Finding a 1970 440+6 Road Runner convertible is one of those things that most B-body fanatics dream about these days - finding a four-speed example makes that dream even better. With only thirty-four examples built, this is a quest which, obviously, is unobtainable for most of us, but it’s still something nice to think about. In the case of Doug Reed, however, when he stumbled across this B5 blue 440+6 machine, he informs us he was admittedly disappointed that it was a convertible; of course, that was back in November of 1971 and Doug was only eighteen-years-old.
In the early winter of 1971, Doug Reed was a typical youth in southern New Jersey who was growing up amongst a crowd of car-crazed peers. A gear head right off-the-bat, Doug was into the local street racing scene, cruising, and almost everyone he knew had a GTO, an SS Chevelle, a Super Bee, or some other type of factory hot rod. That being the case, Doug was on a desperate hunt for a seriously fast pony of his own, and it just so happened that November that he motored past a nearby Chrysler/Plymouth store where a friend’s sister worked as “kind of a secretary.” The innocent visit turned out to be an act of destiny, for sitting on their car lot was this B5 ‘70 Road Runner with dog dish hubcaps, no stripes, and much to Doug’s surprise, it had “440+6" decals on the hood. Opening said hood revealed that the decals spoke the truth; there was a still-fresh-looking Six Pack motor under there and behind that was a large Hurst Pistol Grip shifter - young Doug Reed had seen all he needed to see. Granted, the car did have a major problem, it was a convertible, which meant it would be heavier than a hardtop and thus slower. Still, the muscle car era was dying, the curtain was falling, and the boy knew that no new performance cars were being introduced by anyone for ‘72 and the era was likely dead forevermore. He wanted the blue convert, badly, and likewise, the dealership wanted to unload this really strange car they’d been saddled with.
Obviously, this was a special order Road Runner, as Plymouth wasn’t in the custom of building cars this odd and then just throwing them out there hoping it would light somebody’s fire. Exactly who ordered it and why will likely forever remain a mystery, as the dealership it was sold new at burned down in the early seventies and all their records went with it. For reasons unknown, the convert was a very late order car, built in June of 1970. It was delivered new to southern New Jersey, but again for reasons unknown, it ended up on the used car lot where Doug found it, barely a year old with hardly any miles on the odometer. Expensive to insure and rather strangely equipped, the dealership had apparently had the Road Runner for a while and they were more than anxious to make a deal on it. So, as amazing as it sounds, eighteen-year-old Doug Reed bought the car, through his friend’s sister at the dealership, after putting down a righteous $10 deposit! Yes, a $10 deposit was actually enough to buy the car back in 1971!
When it came time for paperwork, there was a problem. New Jersey had enacted new laws on full coverage insurance and since Doug was eighteen, he wasn’t old enough in the eyes of the state to own said vehicle. With the deal already done, and his automotive future hanging in the balance, he went home and pleaded with his dad, Norman, to come have a ride in the Plymouth and put his name on the title in the boy’s place. Mom was firmly against the idea, but after a “gentle” test ride in the car, Norman signed the papers and Doug had his new hot rod, paying for everything through his dad. Reportedly, mom never really warmed up to the car, and given the antics of the coming years, we seriously wonder if Norman ever regretted going against her wishes.
Within a few weeks, Doug had scrapped together enough money to buy a set of Cragar mags for the Road Runner, along with fatter tires and rumbling exhaust. Practically every weekend, the car could be found at a nearby drive-in, looking for trouble with Camaros and frequently finding it. Street racing was all good fun and sport back then, not a high-stakes gambling racket with rice-rockets like it so-often is today - it was generally just for fun and like most places, they had designated remote areas with marked off quarter miles so they could race and not bother anybody and not cause problems for themselves or local law enforcement. With its 3.54 Dana rear, the Road Runner wasn’t the fastest car in New Jersey, but it was fast enough to win more than its share of Saturday night shootouts and given how downright plain the car looked, it surprised countless victims who seldom failed to ask, “what the heck have you got in that thing?” Once in a while, Doug would head over to nearby Atco Dragway, and an old time slip from 1972 reveals the Plymouth was plenty quick, running a 13.51 at 104 mph - hardly a shabby number for a car which weighed two tons and was largely stock.
Since he’s owned the convert for so long, naturally, there are enough amusing stories from Doug to fill a book, especially regarding those younger days when the invincibility of youth was still with him. Interestingly, he initially didn’t care for the white bench seat interior - who wanted a white interior? White interiors get dirty way too easy and plus, bench seats weren’t very cool. In 1972, Doug pulled the original seats out and installed some salvage yard black bucket seats that came out of a whoknowswhat. He left the back seat out for a while before he dyed the original back seat black to match. This made for an interesting night when his girlfriend (now his wife) was in the passenger’s bucket seat which he’d just installed, but hadn’t tightened down very well. A guy next to him revved, they dumped their clutches, and her loosely installed seat left the floor and she landed in the back of the car in the empty spot where the back seat used to be! All the while, the convert was banging through the gears and crawling into the triple digits on the speedo. Yes, Doug was a bit concerned when he saw her go flying backwards and then heard a stream of less-than-polite comments behind him, but hey, you can’t let the other guy win just because there are unexpected things going on - right? Doug won the race, and since they’re still married, we suppose she forgave the boy. There are loads of stories akin to that, most of which accounted for a number of small nicks and dings the car picked up. Back then, the cops were a lot friendlier, and they didn’t mind chasing you for fun, or seeing if their radar guns could pick up a car doing 110 mph; things like that. The fastest he ever pushed the convert to was just under 140 mph, with two friends in the car. The engine, and everybody else, was screaming like it was the end of the world, with tires that were questionable at best and with the radio blasting, but these are the moments that stay with you for a lifetime - provided you survive them, of course. A favorite game Doug liked to play, interestingly, was to see how far he could coast along in neutral. He made a regular habit when heading home at the end of the night to push the Plymouth up to around 110 or 120, kick it into neutral, then see if he could actually coast the last half dozen miles home, make all the turns off the highway and through the neighborhood, and end up in his driveway without touching the gas again - he got very good at this as the years went by.
Despite all that, Doug never really “abused” his Road Runner. Yes, he used it for the purposes for which it was built, but he always took care of the car mechanically and it was always one of those “blessed” machines that always seemed to run great, never gave you any trouble, and it never failed to get him home safely despite his shenanigans. Some cars are born with good karma, there’s no denying that, and this blue Road Runner is unquestionably one of those cars. It carried Doug through his teen years, all through his twenties, his early married life, and then it became his weekend fun car throughout the eighties, nineties, and into the new millennium. While his friends all sold their hot rods and grew up, Doug got older, but he didn’t necessarily feel the need to grow up; thus, the Road Runner stayed with him.
As it transformed from a fun car into a valuable collector’s item, Doug had the sense to recognize this. He had Galen Govier look the car over at Englishtown back in the 1990's and got a hand-written letter that it was all kosher and numbers matching. These days, it’s the latest VIN 440+6 Road Runner convert in Galen’s registry, so it may very well have been the last one built! Doug continued to drive the car, but he also went to Mopar shows with increasingly frequency and came to admire the work of Dave Ferro over at Totally Auto. For several years, he pondered whether or not to have Ferro take the convertible in-hand and perform a ground-up restoration, but the biggest problem was time - he didn’t know if he could handle being separated from the car for a year or more while it was being rebuilt! Finally, in 2011, Doug drove the convert over to Totally Auto in Feasterville, Pa. and then hauled in countless boxes of parts he’d rounded up for the job. And again, Dave Ferro affirmed to us what Doug already knew - this was a “blessed” or “lucky” car.
Almost without exception, when a major ground-up resto is embarked upon, there are hidden unpleasant surprises that get uncovered - but not here. In fact, Dave informs us the resto of the convertible was incredibly easy, “it’s one of those cars that just wanted to be redone, whatever we did, it cooperated, almost like it was doing whatever it could to help us out.” Since the old B-body was unusually clean for a Jersey car, with very little rust and few real problems, Ferro knew quickly, this was a machine that could be made into a world-class OEM resto. Having been such a faithful car all its life, Doug also figured, why not, and what was already going to be a major restoration turned into another one of Totally Auto’s over-the-top “leave no bolt unturned” complete remanufacturing jobs. A year-and-a-half later, in early 2013, the blue Road Runner rumbled out into Ferro’s parking lot, looking exactly like it did when it left the assembly line, right down to date-coded seat belts, hoses, you name it.
The ‘Runner made its show debut at the prestigious Chicago Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, where it scored 995 out of a possible 1000 points, winning Gold Certification its first time out! The car also won the coveted Sherman Parts Pick of the Show award. That garnered invitations from Carlisle to have the convert on special display in Building T at the 2013 Carlisle event, so overnight, the blue ragtop went from being a cruiser to being a show car celebrity - almost. As this is being written, the dog dish wheels and Polyglas tires are in the garage and the Plymouth’s wearing a set of mags with modern radials so Doug can continue to enjoy driving his old friend. Granted, he’s not actively looking for street races right now, but if one comes along, we doubt he’ll look the other way. This may be one of the nicest restored 440+6 convertibles around, but in Doug’s mind, it’s still his weekend fun car and always will be, regardless of how many trophies it can win. He does intend to keep showing the car at a high level for the next year or two, so it’ll go back to Totally Auto for cleaning and detailing before the big events, but between those, you’ll likely find this thing at the local drive-in on a Saturday night wearing fatty tires. Growing old gracefully doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun, and that’s just as true for machines as it is for man - Doug and his Road Runner are hard evidence of that fact. MCG