In the movie "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown," Charlie Brown goes to a Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree for the school play. When he returns with a spindly, dilapidated weed, his friends laugh in disbelief. Charlie Brown couldn't even pick out a decent Christmas tree. "What a blockhead!" they exclaimed.
Rodney Carter of Shady Shores, Texas, can relate to that experience. Except in his case, Rodney was a different kind of blockhead--a big-block head.
"I found (the car) in a junkyard in Houston, Texas, in 1977," Rodney begins. "The cost was $125, and being 18 years old with not a penny to my name, I tried to hock my trumpet. But I was caught by my mother, who then loaned me the money. My friend, John Miller, and I went to purchase the car and promptly began to make it run by installing an oil pan, oil pump, and starter. We limped it home and pulled into my parents' driveway and began to hear the laughter from the neighbors, family, and even my girlfriend, Sherry.
"John and I immediately started to tear apart the engine and found it had several bent pushrods and two broken (ones). With an $8 investment in pushrods, we adjusted the timing and were shortly roasting the Bird's tires. Four buckets of soapy water later, you could clearly see all of the body damage. The driver's door and left quarter-panel were caved in from a broadside hit. The right quarter-panel was damaged along with the trunk, which was bowed up. There were several small dents all over the body, but the good news was there was very little rust.
"A couple of months later," Rodney says, "we threw a seat cover over the torn interior, spray-painted the replacement driver's door, and proudly took the Bird to its first outdoor car show. We received several questionable looks and all-out shocked expressions of why we even bothered."
Like Charlie Brown's tree, Rodney's Road Runner wasn't such a bad car. All it needed was a little love. He had plenty of that, but time and money were another matter. It would take years of slow progress to get the Road Runner to match in reality the vision in his mind.
"I married Sherry in 1978, at 20 years of age," Rodney says. "We painted the car and replaced the interior, and showed it in numerous outdoor shows. In 1982, a good friend, James Baker, and I stripped the car down to metal and corrected all of the previous bad bodywork that I had done, and included numerous modifications per the ISCA rule book so this street car could compete against the trailer queens. We repainted it at home in my garage with 28 coats of hand-rubbed lacquer with Flip-Flop Gold Pearl. Phil Pegg, James, and I stayed up 72 straight hours putting the Bird back together, then drove 186 miles to the Waco Street Machine Mini Nationals, where we took Best of Show.
"We moved to Lewisville, Texas, in 1985, and I started getting an itchy feeling of wanting to rebuild the Bird. So, in 1989, we took it completely apart and decided to rebuild it with a mild custom, street rod, and touring-car flare. With raising children, establishing my career, and of course finances, it took a little longer than originally planned."
While James and Rodney had done the car's first body job on their own, Rodney gave the Road Runner to National Auto Repair in Addison, Texas, for the re-resto. Its current color is Sikkens' Red Garnet Pearl Metallic, a '93 Lexus coupe shade. But the car still wasn't complete in Rodney's mind.
"Five years into the rebuild, I decided the Bird had to have a Hemi," he says. "This was before the crate motors came out, so a Hemi was neither cheap nor easy to find. But we prevailed and found a stock 426 Hemi that was out of a destroyed '70 Road Runner.
"My friend Greg Liffick and I cranked the Hemi up in May 2000, which really got me motivated to finish this never-ending rebuild."
The interior (ivory leather) was completed in June 2001. It includes power windows, Valley armrests, and seatbelts restored by Ssnake Oyl. Rodney hand-built the dash, which is molded steel with Dakota Digital gauges. Shawn Cook of Cook's Auto Top and Trim covered the dash and built a custom console and a custom-paneled trunk with a hidden subwoofer cabinet and hidden rear-mounted battery. All the body seams and locks have been filled in or molded, and Rodney shaved the door handles to smooth out the exterior.
"It took months to gather our finances to rebuild the engine the way we wanted to, with the goal in mind to drive the entire Hot Rod Power Tour in May 2003," Rodney adds. "My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in March 2003, and the gift I received from my bride was a set of Mopar Performance aluminum heads. To this we added a complete 3-inch TTI exhaust system with 21/4-inch ceramic-coated headers, 850 Holley carburetion, and Keisler five-speed transmission." The Heads were ported and polished by Gene Quick Motor Sports in Haltom City, Texas. The cam is a .572/.577 stick, and Rodney used 10:1 Arias pistons and a Mopar M1 intake.
"We finished the engine rebuild on May 23, packed the car (the next day) and headed to Waco for the Street Machine Mini Nationals, which also served as a test run," Rodney recalls. "That night during a cruise night, we had the hottest car in the parking lot of the Waco Dodge dealership--due to an alternator fire under the hood. Two alternators and one battery later, we ended up towing the Bird home.
"I solved the problem by installing an inline solenoid to isolate the Mopar Performance mini starter, which was grinding against the block with my 101/2-inch clutch. Two days later, we headed to Nashville for the Hot Rod Power Tour.
"I want thank my friends James Baker, John Miller, Phil Pegg, and Greg Liffick for their support and many hours of cheap labor. Most importantly, I want to thank my wife Sherry and children Candace and Brandon, and daughter-in-law Denise, for their never-ending support. I've always said I'll never sell this car and that they will have to bury me in it when the time comes. My darling wife of 25 years has said that might happen sooner than I think if I keep dragging so-called 'project cars' home."