Vince Russo is one of the good ol' boys from the red section of the country. Remember the 2000 election map? Reds occupy the interior states, blues live on the coasts? How do you tell the difference? If you painted your Mopar camouflage you may be a "red." If you think Hemi is a math term for half of a sphere, you're probably a "blue."
Russo restores Mopars in a small "cow town" of about 600 people.
"We've turned some really nice Mopars out of there," says Russo, referring to Tiffany, Wisconsin, and "Ozzie's Oasis."
Russo's latest find and restoration is a '70 Hemi Road Runner. Dennis Haldeman found this Plymouth in 1989, and over the next couple years located the engine and tranny. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Russo explained, "I met Dennis in 1991, and he told me about the car. We had a standing joke every time I'd see him. I'd say 'Uh, you ready to sell me my Hemi car yet?' So I always was on him about selling it to me. And he said he'd never sell that car. That was the statement he made.... He'd never sell it."
We visited with Haldeman and can understand why the Road Runner was a keeper. Dennis found the car from "a guy at work." The price was cheap, negotiated from $4,500 down to $1,500 because the car was minus engine, transmission, and other small parts. Immediately, Dennis began tracking down the 426 V8 and 727 TorqueFlite.
"At the time I saw [the car]," said Dennis, "it was parked by a guy's house in Edgerton. Then I started trying to track where it came from, and people said they had seen it at a coal bin in Janesville. I had a heck of a time tracking it. Now I guess Vince found out which dealer it came from."
Luckily, the body was in "real nice shape." There was a small dent in the left front fender and a minute spot of rust on the right rear.
"I finally wound up having to buy a Hemi," says Dennis. "I happened to be up at the Jefferson swap meet. A guy had a Hemi 'Cuda drag car for sale. He said it had been in storage for ten years."
Haldeman drove to Hebron to see the car, where a real shock awaited when he checked out the old drag car. "I crawled under it and [saw the stamping] 130785. My serial number right in the motor! I was shocked. I stayed there until that guy came home that night at 11. He was up to his eyeballs...you know...pretty well lit up. He said he had the motor sold. I said I wanted to buy the whole car, as is. And we went back and forth. He had no money down. He said the guy was coming the next morning to get the motor."
Haldeman did not break down and explain why this particular engine meant so much to him. Had he done so, the price might have gone up dramatically. "I stayed there and finally he agreed to it. It was on a Saturday night. Sunday morning I got the banker up. Got a check. I bought the whole car. Cost me $11,500. So I bought it. I got my motor. Once I had the motor, well, then I got a lead on the transmission."
This experience proved more pleasurable. Dennis tracked the 727 to Indiana. The owner had just rebuilt the TorqueFlite and was getting ready to install it in his '70 Hemi 'Cuda. Along comes Dennis.
"I asked him what the serial number was. I says, 'Wow, that's my transmission.' He says, 'You have the car for that transmission?' I said, 'Yes I do.' He said, 'Well, it don't pay for me to put it in.' He was a Chrysler nut. And I says, 'Well, what will it take for me to get to my transmission?' He said, 'You just find me another '70 Hemi automatic.'"