"I love it when a plan comes together!"
That weekly George Peppard quote, well-remembered from the TV show "The A-Team," pretty much sums up how the Holley Road Runner project concluded. Those of you who have read the magazine for the last 18 months or so have watched the transformation of this well-worn piece of Detroit iron into a state-of-the-art asphalt ripper that looks like a musclecar and cruises like a late model. The 1969 Plymouth benefited from the greatest amount of materials and craftsmanship ever offered to the Chrysler automotive aftermarket, combining the best of the old and new to create what is without question the best project car in Mopar Muscle's 12-year history.
In mid-1999, former editor and current publisher Jerry Pitt initiated the program with Holley Performance Products, who sought to celebrate the sixties with this car-one of ten that will be completed in time for Holley's centennial anniversary. A wide array of aftermarket companies offered the needed components, with the entire project underwritten by Holley Performance Products. Carefully selected, the donated time and materials took the former street beater to the pinnacle of current-era resto-mod.
Noted artisan John Balow of Muscle Car Restorations in Chippawa Falls, Wisconsin, was tagged as the point man on the project. Balow located a 1969 383 Road Runner in Alabama that became the basis for the car. After Progressive Stripping removed previous bodywork efforts, Balow's talented crew at MCR freshened the shell, using rust-free sheetmetal from Freman's Auto in Montana and massaging the carcass into primo shape.This included installing the windshield from Auto Vision Center, refurbished bumpers from North Star Plating, and custom chrome from Paul's Plating. In place of the steel hood went a version the factory's well-remembered A12 Six Pack-type fiberglass unit, in black, of course. The crowning touch was the Hemi Orange/Tor-Red PPG acrylic urethane paint job, applied at MCR and complimented by virtually everyone who has seen the car in person.
Meanwhile, as the body was being overhauled, the crew at Indy Cylinder Head in Indianapolis was busy creating a mill suitable for the beast. Rather than base it on the tired 383 original, Indy's Ken Lazzeri came up with a stroked 542-inch wedge-type lung that tagged the dyno at over 575 hp and 700 lb/ft of torque. Instead of a brace of 30-year-old 2 BBL Holleys, a brand new 950-cfm Holley vacuum secondary carb was mounted atop the Indy intake. The result is a streetable, albeit thirsty, stroker wedge that can smoke the hides on command.
While the headers carry a Hooker emblem, Balow's artisans crafted special headers for the car using a fabricator's kit from Hooker to create the tubes. These were then HPC coated in order to fashionably send the spent fumes to the Flowtech (also a Holley brand) mufflers, also treated with HPC thermal coatings. The pipes terminate at a set of Stainless Steel Exhaust Tips' ends, again keeping with the car's resto-mod look. Instead of a standard distributor, the system is fired by Holley's state-of-the-art Annihilator ignition system. Other components for the engine came from Federal Mogul, Eagle Specialty Products, and Charlie's Oil Pans, while former Mopar Pro Stock standout Herb McCandless came through with a Hemi A-833 four-speed trans with all new internals.
Because this car would be a street-strip beast rather than a quarter pounder, suspension tech came next. First, everything was upgraded with high-quality replacements from Performance Suspension Technology, then other modern pieces replaced most of the outdated factory components. These included the ARB Air Locker fitted in the Dana 60, custom built by Drive Train Specialities' custom shop. At each end, disc brakes from Baer Inc. are visible behind the SWS-TQ five-spoke wheels from Stockton Wheel. A pair of Eaton Detroit rear springs support the rear end. Up front, Baer also supplied the disc brakes that are just as trick as the tubular upper control arms and proprietary coilovers from Magnum Force. BFGoodrich Radial T/As are found at all four corners.
The outside of the car can certainly be appreciated by onlookers, but the people tooling around in it need a comfortable ride. To that end, Year One supplied the interior-and nearly every other new restoration component-to revamp the original so the car maintained the basic feel and appearance of 1969. We put in a brace of Auto Meter gauges to monitor the vital signs, a Grant steering wheel, a high-tech Vintage Air air-conditioning system that produces minimum drag off of the engine, and a headliner installed by the Auto Top Shop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The crowning touch was Crutchfield's super-custom Kenwood stereo, complete with a monster sub-woofer in the rear that can out-scream the engine.
As with any customized vehicle, a plethora of small but important parts came from various suppliers. Things like throttle and emergency brake cables, because both applications required linkages far from stock replacements; Lokar Industries had just the ticket for each. Concours Creations came up with a beautiful wiper motor that helped make the firewall look brand new. Companies like Year One and N.O.S parts dealer Stephens Performance had the little things that boost the quality of the work to the stratosphere. Things that weren't seen included POR-15 coatings to keep the car rust-free; Action Auto Movers and Steve Durham, responsible for movements and delivery; and Cytech, whose garage-style lift made the work at Muscle Car Restorations go as smoothly as possible.
And how did the final recipients like the finished project?
"The first time I took it out, second gear was really fun," says Holley President Jeff King with a big grin. "You've got to remember, the car has 700 foot-pounds of torque. It easily breaks the tires loose the entire second gear, and, if you don't watch it, that back end will swing around on you. So it's a burnout king. I'll be honest with you, it's an awsome car, a handful, too, because once it does hook up, it goes really fast. We're going to enjoy this Mopar, it's a fun car."
As for the future of the Holley Road Runner, it will be a mainstay for years to come as part of the Holley Performance Products Road Show and will also be loaned to Year One for their displays at Mopar-specific events. While we would love to take it from Detroit to San Bernardino on the Hot Rod Power Tour coming this May, that's a commitment Holley has yet to make. But if it does, look for tons of rippled asphalt, courtesy a 700 lb/ft Wedge-powered Road Runner on Route 66!
Comments At The Finish LineJohn Balow: owner, Muscle Car Restorations-We picked a car most people wouldn't have tried to work with on this scale; it was nothing spectacular to begin with. However, it offered a real opportunity to show what goes into doing a complete vehicle from the ground up. From the new quarters, to the front stub, to the wide number of upgrades, my company was able to demonstrate what could be done with this vehicle. We invested a tremendous amount of time into it, but the result was that I think the readers got an equally tremendous amount of information on state-of-the-art car building through the articles in the magazine.
Pat Staton: Program Manager, Year One, Inc.-Year One always tries to be involved in vehicle projects with other companies and manufacturers that share our high level of commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. This project car, restored by Holley Performance, Muscle Car Restorations, and the other fine companies, is an excellent example of the high quality of products and services that we have to offer our customers.
Jeff King: President, Holley Performance Products-I think that this particular car is such a great representative of the 1960s musclecar era. They say good things come to those who wait, and this is a good thing. John Balow did a quality job on it, which, when coupled to the help from Year One, Baer Brakes, Indy Cylinder Head, and all the other contributors, make it a fantastic representative of that decade for us. We all know about the awesome power and torque from these Mopars, and frankly this is just a kick ass car!