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Minnesota man treasures HEMI Heritage winning car, still hunts for his dream GTX

Mopar cars, walleye fishing and hunting sit atop Patrick O’Leary’s list of favorite things.

Living in Lino Lake, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis, means the walleye are just a short drive away for O’Leary. The area has also been a good hunting ground for O’Leary’s passion for Mopar cars (and wildlife, too.)

O’Leary’s pristine 1968 Plymouth Road Runner with a 426 HEMI V-8 bagged him Mopar’s first HEMI Heritage Top Eliminator award for 2014. That earns him a spot in the Chrysler Group display at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit in early August.

The trophy, which honors top-notch examples of restored and accessorized Chrysler Group vehicles, was awarded during the annual Midwest Mopars in the Park car show in Farmington, Minnesota, in late May. Three more HEMI Heritage Top Eliminator trophies will be awarded this year – at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in mid-July; at the Sportsman class racers at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in September; and from an online vote of Mopar fans this fall.

O’Leary, who is 53 years old, has owned the ’68 Road Runner for about eight years. It wears Matador Red paint and has an automatic transmission with a column-mounted shifter to channel the 425 horsepower from the 426 HEMI V-8 (which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year).

This Road Runner came from the factory with vinyl and fabric bench seats, and without a radio. That’s no surprise since Plymouth launched the Road Runner in 1968 as a back-to-basics muscle car, with great emphasis on performance and a limited list of convenience items (radio delete was an option). Because this car carries the 426 HEMI, air conditioning wasn’t an option.

The odometer has about 48,000 miles on it and O’Leary adds about 1,000 miles a year, although the high-octane fuel is expensive at about $7.50 a gallon. “This car is not a trailer queen,” O’Leary says.” If I can’t drive it, I don’t want it.”

Like many outdoorsmen, O’Leary loves to tell a story. His tale about the ’68 Road Runner is a good one – it’s not the car he wanted.

The car he lusts for is a Plymouth GTX two-door hardtop (an upscale version of the Road Runner, based on the Plymouth Satellite.) The bug bit when O’Leary’s brother-in-law owned a GTX with a 440 Six Barrel V-8. “That car was a monster,” he recalls. “I just couldn’t find one.”

That changed in 1997 during a hunting trip. O’Leary says the property owner took him out to the barn to show off a new car (and sneak a cigarette break.) In the garage, covered with blankets, was a 1968 Plymouth GTX convertible in the rare Saddle Bronze Metallic finish. “I fell over and began to hyperventilate,” O’Leary recalls. “It was my dream car.”

The owner helped O’Leary get back on his feet and promised, when the time was right, to sell him the car.

A year later, back on another hunting trip, the owner asked O’Leary for his favorite number. The answer: 17. And the owner said that would be the selling price of the GTX convertible. O’Leary offered more – he’d researched the car and knew it was worth more, and didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of a friend. But the car owner was adamant – O’Leary could bump the price up by $100, or it was no sale. So the GTX sold for $17,100.

Despite being stashed in a barn, the car was in good condition. Mink cages stored in the barn helped ward off critters that would have munched on the interior. After he trailered the GTX home the following summer, O’Leary cleaned the car, cleaned out the fuel tank and lines, and replaced the destroyed battery. It started right up.

 

It didn’t take long for this “survivor” GTX — also believed to be one of only four dealer demos built and the only one known to still exist — to attract attention at car shows, where it racked up plenty of honors.

A few years later, O’Leary needed money to clear up a second mortgage on his house and decided to sell the car. Unable to reach a deal with local buyers, he took the GTX to the 2006 Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. O’Leary was hoping to get $70,000 for the car. The bidding ended at $150,000.

O’Leary was a winner – until told he faced around $40,000 in capital gains taxes. He searched for a GTX two-door hardtop to buy and offered $90,000 for one but was turned down. Facing the tax deadline, he knew a friend who bought the (now award-winning) ’68 Road Runner at the Barrett-Jackson auction (for a much lower price than the now-departed GTX convertible) and made a deal.

The Road Runner had been restored previously and didn’t need much attention. But O’Leary wanted to get its Matador Red paint wet-sanded for a truly glossy look. He enlisted a trusted restorer and Mopar fan he met at the Car Craft Summer Nationals show at the Minnesota State Fair in 2011.

“The next thing I know, I’m getting a full restoration. He took it all the way down to the frame,” O’Leary says. “The first time I saw the car in the shop I almost had a heart attack.

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“Like many old cars, there was a little leak. And he found it. He took his time but at the end the car was the best I’d ever seen,” O’Leary adds.

O’Leary still lusts for a ’69 Plymouth GTX two-door hardtop. He might still have a shot at the car that $90,000 wouldn’t buy a few years ago.

But O’Leary says he will hold on the Road Runner for a few more years – until 2018, when he plans to take it to the Barrett-Jackson auction on the car’s 50th anniversary.

 

He says: “I may be the owner, but I’m just the keeper of the car for now.”