Car Collector's Corner: 1980 Plymouth Roadrunner One Owner T-top Beeper

J Sutherland
by J Sutherland

In 1980, Chrysler was headed into the financial whitewater rapids of a 2-year recession, paddling a leaky canoe full of weak sales. Their products weren’t moving, and the survival life raft full of government loans was a year away.

Sound familiar?

They needed customers in the worst way, and in early spring 1981, 18-year-old Don Sutherland saw a brand new black T-top 1980 Plymouth Roadrunner sitting in the corner of a local Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. This was his first brand new car.

In theory.

Chrysler was a company that was treading water while strapped to a 500 lb. anvil of debt in the early 1980s. They were desperately in need of customers. They were building cars that people actively avoided. This was the worst time of year to sell last year’s model, and in walks a highly motivated and qualified young buyer named Don. Naturally, you’d expect the sales guy to belly crawl through 30 yards of broken glass sitting on hot coals to get this sale done. That’s the TV movie version.

In real life, this salesman took one look at Don, wrote him off as a young punk, and gave him a terse 2 word answer to the possibility of a test drive, “Absolutely not”. Don was determined to own the ‘runner so he went to the owner and cut a deal himself. He paid $8,700 plus another $300 for a cassette stereo.

No word on whether the half-assed salesman got a cut.

Don didn’t waste any time taking his new car on a road trip. Scant weeks later, Don, his cousin Darcy, and the ‘runner headed to Vegas, LA, and San Diego on a giant road trip. The trip had its share of adventures. Don was clocked at 85 mph in Montana and received the cheapest ticket in his life in the form of a $5 EPA violation.

Darcy inflicted the first major war wound on the brand new Plymouth. Cousin Darcy discovered that he had a pathological hatred of pheasants. He aimed Don’s black beauty at a particularly cocky one. The final score was Plymouth 1 and pheasant 0. But the victory came at a price. The 95 mph impact ripped half the front grill off the car, and Darcy’s trip suddenly became a lot pricier.

Don’s new ride was scarred, but that was the 1st of many great road trips in the faithful Roadrunner. Don and the Roadrunner became life partners, and in 2012,they celebrated 31 years together.

Since then he married Michelle, and they have 2 sons, plus he started a business, but the Roadrunner is still there. That’s a feat because in the early stages of his new marriage he ran into the struggle between the eternal enemies called old car vs. new bride. He solved that by moving the car out of the coveted carport in the winter to neutral storage.

They took the last big trip in the car to Spokane when Michelle was expecting their oldest son Stu in the early 90s, and since then the beeper is in semi-retirement mode.

The car is still completely rust free because it only saw one real Canadian winter, so the game plan is surprisingly easy. Don pulled the 85,000 original mile 318 to replace the seals and allow access to the engine compartment for a thorough detailing.

The power train is solid, because Don has always respected the concept of regular maintenance and the same mechanic for 30 years.

This car should easily be back from cosmetic enhancement in time for the 2013 car show season, because it’s so close to mint condition in 2012. Don wants to exercise patience because he wants to copy the showroom look of the T-roof beeper back in 1981.

He summed it up this way: “how many guys can get behind the wheel of a significant car from their past and be 18 again?’

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J Sutherland
J Sutherland

Online collector car writer/webmaster and enthusiast

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2 of 25 comments
  • J Sutherland J Sutherland on Jul 18, 2012

    It doesn't look wimpy in real life.Good stance and trust me, you don't see two of them in traffic.

  • Moparman426W Moparman426W on Jul 26, 2012

    Every decade in the automotive world is made fun of by internet car sites and internet car lovers, not only the 70's. They also make fun of the 80's, 90's, 2,000's and next will be 2010 and up.

  • Jeff Self driving cars are not ready for prime time.
  • Lichtronamo Watch as the non-us based automakers shift more production to Mexico in the future.
  • 28-Cars-Later " Electrek recently dug around in Tesla’s online parts catalog and found that the windshield costs a whopping $1,900 to replace.To be fair, that’s around what a Mercedes S-Class or Rivian windshield costs, but the Tesla’s glass is unique because of its shape. It’s also worth noting that most insurance plans have glass replacement options that can make the repair a low- or zero-cost issue. "Now I understand why my insurance is so high despite no claims for years and about 7,500 annual miles between three cars.
  • AMcA My theory is that that when the Big 3 gave away the store to the UAW in the last contract, there was a side deal in which the UAW promised to go after the non-organized transplant plants. Even the UAW understands that if the wage differential gets too high it's gonna kill the golden goose.
  • MKizzy Why else does range matter? Because in the EV advocate's dream scenario of a post-ICE future, the average multi-car household will find itself with more EVs in their garages and driveways than places to plug them in or the capacity to charge then all at once without significant electrical upgrades. Unless each vehicle has enough range to allow for multiple days without plugging in, fighting over charging access in multi-EV households will be right up there with finances for causes of domestic strife.