In August of 1985 I was a young man operating a propane filling station in Ottawa's west end. I'd been married for a year and a half and was looking for a real American Muscle car from the late 60s or early 70s as a project car for myself. At the time, I was driving a 1977 Pontiac Firbird Esprit and had built it up to look good with a T/A hood, Thrush sidepipes and an aftermarket sunroof that I installed myself. Somehow this car just didn't turn my crank. One of the reasons could've been because I converted it to propane and ended up losing about 20% of the power it would have made burning regular gasoline.
I noticed that one of my customers would stop by the station almost everyday to bring me some reading material. His name was Carmello and he was a Blueline taxi driver. Every month or so he'd give me a brand new freshly read copy of Popular and Performance Car Review. Well, By Jesus, I'd read that magazine cover to cover and look over those glossy pages endlessly to look at those minty fresh performance cars the way they were supposed to look at the dealership. Stock with factory equipment and decked out in gleaming factory colours. I was hooked and started looking for one of these cars as a project through the local papers like Autotrader. Autotrader in 1985 was not a specialty paper. It was a periodical that one could buy to review regular cars for sale and that is where I found my project car. It was a 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner and it was parked for about 5 years in the driveway that I found it in. It was almost complete but not running. There was no carpet and no tailpipes or mufflers and all 4 tires were bias ply and flat with a dead bird in the back seat. Ah, but it had an Air Grabber hood, it was a 3 speed automatic with a factory Slapstik and it had the original 383 HP Super Commando engine and 727 Torqueflight transmission and a crazy transverse strope stripe that went from wheel well to wheel well across the roof as a factory appearance package. I liked it and began a 7 year resto project after purchasing it on the spot.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2012 and I was at Denny's Southkeys in the evening with my completely finished '71 Roadrunner on display and lots of people all around. I noticed an old man accompanied by another gentleman hobbling about with a cane and stopping to chat with people. He came to me and asked if I knew a fellow by the name of Lou Helbling. I looked at him quizically and said that I was Lou and how could I help him? It was Carmello, the same guy who had befriended me all those years ago in 1985 and helped me develop my love for American Muscle cars by supplying me with stories from his high school days in Ottawa and popular and performance car review magazines from which I dreamed about owning one of these cars from the muscle car years.
That evening, during the Denny's cruise, he and I caught up on almost 30 years of not seeing each other and as a tribute to some of great old stories he used to tell me about cruising in Ottawa in the early 70s, I took him for a ride in the Roadrunner to remind him of his glory days when he was a young man with a 1970 429 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler.