Every car enthusiast has their own reason or story behind their passion for cars. For Rowland George, growing up in an old Sears-Roebuck home sitting on five acres of woods filled with the rusted remains of vehicles sparked his imagination early on. “My grandfather Herb had acquired this magnificent collection of what my family referred to as junk throughout the years of towing he did for the township,” says Rowland.
Prior to towing, his grandfather earned the distinction of being one of Ford’s top salesmen back in the 1960s. It was during this time that his affinity for Blue Oval machines took shape and subsequently dictated what his family would drive. From F-100s to Thunderbirds, Herb’s family was undoubtedly dedicated to Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products. Rowland continues to say, “While I may be exaggerating a bit, it sure felt that way growing up.”
When Rowland was old enough to drive, he picked up his first car; a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria LX he would name Sharice. He says, “While I enjoyed driving my land yacht, I began taking note of the classics in my back yard as well as my dad’s tastes for vehicles. He grew up driving a little bit of everything; GTOs, Chevelles, Vegas, ‘Cudas, Chargers; you name it. The thing they all shared in common was that they didn’t last long thanks to him or one of his friend’s questionable driving styles. You can thank them for seeing less of these beauties now-a-days.”
While Rowland’s father drove a lot of fast vehicles, the one car that his father fondly remembered was his sister’s 1970 Plymouth Fury III which he took for a joy ride and subsequently wrecked. “He would tell me often of the whipping he received from my grandfather when he found out what had happened.” Fast forward three decades later, while taking a drive on the rural highways of South Jersey, his father spotted a Fury similar to his sister’s old car in a field and came back the same day and managed to buy it.
“It was at this moment that I caught the Mopar bug. The car itself was a bit crusty, but the stunning lines unique to a full size Plymouth were all there. The drive home was unlike anything I had ever experienced; new sounds and smells beckoned my heart for more. During the next two summers, I helped my dad with the Fury and got it to a point of dependability; so much so that we decided to embark on the three hour cruise to the All Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, PA,” recalls Rowland.
While walking down the aisles of the show, Rowland came across a section where the 1971 Plymouth B-Bodies were parked. “The looks of those cars spoke to my core. It quickly dawned upon me that this model was the same one that Richard Petty had driven to the championship in 1971. It was a no-brainer; I needed to own a 1971 Road Runner.” As soon as they got home, he began the hunt for a Road Runner, while keeping in mind that he had a limited budget. His criteria was simple; the car needed to run and drive at the very least and had to be Corporate (aka Petty) Blue. However, near the beginning of his search, he realized that the chance of checking all of those boxes was slim to none. Even after opening up his search to other colors and options, he still couldn’t find what he wanted for the budget he was on.
“Over the course of a year, it was evident that I would not be buying a ’71 within my budget anytime soon so I decided to look at 1973-1974 Road Runners. I eventually journeyed to West Virginia with cash in hand to purchase a bright orange ’73 Satellite that was cloned into a Road Runner. Upon looking at the car, I quickly noticed that the driver side fender was being held up by six washers. I passed on it, the car was pretty bad,” says Rowland.
While he was disappointed with the long drive home and no Road Runner in tow, his parents reminded him that his true search was for a ’71, not a ’73 and that he should be patient, not settle and continue to look for the right car. About two months later, while reading the latest issue of Hemmings Motor News, Rowland came across a F7 Sherwood Green 1971 Road Runner listed for sale in Export, Pennsylvania; just outside Pittsburgh. Something spoke to him about the car so he quickly called the owner to see if it was still for sale. Sure enough, it was. The owner told Rowland that his son had purchased it four years prior for his birthday, but he was a Pontiac guy and was not too keen on the Plymouth so he decided to put it up for sale.
Rowland tells us, “We made arrangements to meet and I hopped in the van with my parents for the six hour drive west. As we arrived at the seller’s house, the Road Runner was parked in the driveway and he was wiping off the dust that had accumulated on it after months of sitting. After some small talk, he handed me the keys to take the car on a test drive with my dad. I still remember being on the test drive and my dad saying, “I think this is the one Rowl.” I was grinning ear to ear as we pulled back into the driveway.”
With game faces on, Rowland and the seller negotiated and struck a deal. The car was now his and he couldn’t have been any happier. He continues to say, “I was in pure bliss as we set off for home, with me behind the wheel of my dream car. That pure bliss quickly subsided though as the trip home was full of issues. The Road Runner struggled to make it back to its new home. It was back firing, had dirty fuel and had a bad ballast resistor. Thankfully my dad had brought along some extra ballast resistors with him and we managed to diagnose the minor issues. Finally in its new home, the Road Runner was quickly given a mechanical tear down to make sure it was road ready and most importantly safe.”
In the course of seven years since bringing it home, Doug, as Rowland named the car, underwent many trips to the mechanic to get out all of the bugs and eventually a trip to the body shop in 2015 for a partial restoration. Rowland’s Road Runner rolled out of the assembly plant as a pretty plain-jane green on green unit with a 383-4bbl HP engine and a 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission. The options were limited but included power front disc brakes, a tachometer and the trailer tow package (reportedly only 14 1971 Road Runners were equipped with this option).
It was so stripped down that it was even ordered as a stripe and radio delete car! Over the years, previous owners had dressed it up with a rear gull wing, front chin spoilers and a strobe stripe. During the restoration, Rowland opted to go back to the car’s stripped down roots so all of the dress up gear was removed; except for the addition of a factory trailer hitch purchased from a fellow Mopar enthusiast.
“The car has gone to Carlisle five times and continues to run strong. My friends and heroes including Steve Magnante, Tim Wellborn, Dale Inman and Richard Petty have all signed the car. It has become a member of the family as well as an extension of myself. There are days when I curse at it and then there are those days where I stare and think, boy… John Herlitz (the man who led the designer process of the ’71 Plymouth B-bodies) got this car right. I learn something new about these incredible machines every day thanks to my Mopar family. I have driven many classic cars in my life, but nothing comes close to my Road Runner.”