Project Road Runner
Updating A Modern Marvel
Things have a way of falling through the cracks and then you find you’re not progressing like you should or like you could. We found that to be true on several fronts when it came to this car.
In a nutshell, our magazines’ past had provided some updates on a project taking place in Louisiana. Then, it fell off the radar. You can spend time trying to find blame about how it happened, but we wouldn’t be moving forward if we did that. We’re more interested in moving forward.
In order to move forward, though, we have to move back, but just for a few paragraphs. The objective of this story is to take a rendering that was created about three years ago and make that a reality, but the story actually started before.
King Hardeman picked up this Road Runner in 1991, buying it from some family friends who had owned it since new. It was destined to be his next project car, but he never realized how much of a project it was to become.
“Around 2000, I began looking for someone who could help with rust removal and bodywork. I do not have those skills,” said Hardeman. “I was given the name of Pierre Mabile in the little town of Donaldsonville, Louisiana. He is basically a one-man operation and does work in his spare time. Initially, he thought he might be interested in doing the Road Runner, but was backed up for a few months. Over a year later, I got back in touch and he decided to take on the challenge.”
The plans were reasonable — rust removal, some mild customizing, working over the interior. Work progressed to the point where the car was almost ready to start the new fabrication and rebuild.
At this time, an illustrator named Michael Leonhard comes into the picture. Leonhard had developed a visualized concept about what a Road Runner would look like if built today. His illustration got the attention of the crew in Louisiana and Pierre told King that this car could be built and the ’71 Road Runner was at a point where it could head in that direction.
That was all King needed to hear. Gone was the “mild” side of it. This was going to be the Road Runner that never was.
Initially, the progress came quickly. King contacted Michael Leonhard, who lives in Austria, to talk about the details of his rendering. The car went from Pierre’s shop back to Baton Rouge and King’s location for work on engine, transmission, rearend and other aspects with the plans to have the car back to Pierre at the end of 2010. Just before the car was to return, Pierre ran into medical issues that prevented him from working on it. Other matters made the goal of the 2011 Mopar Nationals unrealistic.
The good news can now be found on many fronts. Pierre’s health is getting better and some of the previous obstacles have now been surpassed. Let’s go from here.
When you do a drawing of what might be, you’re not limited to the restriction of the reality of what actually exists. Michael’s rendering offered a style that wasn’t known to be, but it was clearly perfect for the car.
“When people look at a car, a couple of things they pay attention to are the wheels and the paint,” said King. “We liked the wheels and felt that to be true to following the design, the car needed wheels like the illustration.”
While attending the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, King approached a couple of custom wheel manufacturers. They said it would take a lot of work to make sure the design was safe, then it had to be put into a
CNC program. The companies estimated the cost would be $12,000 for a set of four wheels.
“I was walking around feeling very, very low when I came upon a small booth for Boyd Coddington Wheels. It was manned by Boyd Coddington Jr., who was attempting to keep the wheel part of his father’s business going. Boyd Coddington Sr. had died some months before this. Boyd Jr. and I spoke and he said he would like to do the wheels and would charge me a sum that was much less than half what the other guys wanted.
“As it turned out, Michael had done 3-D renderings of the wheels alone. He sent them to me and I sent them to Coddington. I’m old school and was thinking that 17s and 18s would be best for the Road Runner. Boyd recommended 19s and 20s because the car is big and has large wheel wells. Reluctantly, I agreed,” admitted King.
Getting the wheels took some time, but they were sent for trial fitment before the center sections were welded. The rear wheels initially didn’t have proper backspacing, but that was rectified and the Road Runner had a set of wheels true to Michael Leonhard’s design.
Since the tires seen on the rendering were redline tires, those needed to be found. James at Diamondback Tires suggested 275-40/R20 for the back and 225-45/R19 for the front. “They bonded a whole new sidewall on the tires,” King said. “There are no markings on the outside sidewall, only the raised redline. The combination is really cool and true to the original renderings from Michael.”
On to Injection
King saw another innovation at the Street Rod Nationals that would be a perfect complement to this project. “I saw this fantastic fuel injection system. It had billet throttle bodies that looked along the line of Weber carburetors. Some months later, I tried to contact the company, but they were out of business. I thought that was the end, but I came up with Imagine Injection. Imagine makes the throttle bodies and a lot of the parts. It turns out the company I saw only put a system together.
“I spoke with Bob at Imagine Injection about what I wanted. He said he had nothing for the RB Mopar since there was no intake manifold available. I began thinking how a manifold could be done. Sheetmetal race manifolds are available, but I didn’t like the race car look. I wanted something smoother like you would expect on a street car motor. I thought of modifying existing manifolds for the RB, but nothing worked. One day, a friend of mine suggested manifolds from an air-cooled VW as a starting point. I discussed it with Bob at Imagine and he ran with it.”
It’s now a work in progress. Some of the pictures seen here are developmental with the final product in the works. Looks like we got back on board at the right time.
The goal for getting the car completed is now the 2012 Mopar Nationals. We’ll keep an eye on it and promise to bring you the significant developments as they occur. The ball was dropped once before. In the car hobby, you don’t make the same mistake twice.
By the way, if you’re interested in the past work, we will have illustrations on our website,
You can also get the information at www.michael-leonhard.com.
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