Those who know John “Johnny Buck” Morelock probably think of him as a car guy, and since he grew up in the Duke City and was terrorizing his neighborhood while driving motorcycles and cars as young as 13, they’d be right.
In Rio Rancho, custom car afficionados recognize him for his “Alien ride,” a 1947 Buick that, he says, has been “chopped, channeled and sectioned, with a 350 V-8. … It’s a crowd-pleaser.”
But recently gaining acclaim — in StreetScene magazine, the official publication of the National Street Rod Association in Memphis – is his turquoise 1963 Valiant.
It was recognized as a MoPar “muscle car.”
“There’s no ‘muscle’ to it; it’s just class,” Morelock says, chuckling.
That classic car, and another 300 or so, are scheduled to be parked in City Center for members of the public to admire from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 23 as part of Park ‘n the Park. The event was scrubbed for two years because of COVID-19, but now it’s back with food, music, crafts, in addition to the cars, in Campus Park and the Rio Rancho Events Center.
Admission is free. For more information, visit rrnm.gov.
As for Morelock, the 68-year-old hot-rodder, and frequent voice of Rio Rancho High School home events, doesn’t have enough fingers and toes to count all the vehicles he’s had in his lifetime. The number he eventually comes up with is 30.
His first car was a 1956 Ford, which he bought for $50 and soon sold for $150. During his student days at West Mesa High School, Morelock dove a 1951 Chevy flatbed truck.
He owns five vehicles now: The ’63 Valiant, the Alien, “a race car, my truck and my Mustang – 460 horsepower,” he said.
He still wishes he had the 1957 Ford sedan delivery car, which he totaled when he broadsided a Corvair.
The Valiant story came about because of his late wife, Karen, who had owned a ’63 Valiant in high school.
“I’m gonna build you a ’63 Valiant,” he remembered telling her, and he soon found one in Kansas. It cost $2,500 but came “with tons of problems.”
Morelock knows his way around cars, so he decided he’d need a “parts car” to enable him to build a complete ’63 Valiant.
“This one popped up,” he said, believing from a photo he saw of it that it was blue, not turquoise.
“It looked real good,” Morelock said.
Long story short, it became Karen’s car and the original Valiant he’d bought became the parts car.
“I replaced all the chrome; the seats were already there (but have been reupholstered),” he said. “It has less than 100,000 miles.”
Before Karen passed, the couple went on a road trip, “3,500 miles in three weeks,” he said, “on Route 66 and US Highway 1 … Sacramento, Reno, to Lake Tahoe to Genoa.”
He soon decided it really wasn’t a gals’ car: “The thing about that car, (is the longer I had it) the more I liked it.
“Most of the comments I hear are, ‘I had a car just like that, only it was a sedan … only it was …,’” Morelock said with a laugh. “Originally, it was a medium-compact car to compete with the Falcon and Corvair. The engineers designed a six-cylinder (engine), but it was too tall. So they took a 318 (cubic-inch motor), added two cylinders on one side and made it a slant-6.”
Valiants were available from 1959-72, he added.
His Valiant has been entered in at least 30 shows, many of them in New Mexico, and “won first place most every time,” its proud owner said. “It’s entered Park ‘n the Park, the State Fair, MoPar Club … it took first at SuperNationals.”
Overall, he says, “It’s been a great car. It gets 19 miles to the gallon.”
For anyone contemplating buying/building a custom car of hot rod, Morelock readily had advice: “Start with something affordable, and what’s driveable, and go from there.”