In 1968, Rich Shangreaux had recently completed his freshman year at South Dakota State University and had a well-paying summer job with the Post Office. With his new-found wealth burning a hole in his pocket the 19-year-old decided to buy a new car.
“On May 31st I drove down to the local Plymouth dealership and ordered a 1968 Plymouth Road Runner,” Shangreaux says.
The young man had done his homework and had determined that the budget-priced, no frills Road Runner muscle machine was an extraordinary bargain. The base price for a two-door sedan was $2,896. Shangreaux did not order a highly optioned car, adding only what he considered necessities: AM radio, decor group, power brakes and high-performance axle group.
These extras bumped up the price to $3,263, about 95 cents a pound for the 3,440-pound Plymouth. He remembers that his monthly payment on the bank loan for the car was $68.10.
On July 22, 1968, Shangreaux took delivery of his first new car, an avocado green metallic Road Runner with decals of the cartoon bird on the doors and trunk lid.
“The first thing I did to it was to install a Sun tach and then I put on a set of Keystone Custom mags. I really wanted a set of Crager S/S, but they were a little too expensive,” Shangreaux recalls.
Beneath the engine hood featuring a pair of simulated air scoops sat a 383-cubic-inch V-8 that was set up to deliver 335 horsepower. A four-barrel Carter carburetor fed the engine.
“My car served me well seeing an occasional weekend at the drag strip,” Shangreaux says. After a couple of years, the young owner sold his Road Runner. “For 24 years, my Road Runner was pretty much forgotten about,” Shangreaux says.
Then he saw a magazine article about a 1968 Road Runner, which prompted him to wonder whatever happened to his car. “I decided to try to find out where my old car ended up,” he says.
Shangreaux tracked down in Wyoming the man who had bought his car. That man remembers driving the Plymouth for a couple of years before trading it in on a Ford. The Ford dealer was contacted, but after 20 years no record of the transaction could be found.
The next stop was the Department of Motor Vehicles where he learned that no search for data on the car could be made without a Vehicle Identification Number. Contacting the insurance agent who had insured his car led nowhere. Likewise, the bank where he had financed the 1968 Plymouth kept records for only 10 years, so no help came from the bank.
“As a last resort I called my mother, who never throws anything away,” Shangreaux says. She remembered the car and, yes, she had all the paperwork. “Within five minutes she had found the original purchase order, the original bank contract and the original license plate renewal certificate,” explained Shangreaux.
With all that information, the DMV produced the name of the person who had last registered the car. A telephone call to that person revealed that, indeed, he had owned the car, but sold it five years ago after using it for drag racing. The car then went to another drag racer who had radically altered it by gutting the interior, changing the transmission, gears in the rear end and put every piece of speed equipment he could find in the engine. The floor of the trunk had been cut out, the gasoline tank removed, and a 7-gallon fuel cell put in its place.
Shangreaux’s odyssey ended with a 160-mile trip to see if the car was really his old one. In a dusty Quonset he saw the car now painted yellow, looking nothing like he remembered except for the front bench seat and a remnant of his college parking sticker on the rear bumper.
The owner was not interested in selling the Plymouth Road Runner because he intended to go racing in the still fast car. Shangreaux convinced him otherwise and on May 6, 1994 he once again bought the 1968 model. He says the second time he purchased the same car it cost him about $1,300 more than the first time. Records show that the car had 15 owners other than Shangreaux and they all lived in South Dakota.
After about 18 labor-intensive months the car has been returned to its original condition. “My car is now back on the streets of Pierre looking just like it did in 1968,” he says. “But now it never sees bad weather.” — Vern Parker, Motor Matters