Welcome to Little Car in the Big City, where I highlight fascinating cars I found walking around a town that is known for being bigger than everything else, but where every car is fighting to stand out: New York, New York.
You might be wondering right now what could be sad about an absolutely gorgeous 1972 Plymouth Road Runner. You might be looking at that pretty purple paint, the incredible white detailing, those hood ties, those hood ties, and thinking to yourself, "I don't know, I think this man is crazy."
The Road Runner was in many ways a perfect muscle car as well. It was supposed to be light, cheap, and ridiculously powerful,. And powerful it could be, as in its most potent form it could put out an undderrated 425 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque out of a 426 hemi.
All with a sense of humor, too.
And that's the thing about muscle cars – or rather, "muscle" cars. Almost all of them are gorgeous in some way, like a school of artists who all explored the limits of their creativity in one brief, beautiful burst. But the reason I'm putting "muscle" in quotes here is because of that year, and that engine.
1972, and 400. Not that they're the death of everything, mind you. 400 cubic inches of V8 is still 6.5L, in modern language, and that's enormous. And the sound is enormous, too, especially if you're sitting right behind it and you can hear that friendly V8 burble turn into a monstrous V8 roar.
But what isn't enormous is the power. That's because 1972 marked the first year of choking emissions standards, and a changeover to the SAE net rating system, that took the automotive industry nearly 20 years to recover from.
In 1972, the standard 400 cubic inch engine was introduced, and engines like the 383 and 426 were dropped. The 400 put out only 255 horses, in SAE net.
And don't get me wrong, 255 horses is nothing to sneeze at, and the change in the rating system accounted for what appeared to be a big performance drop on paper. But the engines were also hurt by other new standards, like a requirement unleaded fuel that dropped the compression ratios in the cylinders, and thus the oomph.
All I'm saying is, it's not exactly earthquake-inducing. You can now get a Toyota Camry with more power, and that doesn't have any numbers in huge font on the hood.
That's not to say the Road Runner was completely ruined. As you can plainly see, it's still incredible looking, it still makes a big noise, and you could still get a version with a respectable 330 horses. Plus, those in the know will tell you that the 1972 model is the best handling version.
But forget about how it looks on the outside. Look at it on the inside:
I can promise you now that you will never, ever be able to get a Camry from the dealer that looks quite like that.