Gallery: Getting Started on the Black ‘Bird: The Bones Gotta be Right

After we at Mopar Connection found a new owner the factory Hemi ’68 Plymouth Road Runner – which we’re calling “Black ‘Bird” – and Brian brought it back to Milwaukee to his shop, he wasted no time in getting started on the restoration process. Of course, the best place to start is on the body. Brian being the grizzled veteran of the car business knew not to “assume” the car was up to his standards in the area of body panels and welding of the seams. So, he put his best metal man to work.

What was discovered was that under all the beautiful primer was less than the best welding and even found that the wheel housing was rusted and had to be removed, replaced, and re-welded. That’s all it took for him to make the call that everything had to be stripped to the bare metal and done the right way. You are only here once and if it is not done right, the car will suffer. After all the goal is to “restore” the car and to do it correctly.

Above: As soon as the Black ‘Bird arrived at the Milwaukee shop it was taken off of the rotisserie and placed on the scissor lift. Since we had to reconfigure how the car was mounted to get it into the trailer, job one was to get it back on the rotisserie correctly.

Above left: As soon as the car was securely mounted it was flipped up and inspected. What was found was not up to Brian’s standards and the decision to completely redo all the welds was made. So, with his best metal man the tedious task of grinding every seam and then re-welding them correctly. Above right: It would have been easy to just assume everything was done correctly, but that would have come back to bite Brian later. So, every inch of the car was examined, and steps were taken to correct the flaws. It’s almost all new metal but getting the welds factory correct is the kind of detail this car deserves.

With the body on the rotisserie and in the good hands of his best man, he could turn his attention to restoring the many parts, like the K-member, the dash, suspension parts, etc. He also did something very smart. We enlisted YearOne as a sponsor for the Hemi Black ‘Bird and with their help, and our advice we decoded the interior and got everything ordered. If you are thinking about doing anything to your interior, you need to place the order immediately. There can be as much as a 6 month delay in getting the parts. Yes, you read that correctly, six whole months!

Too many people make the mistake of waiting to order parts until they need them. The supply chain has been greatly affected by the pandemic. Plan ahead, and not only order parts early but also send off those parts that need to be restored by a rebuild service like the wiper motor, all the latches, and any plating. Do not get caught by tunnel vision of getting the car re-painted.

Above left: During the inspection, grinding, and the re-welding process, it was discovered that both outer wheel housings, a trunk extension, and the welds on the quarter panels were completely incorrect and even faulty. So, without hesitation these parts were deconstructed and replaced as needed. Above right: Panel adhesive, faulty welds, and even rust between the seems were found on the car. Mind you this is a car that was inside and on a rotisserie. Let this be a lesson to everyone. Just because it is in primer and is claimed to be done correctly you should never assume that is has been done right. Only after a complete and thorough examination can you be sure the car is correct and ready for the next steps in the restoration process.

Above left:After all the discoveries on the underside of the “finished shell”, it was decided that Black ‘Bird needed to be taken back down to the bare metal. After all it is a real Hemi Road Runner, and it deserves the beat restoration possible. Plus, the new owner has already invested a good amount of money in the purchase and in transportation costs and time. We are so glad that Brian is totally committed to bring this rare Black ‘Bird back to its original glory, “Correctly!” Above right: The roof skin has been replaced on the car as well as the roof rail drip channel. As you can see that seam still needs additional attention. The welds and the seams will be repaired correctly, and the final finish will show the improvement and the correct detailed steps taken at this point of the game.

Brian also took all of the Hemi engine parts to his engine builder to get the beast built correctly. He also began to search for all of those really tough original parts. Like the one-year steel wheels, the correct Goodyear “Speedway” red lines, and even the NOS poverty Plymouth hub caps. We will cover all that in the next article.

We are looking forward to sharing the Hemi Black-Bird’s restoration progress with you here Mopar Connection Magazine. But don’t blink, Brian is going full on to get this car finished and out to all the major shows.

Above left: We were not kidding when we said that every seam and weld was ground down to metal, inspected and re-welded when necessary. This will be one solid car when finished. Almost all metal will be replaced, “correctly” and the bones of Black ‘Bird will be solid. Above right: Since the suspension parts were documented original to the Black ‘Bird, they were all saved and restored. This original Hemi K-member was in exceptional shape with no visible damage or rust problems. Other suspension parts were blasted and were primed at the same time in the spray booth.

Above: While Brian’s best metal man was re-working the body shell the front and rear suspension was disassembled, blasted, and then hit with primer.  Here the tech is drilling out the rubber and metal sleeve bushing in the front of the rear leaf spring. These springs will be disassembled, blasted, primed and powder coated. The inner Zinc liners, and plastic slides and clamps will be replaced with the best reproduced parts from Frank Badalson.

Above: The original Hemi K-member was shot with 20% flattened gloss black. It came out perfect. After it dried it was placed on the engine/transmission rolling stand. This stand is a must if you are restoring any Mopar. The entire front suspension, the engine, and the transmission can all be assembled on the stand and then installed in the car from the bottom Just like the factory. For detailed step-be-step reference of this process refer to the Comeback ‘Cuda build articles.

Above: One of the important parts of the documentation is the dash. It has the original VIN tag and as you can see, this is a one year only dash pad. In 1968 the Road Runner dash pad came to a point in the middle of the dash. Even though you cannot see it there is another difference between the 68 and 69 dash. The ignition switch was smaller in ’68 than in ’69. It is possible to interchange a ’68 and ’69 dash, but the pad must be replaced, and the ignition hole enlarged to fit a ’69 ignition switch. Plus, you gotta change out the VIN and use the original style “rosette” rivets to re-attach the tag.

Above left: Since this was the original dash to the Hemi Black-Bird, the VIN tag was not removed. It was carefully protected during the blasting and repaint of the dash. Here you can see the freshly sprayed paint looks too shiny and does not replicate the original finish. That is because the paint is freshly sprayed. Above right: Brian followed our step-by-step process for duplicating the correct “suede” finish detailed in the Comeback ‘Cuda dash restoration article. The results are spot on original in appearance and the VIN tag has the original un-touched finish and “Chrysler” decal still intact. We intentionally took this reference picture of the dash and K-member together to show the contrast between the finishes.

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Mike Wilkins

Michael Wilkins is a lifelong Mopar owner, restorer, and car enthusiast, as well as a respected judge of OE Plymouth and Dodge B-Bodies. Wilkins has spent nearly half a century driving, racing, and restoring some of the finest Mopars in the US, earning several Antique Automobile of America Grand National Senior awards, Mopar National Best of Show and first place awards, and a co-author of "The Chrysler B-Body Restoration Guide."

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