It must be true that for some American males who grew up in the era of “muscle cars” that nothing – not even time itself - can separate a man from the car he first invested his heart, time and money in.
This was the case with Roy Neal of Kerrville and the 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner that he bought in 1972, fresh out of Tivy High School.
The owners then were Roger and Marlene Baublit (Dayton Baublit’s brother) and the car was sitting on a used car lot on consignment with a $200 fee owed to the lot owner.
Neal said the Baublits wanted $1,500 for it, and they made a deal that if he could get the $1,500, they’d take it off consignment and sell it directly to him.
“My father had offered to co-sign a loan for me, but when he saw the car, he said, ‘No, it was a hot rod’.”
Neal said his mother protested that he’d promised Roy, and when his father didn’t change his mind, his mother went to First National Bank and co-signed for him.
“I paid off that car in two years,” he recalled.
Neal said he married in 1973; and he and his new wife went on their honeymoon in that car.
It was only after married life and four children by 14 years later that Neal parted with his first car. It’s a classic two-door, with bench front seat; and the ‘Runner wasn’t big enough for four kids, he said.
“It sat in my driveway a lot and I didn’t use it much,” he said. “We decided to sell it. It wasn’t a collector’s car then.”
Neal sold it in 1986 to a friend for $1,000 and then it went to Al Lutz in Kerrville. Lutz also spent years investing his time and money in a complete restoration over three years.
“Al brought it to me to show me what he had done to it, and said he had agreed to sell it to someone else, but he’d sell it back to me if I wanted it,” Neal said. “He was selling it for $7,500. And I couldn’t afford to buy it back then.”
The car left town after that, to a new owner in Florida about 1990. And by the time Neal realized he wanted it back and was in a position to try to do so, Lutz couldn’t tell him the name of the Florida buyer or any contact information.
So Neal went back to his dream and continued watching every car show.
Every search began with a silent prayer – “God, I sure wish I had my car back.”
Neal said it was in August 2016 in the heat of a Presidential election battle and too many unwanted calls on his phone from politicians, that his phone rang once more and something told him to answer this one.
It was the then-current owner of that ’69 Roadrunner and he wanted to check the details of the car’s history that he knew, against Neal’s, as one of the previous owners.
Neal said he told that owner everything he knew about the “Runner” and they talked about “provenance” or history and how the sequence of owners can raise the price of such a car.
But Florida owner didn’t say he was trying to sell it; and once again it passed out of Neal’s life.
But Neal kept watching car shows and found out later “his” “Runner” was taken from Florida to Missouri and to Illinois before being sold to a man in Colorado.
And when that owner listed it for sale in 2016 and Neal recognized it once again, Neal asked the appraiser involved to have the Colorado owner call him in Kerrville.
“He called me, and we talked. And he told me his asking price was $32,000. I told him I was definitely interested in the Roadrunner; and asked him for a few days to consider it and how to get the money,” Neal said.
He went to his bank and got the money; and called the Colorado owner back and struck the deal.
“We dickered a little, about my offer and his response. And finally he said to me, ‘If anybody deserves to have this car, you do.’ And we came to an agreement at $28,000 on Aug. 23, 2016,” Neal said.
Then it was a matter of getting to Longmont with the proper transport to bring the “Runner” back to Kerrville. The Colorado owner agreed to keep it until Neal could get there.
Neal said his wife wanted to travel to see the changing colors of the fall season that far north, and he had a buddy with an auto transport trailer.
So they planned a trip that included a week for his wife’s plans and then a stop in Longmont to get the car.
“I brought it home the third week of September, 2016,” Neal said.
“When I got it back all the rubber had dry-rotted and if it rained the water came in around the windshield and other places. So I fixed all that and repainted it the original Chrysler color, “sand pebble beige.” And I decided to leave the black hood stripes. Now it’s a genuine classic and an antique,” Neal said. “It was one of the original ‘muscle cars’.”
When it was new, Chrysler offered it in 24 colors, Neal said. There was a show in 2019 where Mopar had gathered one of each color for the show. Their records that track Roadrunners and differentiate them by their number of gears list his Sand Pebble Beige color as the rarest example. And Neal’s database shows only 11 cars this color.
They used to be sold with either bucket seats and a four-speed transmission, or a bench seat with automatic transmission.
Neal still watches car shows, and while there are features about “Overhauling,” he’s still waiting for one titled “Get It Back.”
He said it still has lots of its frame and parts that came from the factory. And that includes a comparatively small gas tank that holds about 11 gallons, and an original engine that gets only 10 miles per gallon.
“So it doesn’t pass up many gas stations,” he said.
What really sealed the deal for him in 2016 was a key.
He had a red box of important papers and found there a small ticket with the VIN number of a different car on it. But he also found an ignition key with the Chrysler logo on it. He looked again for something with this Roadrunner’s VIN number and failed.
When they drove to Colorado, he took that key with him, not sure but hoping it fit the car that used to be his. And while the car he saw didn’t look exactly like the one he remembered, instead of using the key from the seller’s hand, he pulled his own from a pocket, and it started the car.
“I patted the dashboard and said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ But I do not remember putting that key in that red box.”