1970 Plymouth Superbird
Horsepower : 375 Displacement : 8-cylinder, 7.2 L Wheelbase : 117"
Plymouth introduced the Superbird in order to win at NASCAR by modifying a Roadrunner and installing either a 426 hemi, a 440 Super Commando, or a 440 Commando with a six pack carburetor. Capitalizing on the previous experience in 1969 with the Dodge specials they knew that certain streamlining options would improve performance. By adding an elongated, tapered nose, which increased the overall dimensions by 19 inches, and a tall pair of tail fins, along with retractable headlights to further avoid wind resistance, there was some increase in top speed but only at the high end of the velocity curve. In order to qualify 1,920 of these cars had to be built, based on a new formula which, instead of requiring 500 production examples, now mandated two cars for every dealer in the United States. In the end, these somewhat impractical cars, at that level of production, were hard to sell.
Nevertheless the Superbird was a success at NASCAR and beyond. With the 426 hemi producing 425 horsepower, the zero to sixty acceleration was just 4.8 seconds, but only 135 of these were produced. With a drag coefficient of only 0.28, few cars today can brag similar slipperiness. Its 200 mile per hour speed set in March 1970 at Talladega was a NASCAR record. This seems to be the first advertised 200mph from a stock American car, much as the 1921 Paige Daytona claimed the first stock 100. The combination of front-end styling and the improved down force exerted by the tail did come into effect.
On the track, Richard Petty was attracted back to Plymouth with the Superbird design, and he won eight NASCAR races as well as high places in others. By 1971 NASCAR had changed the rules so that cars could have a displacement of only five liters or less. If the big engine was to be used, there were weight penalties which basically took the cars out of competition. It was clear that NASCAR was fulfilling its mission to reduce speeds for safety reasons, a theme which was to extend well into the future. As a result the racing history of the Superbird was extinguished.
There have been rumors that the streamlining features mentioned above were considered too garish or “out of stock” to be part of the NASCAR theme. In view of the vague relationship between an actual stock car and a current competing NASCAR, this is somewhat difficult to believe but I’ve heard it more than once.
When the Superbird appeared on the market, sports car magazines pointed out that for the owner who insists on owning a production performance car so distinctive that he would rarely see another on the highway, the ’70 Plymouth Superbird and the nearly identical Dodge Daytona Chargers were among the best possible choices. At the time Road Test Magazine assumed that because only a scant 2,000 of these “limited edition” cars were being built, “most, if not virtually all, were on firm order before the run even started. Specially constructed “Birds” will put Plymouth back in the big time stock car racing business, and no doubt in the headlines again – as a winner.”
As is well known, by the end of the 1970 racing season, when the car was outlawed by NASCAR, and became impractical for road use, numerous Superbirds were unsold on dealer’s lots, and often given away at dramatically reduced prices.
In order to tell the story of the amateur history of NASCAR, which is part of our theme of sports car racing in America, I thought a Superbird was an essential ingredient. Its recorded 200mph speed with a hemi was a landmark. Not expecting to be able to find one of the few hemis in existence, I would be satisfied with the Super Commando as long as it had a stick shift with that handsome pistol grip. Another feature which drivers in the time liked to use, both for appearance, streamlining, and construction reasons, was to fill in the seam where the Superbird nosecone was attached to the Roadrunner front body. In the stock cars this vertical seam does create a visual distraction and it seemed like those cars in which that seam was leaded in just looked better to me. I understand that Petty’s cars had that minor detail as well.
It wasn’t long before, on eBay, we found an excellent Superbird, with all these features, in my favorite color most desirable choice of colors, Tor Red. Thoroughly checked out for matching numbers, stick shift, and a sympathetic this car now brings the viewers both back into the muscle car era and helps us define the amateur history of NASCAR. As NASCAR becomes a professional sport it varies from the theme of our collection, but the Superbird was a NASCAR that anyone could buy and enjoy, and this is true of ours.