Mopar as a real-deal factory creation.
On April 1, 1995, Russell sold the car to Larry Dantonio of Chicagoland, a 1972 Road Runner aficionado. Larry says that he always found it ironic that he purchased a car that “never existed” on April Fool’s Day. He owned the car for a number of years as part of a strong Mopar collection of B-Bodies. His accumulation of rare and N.O.S. parts towards the restoration of the Road Runner GTX played a vital role in the car’s status today. However, a decision to focus his energies on drag racing with his family led to the car’s sale.
The rare Road Runner GTX became a part of the Brothers Collection and was masterfully restored by Magnum Auto Restoration in LaSalle, Illinois. At $150, it might be considered one of the better buys in muscle car history. As an escaped bird from the oppression of government regulators, it is undoubtedly one of the great triumphs of muscle car lore.
At a Glance
1972 Road Runner GTX
Owned by: Brothers Collection
Restored by: Magnum Auto Restoration, LaSalle, IL
Engine: 440ci/330hp Six-Barrel V-8
Transmission: 727 TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic
Rearend: 8-3/4 with 3.55 gears and Sure-Grip
Interior: Black bucket seat
Wheels: 15×7 Rallye
Tires: G60-15 Goodyear Polyglas GT
Special parts: Electric sunroof, AM-FM radio with cassette, V Code, N96 Air Grabber hood
If you ordered a 440 engine in a 1972 Road Runner, you automatically received the GTX emblems. Total 1972 production of Plymouth Road Runners was 7,628 units. This particular car is rare not only because of the oddball 440 Six-Barrel motor but also because of the unusual options like that factory electric sunroof.
The 1972 440 Six-Barrel motor was largely a carryover from 1971. The engine featured a 10.3:1 compression ratio, a high-lift camshaft, Hemi valve springs and dampers, hardened exhaust valve tips, and specially selected and Magnafluxed connecting rods.
The vacuum-operated Air Grabber door opened up when the accelerator pedal was mashed. Here is a look at the beautifully restored and functioning factory setup inside the hood.
The three Holley two-barrel carburetors were discovered by Russell Morgan and are absolutely correct for a 1972 440 Six-Barrel motor. They were sourced from Chrysler and feature numbers unique to 1972.
The beautiful black interior includes bucket seats, console, Strato Vent ventilation, and full Rallye gauges. The highly desirable cassette recorder is mounted on the console, with microphone ready for dictation. Joe Mannix would have loved this car.
The 15×7 Rallye wheels are shod with Goodyear Polyglas GT G60-15 tires.
The chrome exhaust tips were optional. The taillights and side marker lights were revised for 1972.