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1969 HEMI 4-SPEED
ROAD RUNNER

MOPAR COLLECTORS GUIDE 2015

Al Piccione and this particular ’69 Hemi Road Runner have a lot of making up for lost time to do.  Looking at this drop-dead gorgeous beast, if you’re like us, you’re probably captivated by the six-mile-deep black paint job, which was accomplished by Dave Ferro and his crew up at Totally Auto somewhere around fourteen years ago!  It would be wildly inaccurate to say this is an fourteen-year-old restoration, however, as the car was just finished up in the middle of this year’s seriously frigid winter.  You’ll be seeing a lot of this one come this show season, and probably will get used to seeing it repeatedly in the coming years, especially if you live on Long Island, New York, because that’s where Al intends to drive the wheels off this black beauty.  Yes, it is a legit numbers matching ’69 Hemi Road Runner, but at present, that numbers matching Hemi has been dyno’d at 520 horsepower, and Al isn’t particularly fond of trailers; despite its appearance, this one was built so he could blow off some steam after work and head down to the drive-in.  Purists may cringe at this idea, given how gorgeous this machine is, but that’s not a concern for Al, because in his world, this car is absolutely worthless; it has no financial value because, quite simply, it will never be sold – thus he’s free to drive it without concern and to thrash it through the gears without worrying about getting the underside dirty on occasion.  What brings on a seemingly care-free attitude when it comes to such an exceedingly rare perhaps one-of-one Hemi Road Runner?  If we may lead you down that path, it’s a story that starts quite a few years back. 
            The tale actually begins back in 1969, when Al Piccione was a ten-year-old boy growing up right outside of Flushing, New York.  Back then, we didn’t have video games or the internet, so children actually did physical activities outside, playing ball, riding bikes, tackling their friends for no good reason, things of that nature.  Al and his friends frequently played in his back yard, and the neighbor behind them had a fairly large garage behind his house, with a driveway that was in plain view for the boys.  In the summer of 1969, Al took notice of the neighbor’s curious activities around that garage, and these activities were centered around a rather sinister looking jet black Plymouth.  Unknown to Al at that time, the neighbor’s name was John McCully, and he’d just bought a brand-new 1969 Hemi Road Runner – the very car you see here, predictably.  What’s rather interesting about that is this was John’s second Hemi Road Runner, as he’d bought one new in 1968 as well.  One evening in early 1969, however, John went to a local bowling alley in that Road Runner, and when he came out late that night, the ’68 Hemi car was gone; stolen right out of the parking lot, and to this day it’s never been seen again.  With his insurance money settled, John went down to the local Plymouth dealership and ordered a replacement car, which he optioned out very interestingly.  The car has a very rare tutone saddle  tan/ buckskin deluxe bench seat interior, combined with an overall black paint scheme, no extra trim of any kind, an AM/FM thumbwheel stereo with rear speaker fader, a four-speed, the Super Track Pack 4.10 geared Dana 60, and power disc brakes up front, but no power steering.  The Road Runner also has the Air Grabber fresh air hood, and a factory tach just to the right of the odometer.  It is an odd mix of luxury and performance options, and resulted in a Road Runner with a downright swanky interior and a very Spartan and downright plain exterior.  But, perhaps that’s exactly what John was after, because John McCully was a serious street/strip drag racer. 
            From the outset, the Road Runner had been bought with drag racing in mind, and that’s exactly what ten-year-old Al Piccione curiously observed from his back yard.  Countless afternoons, he would see this guy pull the big black Plymouth out of his garage, and then he and another guy would work on the car for hours at a time, sometimes days at a time, then, like clockwork, they’d haul it away on Fridays and return on Sunday afternoons or Sunday nights and stuff the car back in the garage.  John and his mechanic friend were unaware of their audience in the nearby yard, but the boy’s interest was piqued by their activity.  From the outset, they built a rather crude homemade tow bar assembly and welded it to the front frame rails of the Road Runner.  This allowed them to flat tow the Plymouth on weekends to New York National Speedway in Long Island which was about fifty miles away.  Al never got to see the Road Runner in action at National Speedway, but as the years progressed, he sometimes spoke with his older neighbor about the car, they would talk briefly about how it had done at the track, and he watched as the number of racing stickers in the quarter windows and on the back glass slowly built up.  The routine remained the same throughout the early seventies, they would change plugs, test-and-tune, change out the rear tires for slicks sometimes, cork and uncork the headers, and head out almost every weekend during the summer for National Speedway.  Once Thursday rolled around, you could almost guarantee that John and his friend would be out in the driveway getting the Road Runner ready for the weekend.  And so it continued as Al Piccione grew up and eventually became a teenager who wanted a hot rod himself. 
            At seventeen years of age, in 1976, Al became the proud owner of a blue 1969 Mustang Mach I, with a matte black hood.  It was a sexy car for a boy at that time and was a rather typical hot rod, but the car was a bit of a handful for Al and the elation of having that car quickly faded as he discovered it was a bear to drive and he simply didn’t care for it that much.  Within weeks of this, his older brother Anthony needed a car to get back-and-forth to work, and our valiant Al graciously offered him the services of his Mach I.  Anthony took him up on the offer and began driving the car a whole lot more than Al actually did.  This didn’t last long, however, as Anthony arrived back home without the Mustang one afternoon and informed Al the Mach had decided to commit suicide.  According to Anthony, something broke in the car’s front suspension, causing it to leave the road.  Thankfully, Anthony wasn’t hurt, but the Mustang was totaled.  Which left teenage Al without a car just when a teenage boy needs a car most of all.  Anthony, being perhaps the best brother in the history of the world, helped to search for a replacement, and that’s when it was discovered the neighbor behind them had tired of racing his Road Runner and wanted to sell it.  With scarcely 40,000 miles on the odometer and the first major “gas crisis” in full swing, Hemi cars were cheap in 1976, so the big black rumbling Hemi car came around the block was found itself sitting in Al’s driveway with the boy’s name on the title – all because he’d loaned his ’69 Mach I to his brother and he wrecked it.  Say what you will, but sometimes karma plays a major part in this hobby. 
            Al didn’t know a blessed thing about production figures, rarity, or even Hemis in 1976, he just knew that he’d suddenly acquired the fastest car he knew of and the car he’d admired across the fence for half his life.  Once again, however, there was that initial rush of pride and the thrill of ownership, but it was quickly replaced by the hard, cold, reality that this big black Plymouth was even harder to drive than his Mach I had been.  By that time, the car was more race car than street car (mechanically anyway).  It rumbled and roared and drank gas like crazy, and it seemingly took three hands to successfully operate this thing.  The whole thing became a bit overwhelming for young Al, and as the first snows began to fall that year, like John before him, he stuffed the Road Runner away for the winter, not wanting to expose it to the salted roads, and knowing how hard it was to control on dry summer roads, that it would be impossible to operate it on icy winter streets!  Now here’s the amazing part – after that, Al Piccione never really went back to driving the Road Runner; ever again.  Months turned into years, and as the time passed, Al loved owning the car and would occasionally scoot it around the block or fire it up just to enjoy listening to the big Hemi, but for the most part, it sat in his garage, tucked away, while he drove more mundane and practical cars for everyday transportation.  Eventually, the hard-working Al realized he’d unintentionally gotten a collector’s item, and that really cemented his will to leave the car alone and just leave it parked in his garage.  
            Being a Mopar fanatic by that point, Al and his boy began going to some of the major Mopar shows up North.  So, in the late 1990s, he ran into Dave Ferro of Totally Auto at Carlisle and the two guys hit it off immediately.  Al loved the cars Dave had brought from his shop, and Dave loved Al’s sense of humor and thought he was one of the nicest guys in the world (which he genuinely is).  The premise was floated that weekend that the black Road Runner should head over to Totally Auto, where Ferro and his crew could get the car back into shape, but not complete the entire restoration because Al wanted himself and his son, Michael, to do a majority of the work as a father-and-son project at home.  That sounded fine to Ferro, so the Road Runner arrived without its engine in late 1999, and Totally Auto pulled the car completely apart for a ground-up restoration, that uncharacteristically for them, wasn’t to be completely finished.  They replaced a rusted trunk floor pan, installed a couple of small patch panels in the lower quarters, then sprayed everything in glorious black PPG urethane with multiple coats of clear, took everything out of the car and got it ready for reassembly, then handed everything back to Al Piccione who gleefully hauled it home and planned to finish the job in the next year or two.  While all this was going on, it should be mentioned, noted builder Ray Barton had the Plymouth’s original Hemi, and he completely went through the engine, tweaking it to run on pump gas but deliver reliable serious horsepower.  As stated earlier, the engine hit 520 horses on Barton’s dyno before he returned it to Al, and all the pieces were in place to finish a top-drawer restoration.  However, life is always what gets in the way when you’re busy making plans, and there was never time to actually get out there and work on this thing – thus, once again, the car sat, disassembled, in Al’s garage.  And so it continued until his son, Michael, began pestering him to do something with the family heirloom.  Together, the father and son duo installed the engine, transmission, exhaust, and drive train.  Being that there wasn't a lift in the garage, Al and his son suspended the Roadrunner on two angle-iron footings and hoisted the engine up into the beast, instead of the more traditional drop in.  In addition, his son repainted and  patiently detailed many of the interior instrument pieces as well as the vehicle's iconic badges. 
            By 2013, Al had grown tired of all that and wanted to finally start driving the car of his childhood years.  He rang Dave Ferro up once again and asked if he’d be interested in finishing the car as a “loaded for bear all-out street cruiser.”  Ferro hadn’t thought about the car in ages and that’s generally not what somebody wants to do with a numbers matching likely one-of-one Hemi car, but how could Dave refuse?  Thus, the Road Runner ricocheted back to Totally Auto, and the crew took countless boxes of parts and built the eye-popping, neck-snapping machine you see here.  Amazingly, the interior you’re looking at is almost entirely original 1969 equipment except for the front seat cover, which had to be replaced simply because it had dry rotted.  Ferro massaged the paint to get it glossier than ever, installed some widened 15x9” steelies out back to hold 275/60/15 redline radials, detailed the Barton Hemi to the nines, then came all-new wiring, plumbing, and everything else you’d expect of a full-bore rotisserie resto.  Everything underneath was undercoated first, then all the suspension and countless other parts were powder coated to ensure a lifetime of resistance to the elements and easy clean up.  They did some cool touches, such as hiding the modern electronic ignition under the battery tray, and installing stock date-coded plug wires on an engine that obviously doesn’t sound stock!  The stock looking H-pipe exhaust now sports throaty Dynomax mufflers, because Al wanted “an adult sounding” car but nothing too obnoxious.  As it stands now, this one can go out there and knock ‘em dead at the car shows, but it’s built with weekend cruising in mind – which is exactly what Al is now planning. 
            After having owned the car since he was sixteen, and knowing it was never used as a “regular” street car, Piccione now informs us he intends to make every cruise night function and car club gathering he can make.  And when those guys aren’t doing anything, look for him to be off at the local drive-in with this thing.  There’s only 43,000 miles on the odometer as of this writing, but there are high hopes to rapidly add to that number.  Granted, a lot of us would seriously hesitate at the thought of cruising around in New York traffic with this gorgeous Hemi car, but Al’s thinking just the opposite – he can’t wait to get it out there, finally, and start making up for all those years the car just sat idle.  Get ready New York, this little black bird is back, and packing 520 horses and a 4.10 rear axle, and it’s ready to play! 

 

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