It's been said that all the good cars are already bought up, smashed, or rotting away in some guy's backyard. While this trend persists, we at the Mopar Muscle office have been beating the "clone" drum and preaching the gospel of turning grandma's cruiser into the ride of a lifetime. Tech Editor Dave Young turned a plain-Jane '68 convertible Satellite into a 440-powered, low-12-second GTX for his wife. Randy took an Army-green Valiant and converted it into one of the most highly regarded project vehicles that MM has done in years, and this author is still breaking his knuckles on his '69 Charger with aspirations for low-10-second, Hemi-powered, quarter-mile times.

But regarding the super-low production Mopars, we've been guilty of giving up the ghost prematurely, as evidenced by Bruce Kepley's earth-shaking discovery of not one, not two, but three of the most desired Mopar machines ever. What began as an innocent trip to the Monroe, North Carolina, K-Mart parking lot to view the Fourth of July fireworks in 2003, ultimately led to the discovery of some of the rarest documented Mopar iron known to exist-a one-out-of-four '69 Hemi Road Runner four-speed convertible with its drivetrain, a long-forgotten elephant plant from a '64 Belvedere Super Stock coupe, and the few remaining bits of a battered '68 Sox & Martin Barracuda.

Bruce had been earnestly searching for the original engine for his '69 Hemi Road Runner, and since he knew the car originally was sold in North Carolina, it narrowed down his search significantly. A chance encounter in the K-Mart parking lot that July 4th lead Bruce to the doorstep of Carroll Hendrix of Pageland, South Carolina, a former competitive drag racer in the '60s and '70s, who supposedly knew of the fate of his estranged elephant. Genial and eager to welcome a fellow Mopar enthusiast, Carroll freely opened his paddock to Bruce. From his first glance of the private stash, Bruce realized he had stumbled upon one of the most sprawling Hemi-engine collections he'd ever seen. That first encounter was educational, though somewhat disappointing since Bruce was told of the fate of several Hemis, but not of his. Carroll said he had owned a '69 four-speed green Hemi Road Runner convertible that was purchased in 1972 in Chesterfield, South Carolina, for $1,200 from a used car dealer. At that time it suffered a burned clutch and required a tow home. Once the clutch was repaired, the Runner served as a fun-about-town driver, sending Carroll as high as 110 mph on one occasion. He kept it like this for another year and then removed the entire driveline and replaced it with a tame 383. His motive for the swap was based on his fixation with collecting the venerable Hemi plant. The 426-which he still had-was extracted from between the fenders and placed alongside the other hibernating 11 engines in his collection.

Bruce pleaded to be shown the engine, which was safely stored away and partially assembled, except for the camshaft, lifters, valve covers, intake, and carburetors (all of which were stored on a shelf). The date-coded Hemi engine had a June 10, 1968 casting date. Carroll still had the bellhousing, four-speed transmission with a late July 1968 assembly date, the Dana 60 that still wore the factory markings, and 11-inch brake drums, driveshaft, K-member, fresh air cleaner assembly, and motor mounts.

Carroll was friends with several of the vintage Hemi Mopar drivers, including the late Don Carlton, who had agreed to discuss a trade for Carroll's stock camshaft and lifters, so Carroll removed the valvetrain from the 426 and wrapped them in newspaper. Tragically, Mr. Carlton was killed in a racing accident before this transaction could take place, so the parts remained wrapped in the newspaper. At the same time, Bruce had rebuilt and fully detailed a '67 Hemi engine for his '69 Road Runner. Since Carroll's engine had the same casting date, rendering it more appropriate for his model year, they agreed to swap engines along with the remaining drivetrain.

Once the newly acquired running gear was at Bruce's home, the phone calls and e-mails began. Fully understanding the historical significance of such a find, Bruce knew he needed certified documentation. Bruce sent photos of the engine and serial numbers of all parts and date codes to a Mopar historian. Word came back that the four-speed Hemi Road Runner convertible was built only three days after Bruce's four-speed Hemi Road Runner hardtop.

Bruce was now faced with a dilemma: what to do with the driveline? It would be a perfect fit for his Runner hardtop, though not the original plant. But if the original car still existed, wouldn't the reunion of the car and running gear be more important? Bruce was in a quandary. He would again require the help of his historian, who provided the information to the current owner of the body. The B-Body was, in fact, intact and in the possession of Stephan Stehnij of New York, who was fully aware of his Road Runner's heritage as a piece of motoring history, and his pricing was commensurate. Since buying the car from Stephan was out of the question, Bruce offered to trade the original driveline. But as luck would have it, Stephan had a completely restored late-'68 casting Hemi drivetrain, whose casting date would match Bruce's '69 Runner. Since Bruce was interested in finding an engine correctly date coded for his hard-top Road Runner and had the original running gear for Stephan's Runner, the two came to a very reasonable (and quick) trade. Carroll Hendrix was present for the swap in January 2004 and met Stephan Stehnij, who had many questions answered that day.

In August 2005, Carroll wanted to weed out his collection of Mopars and elephant engines and gave Bruce a call. On Bruce's first visit, he had been shown Carroll's garage that was chock full of 426 parts and complete engines, of which the aforementioned '69 casting Hemi from the mysterious one-out-of-four convertible Road Runners belonged. Bruce's keen eye had also noticed a complete Hemi and 727 TorqueFlite hanging from a chain hoist next to an old stove. This time, much to his delight, Carroll offered the lynched engine to him.