The Rapid Transit System Caravan

The year is 1970; your hair is long and your pant legs wide. Gas is cheap and grass is cheaper, Led Zeppelin just released their second album, and the horsepower wars are in full swing. 

That’s you! Your weekends probably consist of lurking around burger joints and driving up and down the same street over and over. Despite your busy schedule, when you hear the Rapid Transit System is coming to your town you know that ya just gotta be at the local Plymouth dealership to see them in person.

With the big three battling over the ever shrinking attention span of America’s youth, automotive advertisers were forced to embrace their wild side in an effort to appeal to the new culture. The ’70s consisted of many half baked marketing schemes, but the suits over at Plymouth must have been smoking the good shit when they approved of the “Rapid Transit System Caravan”. The Caravan consisted of three models (the Duster, the Roadrunner, and the ‘Cuda) which were all customized into radical street machines and toured around the country to promote Plymouth’s performance packages. Along with the cars, Chrysler produced a truckload (literally) of memorabilia, posters, displays, and even a cut away 426 HEMI engine to sit beside the wacky racers.

The traveling circus was then crammed into a ’44 foot long, bright yellow Dodge big-rig and displayed at Plymouth dealerships across the country. Dealers were encouraged to use the attraction as an opportunity to host sales events and publicize Plymouth’s all-new muscle machines. The goal was to create a party-like atmosphere that encouraged spectators to purchase (or at least test drive) a powerful new car from Plymouth. This bizarre strategy was a huge success and Plymouth saw a considerable increase on performance packages and high end options for the 1970 model year. After a quick face lift on the Duster and ‘Cuda, as well as an all new custom Roadrunner, the RTS Caravan was back at it again in 1971 for one last tour before they fell off the face of the earth.

Despite many rumors it’s unclear exactly what happened to the cars over the course of the next decade or so, but we do know the cars were eventually split up. Unfortunately it seems as though some were even badly neglected. While I’m sure there were a few other Mopar nuts searching for the cars, they seemed to have fallen completely off the map until the famous collector Steven Juliano took an interest.

Despite dabbling with a few Cobras and Mustangs, Steven Juliano was best known within car culture as the caretaker of some of the rarest of rare Mopars, as well as an avid collector of original Chrysler memorabilia. Steve personally hunted down each RTS car and saved them from a certainly grim fate. Sadly, Steve passed away late September after a long fight with pancreatic cancer. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but friends of Steve have told me we would have clicked well. His passion for Chrysler’s heritage is certainly something I can relate to and his seemingly upbeat, fun-loving attitude makes it sound as though he could have gotten along with pretty much any fellow Mopar-addict. Everyone I spoke with who knew Steve personally has told me he didn’t really “possess” any of his cars, he felt he is simply the current caretaker of pieces of automotive history. That is a sentiment I greatly respect and appreciate. He truly was a defining member of the Mopar community and will be greatly missed.

Juliano’s discovery of the RTS Caravan cars saved them from falling into complete obscurity, and as you can imagine this was the front page news of the Mopar world for a period of time. Years back, my dad came home with a copy of Mopar Collector’s Guide. Rarely does this magazine grace our mailbox without my dad finding a story that he wants me to check out. In this instance, the mag was opened to a picture of The RTS cars which immediately grabbed my attention. At this point in my life I had been to plenty of car shows and seen plenty of different Mopars, but I had never seen anything quite like these cars before. The wheel flares, the wings, the wild paint jobs! These rowdy road warriors had me hooked, so when I found out they would be at this years MCACN I knew I had to be there to see them in the flesh (or steel that is).

Approaching the red carpeted aisles of MCACN I set forth on my mission to find the RTS cars. Standing on my tippy toes I caught a glimpse of a gold fender through the crowd, I knew right away it was the RTS ’70 Roadrunner. Out of character, I rushed right past low-mileage Daytonas, rare Superbirds, and showstopping ‘Cudas just to get a look at Plymouth’s original street freaks. 

After admiring the RTS cars solely through computer screens and magazine spreads for years it was almost surreal to lay my eyes on them in person. Dazzling under the bright showroom lights, the cars were naturally posed beside original Plymouth memorabilia. This was the first time these cars had EVER been publicly displayed together, so as you can imagine it drew quite a crowd. Weaving between spectators I heard many interesting comments, “why would someone desecrate these cars like this”, “are these…. Roadrunners?” and my personal favorite “whoever did this must’ve been ON something”. While the dated retro styling agitated some, Plymouth-fanatics like myself knew they were staring at an essential piece of Chrysler’s history.

Consider this; if it wasn’t for the RTS Caravan touring the nation to publicize Plymouth’s most powerful models, many performance cars may have never been ordered. The number of HEMI ‘Cudas and six pack Superbirds is already low. Now imagine how many of those cars could have never been produced if Plymouth didn’t plant the seed with this lively roadshow.

As I admired some of the never-before-seen original photos of the Rapid Transit tour I was approached by friends of Steve. Despite the somewhat somber occasion, everyone I spoke with was in great spirits and were all happy to indulge me in further details of the RTS cars. 

The Duster

This Sublime street freak sticks out like a sore thumb. A custom flush front end, a glowing green paint job, and the perfectly polished chrome is certainly enough to make you do a double take. Reportedly, Steve tracked the Duster down to an abandoned parking garage where it had been sitting for years on flat tires. He was almost kicked out by a security guard but after little bit of “financial persuasion” he was allowed to further inspect the car and even acquired the owner’s contact information. It wasn’t before long the car would be undergoing a restoration to get it back to it’s former 1971 glory. Among the funky features scattered across this car, the weirdest thing may be the exhaust. While at first it appears to have your typical rear exit exhaust, the front valance also sports what seems to be rectangular tips underneath the bumper. I crawled across the showroom floor trying to spot forward facing headers, but with no under the hood access I’m still unsure whether this was done for looks or if it truly has some sort of elaborate functionality. I know it sounds odd, but these cars are living proof that odder things have happened. 


*if you’re thinking you remember this car as being red, you are not wrong! In 1970 this car sported a warm red and orange paint scheme but when it returned for the tour of ’71 it was updated with a striking new Sublime paintjob.

The 1970 Roadrunner

Likewise to the Duster, the 1970 RTS Roadunner was customized by Bryon Grenfell. The car sports a blacked out grille, rectangular headlights, beautifully grafted wheel flares, and a super sleek wing thing. The gold, black, and white color scheme is surprisingly bold and perfectly compliments the outrageous body mods. Unfortunately, of all the RTS cars the ‘70 Roadrunner appears to be the most mysterious. The details of it’s history are few and far between and the story behind the car seems to be somewhat foggy. If any of my readers have more details regarding this car please contact me at Olivia.Mopar@gmail.com and I would be happy to add them.

                     The 1971 Roadrunner             

Out with the old and in the new! After the first tour of 1970 Plymouth retired the original RTS Roadrunner in favor of this updated ’71 model. Aside from it’s outrageous creamsicle like paint scheme, the boisterous B body grabs attention with it’s freaky front face, puzzling wheels covers, and specially grafted hood and decklid. 

While staring in awe of the ’71 I was greeted by a fuzzy faced individual known as Chuck Miller. Chuck is a legendary customizer from Detroit who owns and runs the acclaimed Styline Customs shop that is responsible for some of the coolest customs in muscle car history.


Note that Chuck built the ’71 Roadrunner and the ‘Cuda while the ’70 Roadrunner and Duster were built by Bryon Grenfell.

Cheerful and full of spirit, Chuck was as whimsical as the oddball Mopars he stood beside. He is the man responsible for making Harry Bradely’s drawn concepts of the “Rapid Transit System Caravan” come to life. According to Chuck, he was delivered brand new, all stock Plymouth models, given the hand drawn concepts, and essentially told to “go to town”. With only 3 months until the deadline, him and his team slaved away trying to accomplish the crazy custom work as quick as possible! 

In my conversation with Chuck he told me the ’71 Roadrunner was a  particularly challenging build as the custom work was done with all steel, with exception of the glass decklid. I imagine the reversed, “go-fast”, body lines on hood were especially tricky. Of all the RTS cars, the ’71 Roadrunner was by far the best maintained over the years and is the only one that is still in original condition. She does show a few minor battle scars from her formative roadshow years but overall this car must’ve received a lot of love and care by all it’s owners

Last, but far from least is the elusive 1970 Rapid Transit System ‘Cuda. The Cragars, the shaker, the sidepipes and chin spoilers! In my humble opinion, this car is the hair-raising, breath-taking, heart-stopping attraction that made the tour. As you can see I have no pictures of this car on display at MCACN and for a simple reason, it wasn’t there. Despite Steve’s passionate efforts to complete and preserve the original 1970-1971 Rapid Transit System Caravan his one hang-up was the legendary RTS ‘Cuda. That’s not to say that Steve couldn’t find the car, he tracked it down to it’s current location and even lovingly grazed his hand over it. Of course, he attempted to purchase the car as he had successfully done with it’s counterparts but the owner would NOT budge. I like to think their attachment to the RTS ‘Cuda was one of sentiment, but unfortunately it’s likely as simple as the owner being out to elicit as much money as possible. Steve obviously offered considerable sums but his attempts were never enough. I was never told any hard figures, but I have heard that at one point Steve showed up with a brand new Dodge Viper AND a substantial amount of cash and still the owner’s would not accept the deal. Despite Steve’s failed efforts to purchase the ‘Cuda we know he did his due diligence and ensured it was in a good environment and being well cared for. It’s current location is well-known deep within the obsessive, and borderline nerdy side of  the Chrysler community.

 The ‘Cuda was the most heavily modified of all the RTS cars. Sporting a bizarre beak, wheelie bars, and yes even a parachute. It looks like it belongs in the staging lanes of a dragway! This car is often confused with a different, albeit strikingly similar, ‘Cuda also created by Chuck Miller known as The Sonic ‘Cuda. 

With Sonic on the left and RTS on the right we can see the clear difference between the two ‘Cudas. The Sonic ‘Cuda clearly sports a one piece chin spoiler, a cut-away hood (made for clearing the supercharger), and a rear wing. Whereas the Rapid Transit ‘Cuda wears two molded chin spoilers, a shaker hood, and flush sidepipes. Unlike the RTS ‘Cuda, The Sonic ‘Cuda is missing! That’s right, whereabouts are widely unknown. If any my readers happen to have any information as to what happened to the Sonic ‘Cuda after it was owned by “The Treatment” detailing products of Chicago, IL please contact me at Olivia.Mopar@gmail.com.

Aside from the extremely custom cars, The Rapid Transit System Caravan also exhibited a cut-away 426 HEMI, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme’s flip-top funny car ‘Cuda, and an array of performance Mopar parts by Hustle Stuff. 

In 1972 the muscle car craze began to fade. Powerful engine options like the 426 HEMI and 440-6 pack were axed, color options became bleak, and the Rapid Transit System was declared dead. While we wish the fun could have continued we rejoice in Chrysler’s current attempts to bring back the performance side of the automotive world.

The RTS caravan was so elaborate, so impressive, and so downright weird it’s something only Chrysler would do. A huge thank you goes out to the people responsible; Dick Cook, Bob Larivee, Chuck Miller, Byron Grenfell, and of course the late great Steven Juliano; who had the passion, motivation, and know-how to bring the Rapid Transit System back to life! Thank you!

3 thoughts on “The Rapid Transit System Caravan

  1. Curt says:

    Great article and pictures. Learned a lot. I worked for Byron Grenfell after he did the Duster. Got to see Steve’s collection many times. He was very generous and shared his collection with friends.

    Like

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