ANDOVER – Ninfa Cortez was just looking for a nice, affordable car more than four decades ago when she spotted a brand-new 1970 Plymouth Road Runner coupe on a dealer’s lot in Amarillo, Texas. She wasn’t necessarily in the market for a muscle car.
“She liked the color and it fit with her budget,” explains her son, Hector Cortez, who now owns the totally restored Road Runner.
“She married my father, Felipe Cortez, later that year and the car has been in the family ever since. I have pictures of them with the car on their honeymoon at Pikes Peak, Colo.”
The Road Runner has traveled an amazing path in the intervening 45 years, logging more than 146,000 miles and even being stolen once before being restored to excellent condition.
Hector, who was born in 1971, vaguely remembers playing on the spartan rubber floor mats of the Road Runner as a child during family vacations to South Padre Island.
“They had to choose between the Road Runner and my dad’s 1968 Pontiac Firebird as to which car would be the better family car,” he said. “The Road Runner’s spacious interior won.”
He said his father put the car up on blocks in about 1985, intending to someday restore it. But it sat in a lean-to until sometime in 2008, when it was stolen.
“It was recovered just prior to (an) auction through investigative work by my cousin Chris Cortez,” Hector explained. His cousin stored the car in Amarillo, eventually passing it on to Oscar Cortez, Hector’s brother, who stored it in his garage in Dallas.
“Oscar called me in the spring of 2012 to ask if I wanted the car to restore and I said yes. Each time the car has changed hands between family members, it has always been a gift.”
He has long been interested in cars, but his tastes ran more to foreign luxury/performance sedans, a preference influenced by time living in Scotland as an employee of Spirit Aerosystems.
“It’s probably not what I would have picked, but a muscle car with all the family history. It’s just one of those things you have to do,” said Cortez, who decided that a full restoration was in order.
He chose House of Hot Rods and Classics in Mansfield, Texas, to handle the entire project: engine, interior, body and paint work. The Road Runner had been built with a 383 Magnum V-8 engine rated at 335 horsepower, paired up with a 3-speed manual, floor-shifted transmission, one of 1,330 1970 coupes so equipped. Most Road Runners that year were two-door hardtops; this car has door pillars.
The engine was in relatively good shape, so was rebuilt to factory specifications, with a Comp Cams street camshaft, an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake and Hedman ceramic-coated exhaust headers added. Exhaust is handled through Flowmaster duals and 2 1/4-inch pipes.
Cortez opted for an extra gear, substituting a 4-speed transmission equipped with a Hurst shifter. Rather than the typical T-bar shift handle, he went with a round white ball, which seems to fit the car’s character better.
Inside a replacement front bench seat was upholstered in typical low-key Road Runner style using smooth Ultra Leather vinyl in black and gray. Cortez also specified that high-end carpeting and sound deadening be used in place of the old rubber mats.
Vintage Air air conditioning was installed, along with an Alpine stereo system. A factory dual-purpose tachometer/clock was bolted into the dash alongside the impressive 150 mph speedometer.
Although the sheet metal was in generally good condition, some replacement and repair was in order, with a floor and trunk pan, as well as both rear fenders having rust issues. Once the car was in primer, Cortez had to make the call on a paint color.
“I had two years to think about colors,” he said. But a 2011 Mini Cooper convertible he had seen in Scotland, painted in Spice Orange Metallic, ruled the call.
“That Mini color always trumped everything,” he said. Once the car was painted, everyone, including the restoration crew and his parents, loved it.
Trouble was, the original hood was already painted, too, when a friend began lobbying Cortez about adding an optional “Air Grabber” hood scoop. It was an expensive proposition and Cortez consulted his dad about spending so much money on such a detail.
“He said this is something you only do once, so with four weeks to go, I told them to go ahead,” Cortez said. The reproduction hood was obtained, with all the mechanical pieces to allow him to open the hood scoop, with its shark-like graphics, with the flip of a dash-mounted switch.
“It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever bought, it’s what gets everybody’s attention,” he said. With black racing stripes accenting the hood scoop, it was an easy choice to add the oversized black “Plymouth” logo from the Super Bird catalog to the rear flanks of the car.
Cortez’ parents came to Andover to see the Road Runner the first weekend it was home and were thrilled with the end result.
“It was definitely cool to see my dad driving it, with my kids in the back seat,” Hector Cortez said. “It’s just a trip down memory lane.”
Reach Mike Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org.