1970 Plymouth GTX. DRIVEN

March 14, 2016

With only a five year production run that spanned the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Plymouth GTX went out not with a bang, but with a whimper. 46 years later, James finds out if this muscle car was shortchanged.

  • Check out the original post on crankandpiston.com HERE, and a pdf version from evo Middle East HERE

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightValue today
V8, 7210cc375bhp @ 4600rpm490lb ft @ 3200rpm6.4 secsN/A1597kg (235bhp/ton)$68,000

It’s difficult to shake the strong sense of déjà vu that’s just hit me. To my left stands a vaunted, if slightly less famous, American muscle car from 1970, the Arabian desert stretching out behind it. To my right, an enthusiastic owner speaking at length about the car’s place in history as I scribble furiously in my notebook. And just behind me, a frustrated photographer trying desperately to catch the mid-afternoon sheen as the sun begins to dip in the sky. Yep, I’ve definitely been here before. I think I might even be wearing the same shirt…

Indeed, as we get down to the nitty gritty, even our conversation starts to sound familiar. Since it rolled off the conveyor in 1970, the model we’re being let loose in today has boasted only three previous owners, all within the same family. There’s just a scant under 100,000km on the clock, and while there has been some moderate work done to the front and rear seats, everything on the car is of original spec, which might explain its $68,000 market value today.

I’ve been assured by owner Nader Elkhodary though that, unlike his classic Barracuda (hey, he’s a Plymouth guy), the GTX is another animal entirely: “seriously man, you will LOVE this. You’ve already tried the 350, but this thing’s got a 440 big block V8. If you’re not careful, it will spit you off the road,” all said with a beaming grin. Clearly Nader’s cheeky ability to rattle my nerves ahead of a drive in his daughter Salma’s future birthday present hasn’t dwindled since his last crankandpiston.com jaunt with us ten months ago. (HERE)

There is one thing about the GTX though I wish to address before jumping behind the wheel. It’s purple….

“Actually, ‘burple,” I’m corrected (there’s that grin again). “Honestly, when I first saw the car, that was the only thing that really put me off, and it was a while before my friends convinced me to go for it. I wouldn’t dream of changing it though. It’s an original colour, a very rare one too. Plus, it’s only been repainted once in 46 years. How could I possibly change that without destroying the car’s history and its character?”

It’s a fair point, particularly apt since just one year after Nader’s example was produced, the GTX name disappeared entirely. Appearing initially as the Belvedere GTX back in 1967, Plymouth’s mid-sized saloon was positioned as Plymouth’s ‘gentleman muscle car’, offering, for the first time on a Plymouth, ‘stylish’ performance capabilities as standard without a wallet-rupturing price tag. Under the bonnet lay either a 440 cu in (7-litre) V8 or the more explosive 426 cu in HEMI (7.2-litre) capable of taking the GTX from 0-100kph in just under five seconds. Impressive for the late 60s, and still worthy(ish) of a 911 Carrera S today.

“Since it rolled off the conveyor in 1970, the model we’re being let loose in today has boasted only three previous owners, all within the same family”

Rakish ‘coke bottle styling’ and a refined interior alongside its stonking firepower ensured interest in the Belvedere GTX remained high, though promotion by NASCAR ace Richard Petty didn’t hurt: in 1967, The King took his second of an eventual seven NASCAR Sprint Cup series crowns by winning more than half of the 49 races he entered in the #43. For 1968, the GTX – now rid of the ‘Belvedere’ nomenclature – earned an upscale redesign both inside and out, plus a new TorqueFlite automatic transmission now mated with either the 440 V8 or 426 HEMI. Of greater significance though was the introduction that same year of the Road Runner, Plymouth’s answer to customer calls for high-powered muscle below the $3000 mark, in keeping with the muscle car segment’s original concept. And though Plymouth was unaware at the time, the Road Runner ultimately marked the end for the ‘gentleman’ GTX.

With the convertible model canned for 1969, a design almost identical to the less pricey Road Runner and a higher price tag, sales of the GTX began to drop, a full overhaul for 1971 – including a new wheelbase, wider track and heavily revised looks – still not enough to counter growing interest in the Road Runner. Emissions regulations that put the GTX’s 426 HEMI under threat didn’t help either, and having barely hit 3000 sales, the GTX was accordingly pulled from production for 1972, existing thereafter as a performance trim for the Road Runner only.

Back to today, déjà vu continues on the inside, the leather-backed seats reclining in typical 60s muscle car fashion(much as they did in the Barracuda) with a single safety belt ready to be fastened across my lap. Peeking past the leather-clad thin-rimmed steering wheel is the usual array of speed and temperature gauges on the dashboard, dovetailed by wiper and headlamp switches on either side, as well as the ‘400’ written across the side of the power bulge on the bonnet. My eyes are drawn by the beautifully delicate spindle that controls the indicators mounted on the steering column, and the silver semi-circle inside the wheel itself which sounds the horn (or klaxon, more appropriately). I wonder just how delicate I’ll need to be to make sure I don’t break them. My left foot comes into contact with a switch in the floor, which Nader – now leaning through the window – explains is for the high beams. The two holes in the dash? Where the rev counter, now mounted by my right knee, used to be placed which made visibility pretty much impossible. And the Creedance Clearwater Revival 8 track cassette? “Well, some things never get old”.

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightValue today
V8, 7210cc375bhp @ 4600rpm490lb ft @ 3200rpm6.4 secsN/A1597kg (235bhp/ton)$68,000

As I’ve previously discovered though, classic car drives are rarely straightforward, and as expected, Nader has a few niggles to walk me through.

For starters, the steering is a little loose and the service is not booked for another few days yet, “so make sure you don’t take her round a high-speed corner, or you’re done.” A few rubber mounts also need to be replaced in the engine bay to stop the bruiser vibrating. And I’ve been asked not to go too far above 5000rpm since the engine temperature has already spiked a couple of times today, but there’s a wry grin though as he says this, and it’s also suggested, where possible, that I should gun it. “The previous owner fully restored the engine back in 1997.

All Elderbrook components. You can feel the wheels spin with almost no effort.” Suddenly the words “spit you off the road” come screaming back to mind…

Fortunately today’s play area is a deserted stretch just outside the city limits, where only a few locals have started to set up for a weekend’s camping on the dunes. I’m quite relieved by this, since now I won’t have to be wary of traffic: there’s no wing mirror on the passenger side, and though I can see a considerable amount over my left shoulder thanks to the slim b-pillars, the circular driver’s mirror is pretty much useless, as all I can see is a very purple door panel.

“The shifter for the transmission is a unique design: I have to cradle my hand around it like one would hold a large brandy glass”

It’s tempting to laugh, but with the GTX, there is a lingering, I’ll say, ‘threat’ beneath the surface as I turn the ignition and fire the 375bhp 440 into life. Quickly I can feel those wild horses starting to get restless. There’s a tangible rock that can be felt right through the chassis, even despite the enormously comfortable leather seats: were there a more sizeable power dome, I’m sure it would be rocking furiously side-to-side under heavy acceleration. Speaking of which…

The shifter for the transmission is a unique design, angled at 45 degrees and the gear knob at a perfect 90 to the dashboard: to shift from Park to Drive, I have to cradle my hand around it rather like one would hold a large brandy glass. Once in Drive, there’s a more assertive ‘bump’ of torque through the brake pedal as the engine lets me know it’s ready to go. I barely have to lift before the wheels are already moving.

Having done my apprenticeship in the Barracuda, I’m more confident from the off in the GTX, and give it a semi-bootful quickly (I may be more confident this time but I’m not a raving lunatic). The ‘rock’ permeating through the chassis suddenly becomes much rock-ier as the 440 barks 425bhp to the back wheels, which almost light up.

For a gentleman’s muscle car, there’s some serious guts being thrown around here. The automatic gear changes – there’s no manual alternative – keep the revs nice and high before shifting, acceleration as a result on the sharp side of linear. Even despite the meticulous condition of the cabin, there’s not a huge amount of noise insulation, and even CCR can’t quite hold back the low, guttural rumble of the V8 and the ever-present wind and road noise. I would cast my eye down to check the rev counter were my eyes not glued to the  approaching horizon, but I can at least see the speedometer. We must be in the triple digits, absolutely we must: 48mph…so that’s…wait…hang on, that can’t be right…

Nader’s right. Already, in the space of only a few hundred yards, the GTX feels so much more visceral, more alive than the Barracuda, despite the refinement of the interior. And it’s utterly superb. Almost immediately the GTX is drilling power into the road, and part of me wishes I actually had gunned it from the off, if only to see the trail of exploded rubber following me in the rear view mirror. Already this feels like a proper 1970s muscle car.  And on that note…

Although there’s ample stopping power – just about – on my approach into the first corner, I find there’s a huge amount of travel in the pedal itself and little feel: every so often, in trying to pick my braking points, I brake too late, snatching the discs as a result. And then there’s the handling. In fairness, Plymouth had substantially overhauled the power-steering from the GTX’s Belvedere base, continuing to fine-tune the system in the intervening years in the hopes of further improving the handling. There’s still plenty of give and a high centre of gravity though: at one point – Nader’s warning temporarily forgotten – I take a sharp left hander too quickly, and have to dig my knee into the transmission tunnel for fear of sliding into the passenger seat.

“Almost immediately the GTX is drilling power into the road. Part of me wishes I’d gunned it from the off, if only to see the trail of exploded rubber following me”

Yep, as a 1970s American muscle car, handling is not the GTX’s finest quality. The steering is similarly tumultuous, since it’s somehow over-servoed and responsive in equal measure as the inconsistent weighting continues to throw me off: at centre, there’s a gulf of play in the wheel, though the weight suddenly changes at as I apply lock, making it difficult to get any kind of consistency, not what I’m looking for as my mind is still trying to convert the MPH speedometer…59mph…seriously? Into another sharp corner, and once again the over-servoed steering plays it’s hand, John Fogarty’s vocals just about loud enough to drown out the tyre squeal. It’s getting dark, and if I’m not careful, there most certainly will be a bad moon rising if I stack Nader’s pride and joy.

Fortunately the man himself, following close behind in our Volkswagen camera car, doesn’t seem too concerned: as I stare into the rear view mirror – which vibrates violently as the V8 continues to rock the chassis – I can see that grin staring back at me: it’s briefly replaced with a laugh as I miscalculate my braking point and have to stand on the pedal. There’s little doubt the GTX belongs in a straight-line, and once I’ve stopped pratting around through the corners and found some straights, I can start enjoying the timbre of that basy engine note and the guts of that 440. Feeling braver, I pull up, check what visibility I can in the mirror, and plant my right foot.

The rumble of the V8 is replaced altogether as the revs leap up, replaced with a much deeper, more bellowing roar, almost as if I’m trodden on the V8’s tail. There’s little sense of forward momentum though as all power is thrown at the rear wheels, which quickly go mental, skewing side-to-side and threatening to snap the chassis in half. I saw at the inconsistent steering as best I can to regain some element of control, but it’s no use. Already I can feel the maniacal V8 stamping its authority on this particular drag strip, and while I’m tempted to see what limits there are to be tested, I think better of it. There are some monsters you just can’t tame.

I’ve driven more powerful muscle cars – hell, I’ve driven more powerful hatchbacks – but there have been few models I’ve experienced that invite this sense of nostalgia, this sense of character, this reflection of a generation now gone. The power from that big block is solid rather than spectacular by modern standards, and yet simultaneously unforgiving in the manner in which it is put down, delivering raw, angry turns of speed with little regard for the civility of those in the cabin. It’s the kind of thing that inspires, well, déjà vu. Funny that.

*My thanks to Harisanker.S and Awesome Group for the images

Technical specifications (1970)

Engine V8, 7210cc 

Power 375bhp @ 4600rpm  

Torque 490lb ft @ 3200rpm  

Weight 1597kg 

Power-to-weight 235bhp/ton

0-100kph 6.4 secs  

Top speed N/A  

Value today $68,000