In October 1968, Jessie Martin walked into Billy Bolton's Dodge/Chrysler dealership in Commerce, Georgia, looking to purchase a car. He didn't want just any car; it had to be a Road Runner. His son, Johnny, tells us that after perusing the lot, Jessie decided he would order a car that suited both his taste and budget. "I understand he [Dad] passed on a Hemi car because of the $600-$800 price difference," Johnny says. "Oh well, I'm happy [he bought] this one."
This is the very Road Runner Jessie ordered that day-a restored-to-stock '69 383 gem that has never left the family. In fact, legally, it has never even changed hands. Johnny, who lives in Nicholson, Georgia, is its current caretaker. But it is destined to be passed down a generation once again.
"The title is still in my father's name," says Johnny, who has the original title, window sticker, and other documentation. "When I was 16, my father asked me if I wanted the Road Runner as we had always discussed, or if I wanted him to help me purchase a smaller gas saver. I chose the Road Runner. I drove the car for about six or seven years, but at age 22, I decided I needed a truck."
Johnny bought his truck, and after that, the car was seldom driven. After getting married and purchasing a house, he reluctantly placed the Road Runner in storage in his father's shop. It sat there under a cover for about eight years, during which time a lot happened: Johnny became a father, got divorced, and remarried. But when the cover came off the Road Runner about five years ago, he found it brought his family closer together.
"I started restoring the car in July of '98," Johnny says. "I pulled it into my garage, where I began removing parts, the engine, the transmission, etc. I took the chassis to Rich Dean at Classic Design & Fabrication in Athens, Georgia, for the body and paint work." Rich removed the remaining parts and sandblasted the chassis on a rotisserie. Then, he repainted the exterior with a new coat of F5 metallic green. "While [Rich] was doing the bodywork," Johnny says, "I was restoring and replacing parts-the bushings and all bolt-on and suspension parts." He had all the pieces bead-blasted or media-blasted at a local machine shop. Then, he boxed them up and waited for the body to be finished. "I wanted to keep all the original parts," he says, "so I had the chrome pieces replated. But, I did have to purchase some emblems."
Most of what Johnny had to purchase came from Year One, The Paddock, and Legendary Interiors, which supplied the interior. Ssnake Oyl redid the seatbelts, and the grille and taillight bezels were treated to a freshening by Totally Auto.
Johnny did all the work on the engine himself, except for the machining. He built the 383 HP back to stock specs with an .030 overbore. The original 833 manual tranny is hooked to a Hurst shifter and feeds into an 831/44, limited-slip rearend.
Once the bodywork was finished, Johnny brought the car home and began the reassembly. The process was made extra special by the help of Johnny's father and sons, with three generations of Martins all wrenching on the same car. Friend John Ford also contributed to the reassembly. "I returned the car back to its original state as it was purchased in 1968 by my father," Johnny says, "even down to the redline tires, and the hood, in-door, and trunk stickers. I wanted my father to see it again like it was when it was new. He thinks it looks better now than it did [the day he bought it]."
Johnny's wife, Mindy, son, Blake, and stepson, Luis, all enjoy car shows. Johnny has a Road Runner clone ('70 Satellite) that he plans to pass on to his stepson, and at age 11, Luis was already helping work on the car. Meanwhile, Blake is awaiting the day when his dad will hand over the keys to the '69. "I told Blake he would get the car at an older age-not 16," Johnny says. "Due to the cost of the restoration and the value of the car, I think he understands."