Yellow Roadrunner

Yellow Roadrunner

Yellow RoadrunnerBy Cam Hutchins,

During the fabled “Muscle Car” era, Plymouth introduced the Roadrunner as a performance package on the Belvedere in 1968, offering only the 383 cu. in. engine with 335 hp, or the 426 cu. in. Hemi with 425 hp for an extra $714. Anything related to “Go” was beefed up and anything else was eliminated. No carpets were available at first with only rubber floor liners, a plain rubber boot around the floor-mounted 4-speed, and a bench seat as the only seating option.

The only bit of frivolity was the Roadrunner “Beep Beep” horn from the popular Warner Brothers Cartoon. Chrysler paid for the use of the Cartoon Likeness and the use of the “Beep Beep” sound. Additionally, the Road Runner was identified by a cartoon decal on each door and one on the trunk lid. For the buyer wanting more, the GTX was based on the Sport Satellite with its more luxurious trim levels.

Offered only as a “Coupe” with a narrow “B” pillar and push-out hinged rear windows,  the Roadrunner was basically a race car sold for the street. It was marketed and appealed to the young hot rodder ready to race and raise havoc on the streets. Midway through the first year, the “decor” package arrived with a pillarless “Hardtop” added to the base “Coupe,” allowing carpets and a new, more precise Hurst shifter along with some more chrome accents.

Yellow RoadrunnerAlthough not quite fitting the target demographic for this car, Dennis Hupka, during Easter of 1968, traded his 1964 Corvette coupe for one of these upgraded models. He picked a red 1968 Roadrunner coupe with the 383 and 4-speed from Johnston Motors in Vancouver. At the time, Johnston Motors had a separate showroom just for the muscle cars and even held the John Petrie Chrysler Supercar Clinic to help customers learn how to get the most out of their Mopars. This was similar to the clinics put on by supercar clinics like Dick Landy, Sox & Martin and Herb McCandless in the U.S. at Plymouth and Dodge Dealers.

Hupka attended one of these clinics and still has some of the promotional materials and stickers they handed out. He sold the car after three years and bought a 1968 435-horse Corvette, then back to a Mopar with a 1970 Challenger 340 4-speed. When transferred to Ottawa, he drove it back East and through the winter. Once he started a family, the lure of the Toyota Corona Station Wagon proved to be too much, and the Challenger got sold.

Fast forward to 1997, when Hupka saw a 1969 Roadrunner on a trailer in a yard in Chilliwack. The owner assured Hupka it was an easy restoration that he was going to do himself one day. Hupka had recently bought and sold two Roadrunners and was hoping this car would be his fourth, so Hupka left a business card. One year later, he was called with the news that the Roadrunner had to go to pay for an engine rebuild on a flatdeck truck. The rebuild was going to cost $3,500, so Hupka cut a cheque for $3,500 and took the Roadrunner home.

Yellow RoadrunnerThere was some rust on the wheel arches and around the rear window and left side of the windshield. The car had been roaming around Merritt for years before the previous owner drove it around the Fraser Valley. It had been in very good shape before being parked and obviously was home to a few rodents. There was a large nest inside the dash, and some adventuresome rodent had taken nuts all the way up the exhaust pipes to the valvetrain.

Hupka didn’t care that the rodents had loved the car, but it was far from perfect. It was a 4-speed car with the 440 motor and the correct “Hemi”-style 18-spline transmission. The fender tag indicated it was a 4-speed car, with a 26-in. radiator, 3:91 gears and a hood “air grabber” system. Sunfire Yellow Y2 was the original colour…but it was supposed to have a 383 cu. in. engine.

With the partial build sheet in hand, he was thinking of a bone-stock Concours numbers-matching restoration, and the colour was a good score for Hupka; since going into the dealership in ’69 and seeing a Sunfire yellow car, he was hooked on that colour. The car came without power steering or power brakes.

The car sat in Hupka’s garage for a year until friends told him of Garry Keay, the local Mopar Guru, so he took the car to Keay for some help. Keay sandblasted the engine bay and trunk and presented Hupka the good news…a virtually rust-free body laid under the ugly bright yellow paint. Keay did some minor body work to one of the inner fenders. Hupka took the car home and completely dismantled it. He started to use a wire wheel on a grinder to strip the entire rust-free floorboards of paint.

Yellow RoadrunnerAs time marched on, Hupka’s wife informed him that he only had one year before retirement, so he had better get help finishing off the Roadrunner. The car was completely dismantled and the shell went back to Keay’s for a total sandblasting, and all body imperfections were fixed and a fresh coat of  Sunfire yellow paint applied.

Having read all the performance Mopar magazines over the years, he knew there were lots of ways of “hopping” up these cars. Having a good 440, the decision was made to build the car the way Hupka wanted it to be, and the hunt was one for all the little tweaks possible. Lots of parts were sourced from Garry Keay, friends, swap meets and other retail outlets such as the well-known West Coast Mopar racer, Bob Mazzolini Racing in Riverside, California.

The existing 440 cu. in. mill was sent to Norm Wilson at Fortins Machine Shop in Chilliwack, and it was upgraded with new pistons, a 30-over bore, balanced, a Mopar 484 “purple” camshaft, Mopar M1 dual-plane 4 bbl. aluminum intake manifold, Holley 3310 carb and electronic ignition. The car has the great “Lopy” sound but is very streetable. Although ceramic headers were initially installed, now the stock high-performance exhaust manifolds run through a 2.5-in. exhaust system with Hemi reproduction mufflers from Accurate Exhaust of Roseburg, Oregon.

The whole suspension was dismantled, sand blasted and painted, as well as receiving new bearings, bushings, shocks, and HD Hemi rear springs. The car received new gas tank and new fuel lines as well as new hard and rubber brake lines.

The original front manual drum brake system was replaced with ’70s Dodge Dart spindles, Chrysler Cordoba 11:75-in. rotors and ’75 B-Body calipers. The rear end has the 3.23 gears so it is good on gas and has the coveted Chrysler Police duty 15×7 wheels. These wheels were available up to 1974 on cop cars and taxis, but Hupka recently purchased reproductions for the rear that are 8 inches wide. Presently the tires are 215/70×15 BFG T/A up front and 275/60×15 BFG T/A rear.

Yellow RoadrunnerThe hood has two scoops with the “red screen inserts,” indicating the car has the factory ram air setup. Black inserts indicate non-ram air setup. The two hood stripes are painted the correct black organosol-textured paint. The stripes go from windshield to the front edge of the hood, but in 1968 the black stripes went side-to-side on the hood. In 1969, halfway through the production run, a highly coveted 1969.5 model of the Roadrunner had a black fibreglass hood that was held in place with four hood pins and had no hinges at all, but had the all important 440 engine with the three carbs.

The car was finished in 2003 and was in the Abbotsford Collector Car show at Tradex for its maiden showing. Since then, it has been to Vernon, Seattle and even Las Vegas for shows. In 2008, a handful of cars left the Lower Mainland to attend the “Mopars on the Strip” show in  Vegas. By the time they left Salt Lake City, there was a convoy of Mopars heading to Sin City.

Hupka filled out the paperwork to have his car featured at the small gathering at the back of the Casino after the show, and somehow was selected to “compete” with five  other Mopars for a feature in Mopar Muscle magazine for September 2008. The judges rode in each car on the highway and on the streets and then the car got three  runs on the drag strip. It certainly was an honour but the guy with the “gadzillion” dollar Hemi Challenger won.

Attending numerous car shows means having to park in tight spots and with manual steering this is no easy chore, so power steering was looking better all the time. In April 2010, he attended the the Mopar Spring Fling car show and swap meet in Van Nuys, Calif and purchased for $65 a power steering column and pump for the ’69  Roadrunner.

Yellow RoadrunnerHe also decided buckets might be more comfortable and they were optional items for 1969. He traded a friend his bench seat for a set of buckets that needed work, but good luck ever getting a bench seat again as they are now extremely popular and rare.

While at the Mopar Nationals in Columbus Ohio in 2006, Legendary Auto Interiors had a large display of all the interiors available for Mopars. He wanted to buy new foam and seat covers for his 1969 buckets, but was told the pattern was much different than the bench seat cars…so new door panels and rear bench seat cover was also bought.

The dash holds a factory reproduction tach and a stock “buddy” seat was installed between the buckets to utilize the arm rest function. The list of options is small, as this was a performance car, but it does have the “Thumbwheel” AM radio for those times you are sick of the “windows down sound” of the Mopar Big Block screaming out its song…as if that could happen!

Categories: Features, Muscle Car Plus