New And Vintage Blend: A Crafted ’68 Roadrunner With New Hemi Power

When he was just 18-years old, Tim Halpin spied a 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner in the back lot of the local Chevrolet dealership. “It had hubcaps, a big seat, and a bug shield on it,” Tim remembers. “I took off work the next morning, went in, and asked about the car. I struck a deal for $895 and my old Dodge Polara.”

Halpin continued, “I am glad I got it when I did because the previous owner had changed his mind and wanted it back.” As the story goes, the previous owner traded the gas-guzzling Roadrunner back in 1975 for a new and trendy twin-cam Cosworth Vega.

After four days, the previous owner showed back up at the dealership, but it was too late. Despite many attempts to get his old car back, Tim had already taken it home. Interestingly enough, Tim would experience an interesting and lifelong love affair with the car.

The Roadrunner firewall was set back and smoothed to accept the Hemi crate engine and 5-speed automatic transmission. The intake is re-machined to relocate the heater hoses under the intake. Air conditioner hoses are disguised as heater hoses.

Tim drove the Roadrunner regularly for nine-years. “My wife, Nancy, and I were married and starting a family,” he says. “So, we parked the car in storage for 30-years. In 2013, Nancy suggested I either restore the Roadrunner or sell it. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it, so my thoughts of turning the Roadrunner into a resto-mod project began.”

Tim found Arch Haslar, an instructor at Grand River Tech school, and took the Roadrunner to Chillicothe, Missouri, for the key rebuild. “I told him I wanted a ground-up rebuild; I wanted to do everything,” Tim says. “We knew it would be a lengthy process, but Arch kept coming up with ideas that would really set it off. We would have very lengthy phone conversations since it was a 2-1/2-hour drive, and I couldn’t go over there that often. It’s a custom rotisserie build with every unnecessary hole welded, filled, and smoothed.”

Tim knew Haslar would do great work, and when he started calling with ideas, he just couldn’t say no. “I knew it was going to be one of one and so special, so I just let him run with it,” Tim says. “It made the build more personal for him and more interesting. I blew my budget out of the water, but it was so worth it.”

The Roadrunner sports a custom Budnick steering wheel mounted to a Flaming River tilt column. The original gauges now give accurate readings from the modern Hemi.

The factory shock towers have been bobbed and fabricated with 3-D Chrysler Pentastar metalwork. The inner fender wells are smoothed to keep the engine compartment clean. A close-out panel was fabricated to provide a clean look around the hood latch, radiator, and air conditioning system. This panel also conceals alternator wiring.

Once they saw the finished car, the interior guys asked to put the Roadrunner in their display at the following World of Wheels Car Show in Kansas City. We received an Outstanding Custom Award at that  first event. – Tim Halpin

Classic Industries supplied all new window glass. Three coats of Dupont Exalta urethane with 72500 clear were applied, cured, and blocked. Then, two additional coats were applied, block sanded, and finished. This was all followed by a four-stage polish.

The front suspension features Reilly Motorsports Alterktion coil-overs. This design includes a power rack and pinion steering system. The rear end is a factory 8 3/4 differential with a custom-built four-link and coil-over suspension.

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Hot Rod Express began the interior with a pair of 2009 Challenger bucket seats. The headrests were removed and custom leather and stitching are designed to look factory. “The seat emblem inserts were also replicated to appear original,” Tim says. “The door panels were made to replicate the factory design with big rectangles, like the OEM design.”

The rear seat is original but recovered. The original dash was sent to Instrument Specialties to be completely overhauled. They also supplied a GPS controlled speedometer set-up in the original dash. The shifter came from an A-body Mopar with Hot Rod Express constructing a custom console.

Being the owner/operator of a NAPA Auto Parts store in Pittsfield, Illinois, Tim enjoyed applying his profession to the Roadrunner by researching the best components used in the project.

The custom trunk interior matches the material used throughout. The SRT emblem is embossed into the panel that covers the battery box and stereo equipment.

Gleckler Performance helped with all the custom wiring, which meant a lot of adapting between new and old systems to coordinate switches and instruments with the modern drivetrain. The charging systems and fuel system were also a combination of new and old-school tech.

”Gleckler also created a modern third brake light that is custom shaped to match the contour of the rear glass,” Tim describes. “They also wired the stereo and amplifier system for Bluetooth compatibility.

As a noticeable departure from the typical vintage engine, a Mopar Performance Parts 6.4 Hemi Gen-3 crate engine. Tim describes some of the unique modifications related to the late model Hemi install such as the need for the oil pan to be changed to a center sump system to accommodate the front cross member. The firewall is repositioned back 3/4-inch, and the transmission tunnel is extremely modified to fit the engine and trans combo.

The rear suspension torque boxes were boxed and smoothed. Extra unitized supports were fabricated for strength. The transmission cross member was fabricated up into the interior seat area so the transmission could be tucked further up, bringing the car closer to the ground.

The transmission is a Bouchillon Performance Engineering 545 RFE 5-speed automatic. A custom driveshaft was fabricated by Quincy Machine to mate the modern transmission and original rear end.

The resto-mod took five years to complete. “We finished in the spring of 2018,” Tim says. “At the World of Wheels Car Show in Kansas City, several of my family members, along with Bryce, Arch, and many other friends, got to see us win the Outstanding Custom Award.”

Tim knew he chose the right builder but was ultimately blown away by the final results. “It is beyond my greatest expectations,” Tim says. “Had I known my ideas for the Roadrunner would have attracted so much attention, this project would have been underway much earlier.”

Now that the Roadrunner is complete, he’s spending more time with his wife at Illinois and Missouri car shows. “When we attended car shows in the past, Nancy would enjoy hanging out with a book by the cars,” Tim says. “After experiencing the oohs and aahs with the attention-grabbing Roadrunner, she can’t wait to go with me to the shows and interact with new and old friends.”

Tim’s career experience offered him the responsibility to be the parts hunter. “It was very intriguing to me to look for the parts,” he says. “When I wanted the third brake light for the car, I started looking through catalog information at NAPA, and one out of a Ford Taurus popped up at me. It’s those little things I found that just made this whole process fun and special.”

The same attention to detail went into the trunk area including a well-hidden lever-operated battery disconnect switch and fire extinguisher.

While the Roadrunner was under construction, only a few people knew about it. “We kept it a secret until I got it back from the initial builders,” Tim says. “It was running and moving, but no interior. I was turning 60 in September 2017, and my friend, Bryce, convinced me to have a birthday party, saying it’s time you tell your family about this car.”

The gathering of family and friends was well into the partying when Tim got up to thank everyone for coming and revealed his project to them. “I uncovered the car and fired it up, and the look on my dad’s face was unbelievable,” Tim remembers. “My mom didn’t even know I still had the car.”

Tim’s father became ill and was not able to work on cars any longer, but still loved them. He described the look on his face when the Hemi started up. Tim says, “It was worth all of the effort put into the car at that moment with my dad.”

Nitto tires are mounted on Magnum 500 18x8 front and 18x12 rear wheels. Disc brakes are Wilwood Forged Dynalite Pro Series brakes on all four corners.

Soon after the unveiling, Tim lost both his father and mother. Both got to see the Roadrunner, but never got a ride. “My dad asked me if I had won any trophies with it, and I told him that I had then just won another Best of Show award,” Tim says. “The look on his face and the smile were just priceless.”

To appreciate Tim’s emotions over achieving his goal of his mom and dad seeing the car before his loss was powerful. They got to admire the ultimate version of the Roadrunner that had been a part of their family for so many years. Tim finished our conversation with, “I tell everyone that’s what hot rodding is all about.”

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
Read My Articles

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