WEEKI WACHEE — Richard Olinger couldn't help but grin when he turned the key Wednesday and listened as the 475-horsepower, 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 sparked to life with a soft purr.
Olinger had waited a long time and shelled out a ton of money to climb behind the wheel of what could best be described as a hard-core car guy's ultimate dream machine.
The sleek, fire engine red 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner offers more than appealing looks. It's something of an automotive marvel — a hybrid creation that combines the Roadrunner's classic Detroit muscle car body with the new-age technology belonging to a 2008 Dodge Charger SRT-8 that took the crew at West Coast Classic, north of Weeki Wachee, more than 20 weeks to complete.
Surrounded by family members and well-wishers from Hernando County's gear-head community, as well as Tail Fins and Chrome TV show host Jake Jacobs, who stopped in for the unveiling, Olinger admired the finished product.
"It's absolutely beautiful," said Olinger, 65, of Seminole. "It's hard to even imagine what it looked like before it got here."
Two years ago, the car was not much more than a "rust bucket" that Olinger bought as a restoration project he hoped to do with his son, Brian, and grandson, Clayton. But while disassembling the car, he soon realized that it would take more time to complete than he wanted to spend.
Enter Dave Rodriguez, a Brooksville native who has been restoring classic General Motor muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s, and who launched a classic car parts shop on U.S. 19 in 2009.
Rodriguez suggested to Olinger that he scrap the restoration plan and instead look into a ground-up rebuild with attention to modernizing the car to make it more fuel efficient, safer and ultimately more enjoyable to drive.
"Most muscle cars of that era had lots of power but weren't very comfortable to ride in," Rodriguez said. "We thought we could come up with something that would be the best of both worlds."
Rodriguez and his staff began the project by cutting away everything on the Roadrunner but its roof and fire wall. The chassis from the Charger, which was bought used after it had been damaged in a wreck, had to be shortened 4 inches to make it fit the Roadrunner's original dimensions.
From there, things got more challenging. Sections of the Dodge's stock interior had to be trimmed in order to fit the Roadrunner's bodywork. Special concessions had to be made to relocate things such as suspension mounts, the radiator and the fuel access door.
During the restoration process, Rodriguez kept fans of the one-of-a-kind vehicle informed of its progress through regular Facebook updates.
"It became a labor of love for the guys in the shop," he said. "This isn't the kind of thing they get to do every day."
Because work on the Roadrunner hasn't been completed, the total cost of the restoration hasn't been calculated. However, West Coast Classic shop manager Mark Morgeson estimated that Olinger will probably spend in excess of $85,000 before all is said and done.
Olinger said he plans to take the car to car shows around the state, so that other car enthusiasts can admire it.
"I'm very proud of it," he said, "and I can hardly wait to show people the kind fantastic work these guys do here."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.