Three for the road: Plymouth’s customized Rapid Transit System muscle cars
In the early ’70s, Plymouth’s muscle cars and pony cars were taking checkered flags in NASCAR and Trans Am, and holding their own in quarter-mile racing in the NHRA. To help capitalize on the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra, Plymouth developed a plan to bring its racing knowledge to buyers and give them the parts and tune-up tips needed to get the most out of their cars on the track and strip—and enjoy some of the racing success that the factory-backed pros did. Dubbed the Rapid Transit System, it would include advertisements featuring racers like Sox & Martin and Snake & Mongoose.
Most importantly, the Rapid Transit System included a caravan of specially outfitted cars that would show what a Plymouth muscle car could do. After all, “Anybody can offer a car. Only Plymouth offers a System.”
In addition to showroom-fresh cars that were treated to Mopar’s Direct Connection high-performance parts, a cross section of the lineup was sent out for custom body and paintwork to truly set them apart and turn heads. Three of those specially modified Plymouths wound up in collector Steven Juliano’s hands and will be available at Mecum’s upcoming Indianapolis auction.
1970 Plymouth Duster
Immediately recognizable as something special, thanks to its custom grille and quad headlight conversion, the Rapid Transit Duster is Mopar’s A-body muscle car offering. The compact and lightweight platform gave birth to some of the muscle-car era’s hottest performers, and Mopar wanted everyone to know it. This version, customized by Byron Grenfel in 1970 and even more thoroughly to make a bigger impact for 1971, has outlandish muscle-car looks with custom graphics and the big-bore, 340-cubic-inch small-block and four-speed to back it up.
Plymouth’s Road Runner was a low-buck, high-power muscle car that came with several flavors of big-block. This one happens to come with the best flavor, the Chocolate Malted Krunch of muscle car powerplants, the 426 Hemi. Of course, it breathes through an Air Grabber hood.
Initially modified for Rapid Transit System duty by Roman’s Chariot Shop in Cleveland, it received custom paint with a big Road Runner graphic on each side, shaved door handles, flared quarter panels, a rear wing, full-width taillights, and a custom grille rectangular headlights. It almost gives it an Australian look, like some of the great right-hand-drive muscle that rarely made it to the States. It had only 1700 miles on the odometer but needed lots of cosmetic work when Ken Heckett handled its restoration in 2000.
This wonderfully preserved, 383-powered Road Runner is in its original, unrestored Rapid Transit System form, as customized by Chuck Miller at Styline Customs in River Rouge, Michigan. The list of modifications is long: the nose was lengthened and sharpened, the decklid was lowered to create a tunneled wing, its door handles were shaved, and the side marker lights were capped with translucent 3D Road Runner heads, leading to the car’s “chicken head” nickname. That’s not all. The hood was also recessed, creating ram air intakes, and a custom grille partially shrouds the headlights. Its custom paint highlights the nearly flat tops of the Road Runner’s wheel openings and still manages to look good in photos nearly 50 years later.
This car was said to be Steven Juliano’s favorite, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a Hot Wheels car come to life, with whimsical cartoon novelty combined with a truly artful reinterpretation of Mopar’s fuselage B-body. It’s not easy to redesign a car’s face, yet Chuck Miller’s redesign still looks great and concept-like. The jewel of Steve Juliano’s Mopar collection could bring the biggest price of the three, even though it doesn’t pack the same wallop as a Hemi.