We recently learned that Jack Smith, the father of the Plymouth Road Runner, has passed away at the esteemed age of 94.
An honorary article by Hemmings gives some background on this defining feat for Smith, which is how we found out that the idea was sparked when Smith’s assistant, Gordon Cherry, was watching Saturday morning cartoons with his children. At the time, the brand was trying to come up with a way to appeal to the younger consumers, as Ford had done with the Mustang.
“Kids back then wanted big brakes, a harder suspension, and a four on the floor, and my objective was to have something that could do the quarter in under 15 and over 100 with a sticker under $3,000,” Smith said during an interview with Hemmings. “We couldn’t bring ourselves to strip it completely down — we still wanted something marketable.”
Thus, the Plymouth Road Runner, an assortment of different parts that were already available, was born. A Belvedere was equipped with police cruiser components, including the 383-cubic inch V8, suspension, steering, brakes, and wheels, and a louvered hood was taken from the GTX. In all, the total cost of tooling parts unique to the Road Runner was less than $500, and the biggest item on the list was the horn.
Back when all of this was taking place, Chrysler VP Dick Macadam was very adamant about not featuring a “cartoon bird” on a vehicle. But thanks to the perseverance of Jack Smith, the Plymouth Road Runner went on to make that Looney Tune bird an icon in the automotive world.
Rest in peace, Mr. Smith.