When the Bloomsburg Nationals Car Show opens its gates Friday, Aug. 10 for a three day meet, there will be two special Roadrunners on the fairgrounds site that are very unique and noteworthy.
The “first” Plymouth Roadrunner, which made its debut in 1968, belongs to Jim Shelhamer of Mifflinville, Pa. It’s an all-original 426 Hemi powered version sure to attract a lot of attention from the thousands of show goes expected to gather at the famous Bloomsburg Fairgrounds.
The “last” of the featured vehicles is a 1975 Roadrunner that belongs to Denny Strauser, from Orangeville, Pa. It’s the very last year the Roadrunner was available with a vehicle identification number (VIN) that includes the “RR” in the identification nomenclature.
First, a little Roadrunner history.
Chrysler paid Warner Brothers $50,000 for the naming rights of its famous ultra-fast cartoon Roadrunner, with predator Coyote also coming in the agreement. Plymouth then utilized powerful V8 engines and Roadrunner decals added to stripped down Satellites, and the Roadrunner was born. Plymouth hoped a sub $3,000 muscle car would increase sales and combat the GM, Ford and AMC muscle car offerings.
The initial ’68 Roadrunners featured the famous “beep-beep” horn, rubber floor mats, a bench seat, non-roll down rear windows that flip opened sideways and a buyer’s choice of either a 727 Torqueflite automatic or a 4-speed manual. Following corporate guidance on price, the 1968 Roadrunner 383-inch, 335- horse performance V8 came in at a base of about $2,900. There was one engine option known as the “Elephant,” and for just $714 more you received a 425-horse 426 Hemi, the all-out king of muscle car engines.
As for showroom activity, Plymouth hoped to sell 2,500 Roadrunners in 1968. By year’s end nearly 45,000 Roadrunners were sold, making it one of the most successful muscle car introductions of all time.
As for Jim Shelhamer and his ‘68 Roadrunner Hemi, what’s most interesting was his persistence in tracking down his dream car. It started when he was serving with the Navy and stationed at the Willow Grove Naval Station in Montgomery County.
Seeing the Hemi Roadrunner advertised in the June 1975 edition of Road & Track magazine, he immediately contacted the owner about his interest. He scraped together every dollar he had and quickly drove to East Lansing, Michigan, where the car was. The owner was a college student who had purchased the car new and wanted $3,150 firm, no haggling price. He was selling the Hemi Roadrunner to purchase a 1968 Super Stock 426 Hemi code Dodge Dart, today one of the rarest of MOPARS.
Jim, meanwhile, had gathered just $2,800, and gave the owner a $500 down payment. He returned to Pennsylvania and borrowed the additional $350 from friends. With money in hand, Jim then rented a big U Haul truck, drove back to Michigan and arranged with a local tractor dealer to use his loading dock for his prized possession. The tractor dealer only charged Jim $5.00, so all was well.
When Shelhamer arrived back at Willow Grove, he unloaded the car in a “unique” way, as no loading/unloading docks were available. Jim quickly found a dirt bank along one of the roads near Quakertown, backed the U Haul truck into position and safely unloaded. His prized ’68 Hemi Roadrunner was home safe and sound.
As for overall condition, Jim informed us that all he did was adjust the valve lifters and buy a set of new tires. From that day, the car has been a reliable, fun car to drive and always receives the “thumbs-up” from countless onlookers everywhere. Considering the ’68 Hemi’s current all-original, pristine condition book values that go over $100,000, I’d say he made quite a nice investment!
The second Roadrunner is the “last” of the first and last Roadrunner classification, namely the aforementioned 1975 Roadrunner owed by Denny Strauser, from Orangeville, Pa. Denny bought car new, and used it as a daily driver until 1979. It is powered by a 360-V8 small block, and is all original except for the tires.
Denny’s Roadrunner has some impressive national credentials, as it’s been featured in the following magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, April 2012; MOPAR Muscle, Jan. 1998; and Chrysler Enthusiast, April 1994. This Roadrunner has earned numerous major car show awards and trophies, and Bloomsburg Nationals show co-promoter Randy Lawton is excited to have these “first and last” Roadrunners heading to the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds on Friday through Sunday, Aug. 10 to 12.
“We’re presenting a special MOPAR coral this year, and Jim and Denny will be a big part of the MOPAR segment,” said Lawton, adding, “I expect a record number of cars of all makes and models and with celebrities like ‘My Classic Car’ star Dennis Gage, NHRA Pro Stock World Champ Larry Lombardo, NHRA nitro Funny Car World Champ Bruce Larson and his USA-1 Camaro and multi-time NHRA Top Fuel Dragster World Champ Joe Amato already booked to appear, we’re going to have a great weekend and it’s all for the benefit of area charities.”
For additional information on the car show, see www.bloomsburgnationals.com.
Although Plymouth utilized the Roadrunner logo on the smaller Plymouth Volare line from 1976-1980, it was a trim package only and a far cry from the “real” Roadrunners that graced our nation’s boulevards and drag strips during its eight year reign as one of the most successful muscle cars ever built.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who will be attending the Bloomsburg Nationals as an invited guest Friday and Saturday, Aug. 10 and 11. He invites readers to stop by his tent/table and say hello. If you have a question on collector cars or auto nostalgia, write him at email@example.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)