“I wasn’t thinking about a complete renovation,” Leigh Fragnoli told me about his stunning 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. “But I was driving it home and the steering wheel came off in my lap.”
Leigh managed to get the steering wheel back on well enough to get home and then started to check the Mopar out further. He was unable to get any warm air out of the heater so he dropped the heater box. “It had a rat’s nest in it,” he said, “and I decided ‘That’s it!’”
The Road Runner went through a complete overhaul. Leigh stripped everything off the car, taking it down to its shell. The engine and drivetrain came out. The interior was completely gutted.
Leigh started with the body work, doing it all himself. He stripped the paint, fixed all the dents, sanded it down, and put on the primer before sending it out for paint. The new paint color is very close to the original burgundy, but Leigh added gold flake to give it a little pop. The finished product is spectacular.
With the interior removed, Leigh was relieved to see that there were just a few small rust spots on the floor plans, which he treated. He added Dynamat padding and rubber coating for sound and temperature control, including in the trunk.
Amazingly, the interior is the original Deluxe interior package from the factory. The seats still sport the original Plymouth vinyl, sitting on new foam bolsters underneath. Leigh did add a tach on the steering column, and voltage, water temperature, and oil pressure gauges in a small pod under the dash. A Vintage Air system keeps Leigh comfortable in the summer.
The suspension is the stock Mopar torsion bar front, leaf spring rear offering, but Leigh has replaced the springs and shocks. The rear end, however, is now a Ford 9-inch with 3.51 gears. Front disk and rear drum brakes slow the Road Runner down. After his run-in with the rat’s nest, Leigh went ahead and replaced the all the wiring in the car.
The Road Runner was originally equipped with a 383, but after Leigh and the folks at Grimes Automotive in Alpharetta, Georgia took a look at it, they decided it was too far gone for a rebuild to make sense financially.
Its replacement is a 440 Leigh had in his garage for another project. But when Grimes saw the dual quad carbs on top, they suggested that Leigh replace them. “They told me my mileage would be about 4 mpg and that I’d probably kill myself.” Hard to argue with either one of those reasons.
The 440 now sports a single Edelbrock four barrel, MSD electronic ignition, and serpentine belt system. The 10:1 compression ratio necessitates premium fuel and octane booster. After a dyno session at Grimes, Leigh reports that the Mopar big block produces “a little over 500 horsepower.” Very nice.
A stock, but completely rebuilt, Plymouth 4-speed manual transmission with a Hurst Competition Plus shifter sits behind the 440. When he got the car, shifting gears was a chore, but Leigh reports his new clutch and the Hurst shifter make the Road Runner very easy to drive, even in traffic.
And that’s a good thing because Leigh drives the car. A lot. “This is not a garage queen,” he told me. “I drive it. To me that was important.”
Some of the driving Leigh does is to car shows, where his Road Runner has had great success, including a 3rd Place finish at the Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania this past summer, and three 1st place finishes at Don Garlits’ shows in Florida. (And yes, that’s a Don Garlits autographed Mopar magazine in the trunk.)
Although he’s a self-proclaimed “Mopar nut”, first and foremost Leigh is a car guy. “I appreciate cars, I don’t care what make and model they are,” he said. “To me a car speaks to you and this car told me what it wanted me to do.”
The results are amazing.