Martin’s hidden treasure among highlights of Rolling Into Roanoke

Terry Martin, of Roanoke, stands alongside his 1966 Dodge Coronet 500. The car, which has a 426 Hemi engine and an automatic transmission, is one of only 132 manufactured with those specifications. Martin discovered the rare car sitting in an abandoned barn in rural Huntington County. It will be on display at this year’s Rolling into Roanoke car show, which takes place Saturday, July 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Terry Martin, of Roanoke, stands alongside his 1966 Dodge Coronet 500. The car, which has a 426 Hemi engine and an automatic transmission, is one of only 132 manufactured with those specifications. Martin discovered the rare car sitting in an abandoned barn in rural Huntington County. It will be on display at this year’s Rolling into Roanoke car show, which takes place Saturday, July 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Photo by Steve Clark.

Terry Martin, of Roanoke, owns a 1966 Dodge Coronet 500, replete with a 426 Hemi engine and an automatic transmission.

Chrysler only made 132 ’66 Coronets with those specifications, notes Martin. Considering the car’s scarcity, it makes Martin’s story of how he found his all the more unbelievable.

It was 2007 and Martin discovered the car sitting in a deserted barn in rural Huntington County.

The car wasn’t much to look at when Martin found it, but he managed to restore it to its former glory over the course of several years. On Saturday, July 23, the car will be one of many classics on display at this year’s Rolling into Roanoke.

Main Street in downtown Roanoke is reserved for the event’s tribute cars, says Rick Fischer, the show’s organizer. This year, he notes, that special stretch of road will be dotted with big-fin rocket cars from 1950 to 1952, stock and custom Corvettes and MOPAR muscle cars from 1962 to 1974 and 2008 to 2017.

Martin’s Coronet will be in the third group. While other cars in that collection will likely be as striking as Martin’s, his stands out, if only because its story, which is set entirely in Huntington County, is so unique.

The car’s tale begins in 1965 when Ron Lawrence, the son of a Huntington car dealer, placed an order for it.

“He checked every box,” says Martin of Lawrence’s order. “This (car) has got everything you could get on a Hemi. It’s got power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, speaker control, vinyl roof, side mirror – you name it, it’s got it. Everything you could get.

“He’s just checking boxes. You know, dad’s buying it, right?”

Lawrence had to wait an additional three months for the car because of its automatic transmission, which was uncommon at the time. Most cars had four-speed transmissions, notes Martin.

When the car finally arrived, Lawrence unloaded if off the truck and was the very first person to take it out for a spin.

The ride didn’t prove to be as enjoyable as he might have hoped, Martin says.

“He took it down Etna Avenue, he nailed it and the car got so out of control that it scared the crap out of him,” explains Martin.

Lawrence, cowed by the sheer power of the car, drove it only once more. For the short while he possessed it, he used a procession of dealer plates on it, never titling it. Just three months after receiving the car, Lawrence sold it off to Horace and Nadine Soper.

Although the Sopers did title the car, it didn’t turn out to be a good fit for them, either. Horace Soper, a Huntington law enforcer, was smitten with the car’s blue and white police car aesthetic. However, it was his wife who would drive the car on a regular basis. A diminutive woman, Nadine Soper was intimidated by the car from the start, says Martin. Horace Soper passed away not long after the car’s purchase, and Nadine Soper offered the vehicle to their son, Dan. When Dan Soper turned down the car, his mother traded it in.

Brian Evans was the car’s next owner. He and friend Bruce Allen were the first people to put the car’s Hemi engine through its paces, says Martin.

“They raced this thing,” Martin relates. “And they beat the crap out of it. They put air shocks on it, they cut the fuel-sensing line, there were holes in the fender wells from where they’d unhooked the shocks.

“They raced this car – until they blew it up.”

Its racing days done, the car sat in Allen’s garage. It remained there until Allen’s mother, who was about to move, instructed him to sell it.

Allen sold the car to John Freds, of Markle, whose wife worked with Allen’s mother. Freds loaned the car to his father-in-law, who drove it for the next few years. In 1976, when his father-in-law no longer had use for the car, Freds wheeled it into a barn. And it sat there for the next 31 years.

Martin and his brother raced top fuel funny cars for 30 years. A lover of speed and Hemi engines, when someone told him a story about a Hemi car parked in a long-forgotten barn, it was a bait he couldn’t refuse. Armed with directions from his source, Martin and his daughter spent a day looking for the fabled car. However, they came up empty.

Not long after, Martin again ran into his source.

“He said, ‘Did you find that car?’ And I said, ‘No, we must’ve been in the wrong place or something.’ I wrote it off by then,” Martin recalls.

But the source provided Martin with further directions, instructing him to go down a road he’d overlooked.

“Here’s why we never went down the road: it’s a dead-end road,” Martin explains. “And the sign says ‘Dead End’ and you can see the end, so you’re like, ‘Well, I ain’t going any farther.’

“But there was a barn and there was an abandoned house down there.”

Once again, Martin enlisted his daughter’s help. And one rainy afternoon, they ventured down that dead-end road.

“So, we go and look,” Martin says. “I go, ‘You look in this barn, I’ll look in this side.’

“I looked in the window and there it was. On the fender it said ‘426 Hemi.’ I went, ‘I cannot believe this really just happened.’”

It took some time, but Martin was able to track down John Freds, who was still the car’s legal owner. After some coaxing and a little help from Freds’ wife, Martin was able to convince him to sell the car.

When Martin stumbled across the vehicle, it was sunken into the ground, filled with mouse feces and without its Hemi engine, which had been yanked out and was sitting in a corner of the barn. So, for the next seven years, Martin worked on restoring it. While the process wasn’t an easy one, he stuck with it, and finally finished in 2014.

“I did everything in this car myself – every nut and bolt, every screw,” he says proudly.

Martin did research on the car during that time and was eventually able to compile a record of its ownership.

While the vehicle had several owners, Martin may be the first one who truly appreciates it.

“This thing hibernated for 40 years,” says Martin, looking at the car. “Just sat in that barn. It was waiting for me.”

Aside from Martin’s Coronet and the other tribute cars it will be alongside, Rolling into Roanoke features several other attractions. A renovated firetruck from the September 11 terrorist attack in New York City will be at the event, says Fischer. Also, the General Motors “Parade of Progress” Futurliner promo bus of 1939 will be present, as well as the GM/United Auto Workers Union Made in America promo semitrailer, which features as an RC car racing tent. Cars from the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, National Automotive and Truck Museum, Early Ford-V8 Museum and The Kruse Museum will be on display, too.

Other attractions at the show, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., include a concert by band Urban Legend, food vendors in Roanoke Park and wine from local winery Two-EE’s downtown.

A portion of the show’s proceeds will go toward the Roanoke Beautification Foundation and the ACD and NATMUS museums, says Fischer.

“We gave $25,000 last year to the Huntington County Community Foundation for an endowment for Roanoke for future beautification and maintenance,” Fischer shares.

Going into the show’s third year, Fischer hopes the passion for cars he’s seen spectators display continues on.

“(People) love that there’s so many spectators that appreciate cars there and I think that’s one of the number one things that they really enjoy is that there’s many people there that are willing and asking questions about their cars and really enjoying them and enjoying the stories behind them,” Fischer says. “That’s what the goal was, to make this an exhibit.”