They’re Still Out There

It’s hard to imagine that we’re still able to find rare muscle cars that have been hibernating for decades. Sure, many were squirreled away in barns or garages out of sight, and even out of mind from their owners. Often enough, the common phrases heard out of reluctant owners’ mouths when approaching them to sell their car is, “Not for sale, I’m going to fix it up one day.” This can also be followed at times with “Now get off my porch and don’t come back or I’ll call the cops!” Yikes, nothing like knocking on the door of a homeowner with an old muscle car crumbling on their property and risking potential verbal or physical abuse. But we as gearheads throw caution to the wind on our quest to save vintage iron from extinction. There are, however, times were the planets line up and fate enters into the equation. This is a moment when a good deed was done for an elderly lady, and a rare car was saved. For longtime Motor City Mopar® enthusiast Gjeto Dushaj, this odd occurrence happened very recently.

This tale begins on a Friday afternoon when Gjeto, who owns a commercial and residential heating and cooling business, received a call from a fellow contractor that told him of a little old lady who was widowed and had no family. She was living in an old house that had no heat due to a broken boiler and as the January temps began to dip even more, her situation was becoming quite precarious. Her home was located in the city of Hamtramck (whose borders lie within Detroit). Hamtramck, with its layout of one-way residential streets and tightly packed wooden homes, was created over 100 years ago. This city within a city was also a bastion of hardworking immigrants. Many of these folks worked at the numerous auto plants that dotted the eastside Detroit landscape. You hardcore Mopar folks know Hamtramck was the home of Dodge Main, the infamous auto plant built by the Dodge Brothers that began pumping out cars in 1914. Knowing it was a critical situation for this senior citizen, Gjeto and his son, Sam, wrapped up the job they were already on and headed down to Hamtramck. The lady had gone without heat in her home for over a week. Upon their arrival, she was wearing three coats, two pairs of gloves and was in bad shape. She was hesitant to let them in at first, but after explaining that a plumbing contractor referred Gjeto to fix her broken boiler, she let them in. She told Gjeto her son had purchased a new boiler, but since he recently passed away unexpectedly, the boiler was never installed, and sat out in the backyard. Since it was now dark out, Gjeto and Sam, armed with flashlights, went out to the backyard to inspect the boiler but they noticed something very interesting sitting in the weeds of this tightly packed backyard.

“When I walked into the backyard, I couldn’t believe my eyes, there it was, a Vitamin C 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. I approached the Road Runner and checked out the VIN, I realized it was a real ‘M’ code, A12 440 Six Barrel, still wearing most of its original paint. But we were there to get the heat working in the house for this nice old lady, so my son (Sam) and I went about looking at the new boiler and realized it did not have the proper capacity for the house,” said Gjeto. After discussing the situation with the lady, Gjeto and Sam went back to a shop to get the proper boiler. But before they left, they did bring up this unique car to the lady to get more details. “From what she told us, her late husband bought the Road Runner off the original owner around 1978. The woman’s spouse worked in an automotive plant, but she couldn’t remember which one. Based on the factory decals he plastered on the front fenders, it was probably a Chrysler facility. She remembered riding in the car back in the day and how it scared her. I think she was hoping her son would have shown an interest in fixing up his late father’s car, but unfortunately, he died recently.”

After getting the new boiler installed, Gjeto and Sam also took care of some wiring issue with the home’s thermostat and got everything squared away, and this nice old lady had a warm home again. Now it came time to discuss the Road Runner’s future. At first, she wasn’t worried about selling the car and just wanted to get the heat working in her house. She called Gjeto late on a Friday night and told him she’d sell him the car. Since the lady had spent thousands of dollars paying storage fees over the years before the Road Runner finally came to rest in her backyard, she and Gjeto discussed a price. “She told me what she wanted for the car, and I said, ‘no problem’ and we did the transaction. She was happy that her late husband’s car was going to be saved,” said Gjeto. Now it came time to extract the car from the tight confines of her backyard. There were old bikes, bags of lawn clippings and just mounds of junk piled around the Road Runner. “It was quite a task. Once we moved all the stuff, three of the four tires on the Road Runner were flat. We began to air them up and hooked up our trailer winch to drag the car out. Slowly we went as the car began to move but there was only one inch clearance on each side of the Road Runner between the house and the fence. We still weren’t done as Hamtramck has really narrow residential streets and we had to unhook to trailer and maneuver the Road Runner back and forth to line it up on the trailer ramps. When we got back to my house, we breathed a heavy sigh of relief.”

So now that this rare bird is in the hands of its new owner, what are his plans? Despite rolling up just over 31,000 miles, this Road Runner has led a hard life and for Gjeto, he’s been pondering which direction to go with the car. “I want to leave it period correct with all the decals the original owner put on, that hand-lettered “Vitamin C II” on the rear quarters, and even keep those awesome Motor Wheel Spyder mags on the car. I’ll go through the engine, transmission, brakes, cooling and fuel systems, so we can drive it and take it to car shows. Finding this car, the way we did, is like winning the lottery, but my Mopar passion goes way beyond money,” noted Gjeto. For his son, Sam, it’s been quite the father-son bonding experience as he also has his dad’s Mopar passion and owns a 2019 Charger Scat Pack. “This was quite an experience and I’m looking forward to working with my dad and getting this rare car back on the road,” commented Sam.

So, who would’ve thought, sitting out in plain daylight in one of the most densely populated cities in North America, an orange 1969 440 Six Barrel Road Runner was nesting. Ironically, it was only a few miles from Chrysler’s Lynch Road plant where this unique Bird was hatched over fifty years ago. I guess this proves our point, they’re still out there, even under our nose. What would you do if you found this Road Runner time capsule? Restore it? Leave it as it? Check out these awesome pics and let us know!

Photos by David Hakim & Todd Farnum

3 Comments

EddieIDC

Wonderful story that gives me some hope in finding one. I’d put it back to a reliable state and drive it to work every day. Might upgrade the exhaust for tunnel pulls and set off a few car alarms in a parking structure every now and then…


HRLeDolff

Thank you for this article as we like them David, happy for them to have been able to make such a find! To answer the question at the end of the article, I would totally put it back to the original as put on the VIN . But to each his choices


twhaberkamp

David, Great article! and what a find!. Glad to see that the buyer was a good guy and will keep the car somewhat like he found it. Take care and keep writing Tom