History of the 1971 Plymouth B-Bodies

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History of the 1971 Plymouth B-Bodies

Post by Dave » Mon Oct 06, 2003 5:49 pm

This is the text of an article entitled "B-Body Beautiful" written by John Sloan.
It appeared in the March 1992 Issue of High Performance Mopar

Four hundred and twenty six cubic inches may fire the imagination, but looks capture the heart. And many a good salesperson will tell you that the heart is closer to the wallet than is the imagination. Market research types know that before any customer ever touches the door handle, he has made at least a dozen visual evaluations that answer one question: "Do I want to see more?"

In autumn 1970, the new Road Runner and GTX gave the customer an eyeful. Plymouth closed the book on the musclecar era with striking, innovative styling that had head-turning impact, yet continued to please the eye with subtley sophisticated forms - Rocky Balboa in a tailored suit. To casually pass by a 1971 Road Runner or GTX is to deny oneself the opportunity to examine one of the signature cars of the musclecar genre. These were cars worth opening your wallets for.

The '71 styling was origionally scheduled for 1970, but Chrysler fell upon hard times (for the umpteenth time). Gene Weiss, then Plymouth Product Planning Manager explans:

"The '69 C-body sales disaster [poor value because content was stripped to improve profits] was acknowledged soon enough to adjust the Corprate Long Range Plan. The decision was made to commonize the new E- and B-body platforms, and delay the new B-body until 1971. Platform commonality was achieved by sharing the engine box, cowl structure, and front floor pan. A common cowl also allowed the E-body instrument panel to be used in the B-body, saving additional investment."


To keep pace with contemporary GM and Ford competition, there were certain styling changes. First, the cowl height had to be lowered to give the Road Runner a sleeker, more modern appearance. Although the B-body shared cowl structure with the E-body, the heights were different; the B-body's was taller. Second, the cowl/windshield area was cleaned up via a faster windshield angle, elimination of the windshield "rubber race track" (bonded windshield and seperately attached reveal moulding) and concealed wipers.

Last, and most significant, the 2-door model was given a different wheelbase than the 4-door in order to optimize the respective interior package and afford the Design Office the flexibility to style the cars to market requirements. Said Weiss, "The age difference between a 2-door buyer and a 40door buyer is 20 years. The '68-'70 Road Runner/GTX styling was compromised by the conservative lines driven by sharing sheetmetal with the 4-door."

The 1971 B-body styling was done in Dick Macadam's studio. John Herlitz was given the assignment to create the new Road Runner/GTX look. Weiss says, "John is a designer more than a stylist. He has the ability to be creative while focusing on objectives and customer problems. Stylists too often favor fast lines and smooth shapes with the resultant compromise to cost targets and functionality."

The original thumbnail sketch for the new '71 B-bodies

In retrospect, the '71 Road Runner benifited under a designer and the 4-door Satellite suffered under a stylist. Gene recalls, "The Satellite 4-door roof line was too fast and had too much tumblehome. The side glass had a 43 inch radius of curvature, which brought the rear door glass closer to the face as the door was opened. As a result, the rear seat entry and headroom were uncompetitive and sales suffered accordingly. Fortunately the 2-door was right on the mark."

For Herlitz, the '71 B-body 2-door was a long awaited opportunity to develop a different philosophy toward shaping metal. Gene says, "The 1971 Road Runner/GTX was a clean-sheet-of-paper approach to 'forms' vs. lines. General Motors moved in this direction in the mid-'60s with beautifylly balanced cars such as the '67 Olds Toronado.

"I came from a design education where form and curvature to metal is a desirable, if not essential, objective. The 1968-70 Road Runner styling suffered from Chrysler's mid-'60s devotion to linear design. The value of the metalwas limited to connecting the various flat surfaces - lots of sharp character lines. This delineation of separate hood and fender surfaces creates unnecessary visual distractions."

Incidentally, this new approach to styling brought Chrysler an important added benefit - body quality. The sheetmetal finish improved because the contouring and curvature pulled the metal to a taut set.

Continuing the 1968 marketing strategy, the new GTX and Road Runner differed only in powertrain and trim. Along with exclusive use of the 440-4V HP engine, the GTX received the column-shifted Torqueflight, bucket seats, wheel lip mouldings, bodyside striping and decorative exhaust tips. Except for the engine and tape stipe, all of these features were available on the Road Runner. One feature unique to the Road Runner (vs. GTX) was the C-pillar strobe stripe (reflective at night).

For those of you forunate enough to own a '71 Road Runner or GTX (everyone else can grab the January '92 issue, "Bold Beeper," page 40), take a guided tour around your car with John Herlitz:

"The grille was an evolution of the 1970 version except the entire bumper and grille were used to present the visual image. The effect was inspired by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom. Once the basic shape was derived, the park/turn signals and air intake assumed their logical positions.

"To be competitive with the GTO's Endura bumpers, body colored front and rear urethane bumpers were an available option. It was new technology for Chrysler, first applied to the E-body, and we wanted to apply it to the new B-body.

"The hood engine graphics were intended to draw the eye to the side view of the car and what was happening to the wheel shape. The hood echoed the wheelwell and implied continuation of the wheel cutout shape. Unfortunately, the optional striping effect did not come off as well.

"The origional design sketch showed the visual effect from a view that most people don't see. Position a ladderin front of the car and climb up as if youwere going to photograph the front of the car. In my mind's eye it was better than reality."

As your eye moves from the hood to the side view, not the almost seamless transition from horizontal to vertical surface. this is the most graphic illustration of John's design philosophy:

"I wanted the body surfaces to have more homogeneity in order to focus the eye on the wheel and wheel cutouts. The body of the car was shaped to emphasize the beauty of the wheels. This was accomplished by flowing the fender shape from plan view (looking down from above) and side view to the wheel cutouts. The resulting wheel flares were tied to the "bone-line" (lower sill area) of the car and emphasized by the single lower character line.

"The flares drove the clay modelers crazy. The surface had to be just right or the reflections went to hell. Finally, Dick Macadam told me I had one last chance. Fortunately, it was enough.

"Credit for the Roof Strobe Stripe goes to Dick Samsen. The stripe emphasizes the rear wheel cutout area and draws the eye to the C-pillar section and how it is 'balanced' on top of the wheelwell.

"Finishing up at the rear, the visual effect is a continuation of the front end bumper theme. The taillamps were not executed as well as I would have liked. They could have been more integrated with the front end. Steve Bollinger got them right in 1972. The rear window louvers were done to capitalize on the new performance look developed by the aftermarket."

The Herlitz signature made the '71 Road Runner and GTX stand apart from everything else on the road. GM's cars reflected change for it's own sake. The '70 Chevelle styling suffered in paticular. Ford was thrashing around trying to come up with a new deisgn direction. It's easy to speculate that the lack of direction was rooted in the Knudsen/Iacocca power struggle. Unfortunately, this unique styling woule last but one more year.

Herlitz says, "I almost died when we turned musclecars into 'mid-specialty' cars. We were driven into a different market position by the insurance industry."

General Motors helped out, too. The car was the 1973 Monte Carlo. Gene Weiss recalls: "GM had been playing around with the Cadillac Eldorado styling concept for several years, trying to apply it to a high-volume car for the masses. The Chevy Monte Carlo brought it all together. It had the look of a Cadillac at a fraction of the price."

Vindicating the market researchers, the exterior styling certainly made a lot of shoppers go for the door handle. Opening the driver's door presented the observer with an all-new interior design, at least compared to the 1970 Road Runner/GTX. If one had just come from a close inspection of a '71 Barracuda, it was deja vu.

Here is where merging of the E and B-body platforms paid off big. The seats, console and related shift systems, instrument panel structure, glove box, ashtray and climate control system were lifted directly from the 1970 E-body. A new crash pad and lower instrument panel trim panels surounded the standard Ralley instrument cluster. Topping it off was a new (and optional) 3-spoke simulated woodgrain sport steering wheel.

One important item not taken from the E-body was the horrendous door trim panels. The E-body interior was soundly critcized because of the virtual sea of hard plastic panels. For the B-body, the door trim utilized a split panel concept. The upper part was a soft touch pleated vinyl with center woodgrain accents. The injection moulded polypropylene was applied to the lower panel and featured a seperately applied soft armrest.

The catalog description of the GTX and Road Runner interior began: "Our engineers don't believe in sacrificing comfort - even our Road Runner comes through and puts the padding where it belongs." Ordered withthe orange and black vinyl buckets, floor console and floor mounted cassette radio, the interior fairly screamed pizzazz!

Crouched down for action with Tor-Red paint, orange and black interior, and tricked out with slotted aluminum wheels, a 1971 Road Runner graced the October 1971 cover of Car Craft under the banner '71 Super Cars are alive!

To this day, the 1971 Road Runner/GTX remains a personal favorite of John Herlitz, more so than the 1970 Barracuda.

"The '71 was as close to state of the art as the technology of the time would allow. I believed it was the answer to what Chrysler was plagued with - linear design. The scuptured shapes and forms brought out the aesthetic value of the sheetmetal and made it an integral part of the visual presentation," says Herlitz.

In 1968, Plymouth ran onto the musclecar arena's center stage with cartoon character brashness; in 1971 the exited with style.

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