MAY 25, 2012: RIDING SHOTGUN IN A LEGEND–’69 HEMI ROAD RUNNER – HOW TO REVIVE LATENT CHILDHOOD JOY

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There are few things in life that generate the same excitement that you had in your pre-teen years.

 

Christmas was never the same once you hit puberty because the Santa gig was over and the toy trucks were an embarrassing part of your past.

 

As you get older, the set points for excitement get set higher because you’ve lived life…warts and all.

 

You still appreciate life for all its wonder in your own, more subdued adult way but that “jump for joy” spontaneous kid excitement has all but disappeared.

 

Until a guy invites you to ride shotgun in a numbers matching, factory stock 1969 Hemi Road Runner.

 

It all comes back in a rush-that same excitement you felt when you got your first bike, every Christmas Eve before the age of 13, the last day of school, heading out on vacation and Halloween. It’s all there in one big, beautiful Mopar package.

 

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This “run in the Road Runner” was one of those life-affirming moments that they try, but never really capture on TV. My adolescent life circle was complete when that Hemi fired up in front of a very appreciative group of car guys.

 

Kori Alexander is a legend in Mopar circles because he is a world-class expert in vintage Mopar muscle. He was the guy behind the wheel of the big, bad Plymouth so he was the de facto host of this magic moment. He’d been involved with this car for a few years and he was doing a tweak for the owner.

 

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The first thing you notice inside the car is how familiar it was to a guy my age-the door handles,the gauges, the headliner. I grew up in a Mopar family and everything looked very natural – except for the Road Runner tag on the dash, the 150 miles per hour speedometer and the suspicious bulge in the hood.

 

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This Road Runner was factory mint. It even had paper on the floor mats and a sheen inside that was clearly 69 Mopar correct. The car was surprisingly civilized. I’ve seen Hemis that struggle to idle but this one was set up perfectly and it had a smoothness that was more 383-like than 426-like.

 

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Kori’s driven more vintage Hemis than Richard Petty so he knows how to handle an elephant. The trip out of the parking lot was deceptively quiet… then he opened up the two big carbs.

 

Many people have described hearing “Heavenly music” after a near death experience. They describe this music as beyond words – more like a full body, emotionally gripping immersion in pure joy.

 

I don’t need a near death experience to hear that music because I’ve already heard it in this life in the form of a wide-open 426 cubic inch Street Hemi.

 

Kori’s a sensible guy. This was a customer’s car and a street scenario with factory correct tires so he was very realistic about how far to push the Runner. But he did give a great demonstration of just how incredible these cars were back in ‘69. You get shoved back in the seat when the 8 barrels kicked in and there were actual “crying tires” after the car kicked into second gear.

 

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The Hemi has its own sound. There are any number of big blocks around but the 426 Hemi has a sound that can only be equated with the growl of Jim Morrison and the Doors back in 1969. It sounds like an uncaged animal when the revs get up there…like you poked a tiger with a stick just once too often. The consequences are just as dire because 426 Hemis not only get louder…they get angrier.

 

There was one constant throughout the whole ride. It’s called Car Guy Nirvana. You can build a car past this factory correct Road Runner because it is old tech in every sense of the word – right down to the skinny tires. That isn’t what I wanted to experience because I remember when these cars were new. I didn’t want the 21st Century version of a Hemi ‘Runner, I wanted the Woodstock/Lunar Landing Summer of ’69 version.

 

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Kori delivered in a big way. The only downside was the same thing you experienced when you were a kid. Summers are too short, Christmas is over too fast and this ‘69 Hemi Road Runner ride ended in a heartbeat.

 

But that’s the price you pay for child-like joy…some things never change.

 

Jerry Sutherland

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