1970 Plymouth Superbird Recalls a Different Era
Back in the days when NASCAR drivers raced ¿stock¿ cars with factory chassis and engines, Ford, GM, AMC and Chrysler spent millions of development dollars turning out a thousand or so special models annually in order to homologate an aerodynamic body or brutally powerful engine that ordinarily would not be sold to the average citizen.
For example, a limited run of Ford¿s 1969 Mustangs was turned into monsters when the company¿s racing 429-cid V-8 was squeezed under the hood, creating the Boss 429.
No homologation effort produced a more striking and memorable result, though, than the Daytona/Superbird near-twins from Dodge and Plymouth. With their successful Hemi¿a shorthand nickname describing the engine¿s hemispherical combustion chambers¿V-8s already developed to their potential, the two Mopar companies liberally interpreted NASCAR¿s rules concerning body modifications by grafting an enormous nose cone to the front of its Dodge Charger and Plymouth Belvedere models and a three-foot-high wing to the rear. Such changes were legal because the cars were sold at Dodge dealerships in 1969 as the Daytona and through Plymouth dealers the following year as the Superbird.
With profiles that evoked images of birds of prey, jet fighters or even spaceships, the ¿winged warriors¿ were hugely successful on the race track, but met stiff resistance in the showrooms. Controversial styling aside, their premium pricing and no-compromise design¿try parallel parking an 18-foot-long car with a delicate aluminum nose¿made selling the required number a long process for dealers.
Once the muscle car craze died down in the early 1970s and NASCAR racers switched to purpose-built chassis that only resembled their production line namesakes, specialty models like the Dodge and Plymouth winged cars had as much relevance to the automotive scene as yesterday¿s newspaper.
After the national energy crisis, such powerful machines were considered gas guzzlers and symbols of a time when the country wasted its natural resources, but fans of the winged warriors knew that someday the pointy predators would be redeemed.
Five years ago, Ronnie Putnam, a lifelong Mopar fan and parts manager at Spartanburg Dodge, heard that a local 1970 Plymouth Superbird might become available¿a car he had been after the owner to sell for many years.
¿I don¿t know how I wound up with the car when I did,¿ Putnam recalled. ¿The gentleman who owned it was a retired chiropractor who bought the car in 1970 in Alabama, and I thought he was going to keep it forever.
¿I just kept after him and must have talked to him at just the right time.¿
Unfortunately, the ¿Bird had not been pampered or parked indoors, and it required a complete restoration. The 440-cubic-inch, four-barrel V-8 engine and automatic transmission were meticulously rebuilt and the aerodynamic body was repainted B5 Blue and the black vinyl top was replaced. New sheet metal repaired the roof, floor, trunk and quarter panels and the original aluminum beak needed refurbishing.
¿Bringing this car back to life was a real labor of love,¿ Putnam said. ¿I graduated from high school the year it came out, so the Superbird has always been a special car for me.¿
Putnam and his twin brother Donnie will be bringing the winged Plymouth and three other Mopars¿including a ¿69 Dodge Super Bee, ¿69 Plymouth Road Runner and ¿71 Plymouth Barracuda¿from their collection to the Food Lion AutoFair.
The Food Lion AutoFair is the nation's largest show of its kind. In addition to the feature attractions, the event includes a car show featuring various makes and models from nearly 50 car clubs; thousands of parts and memorabilia vendors in a gigantic automotive flea market; a collector car auction: and nearly 2,000 car corral vehicles available for sale or trade.
The four-day event is Sept. 16-19. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets for Food Lion AutoFair can be purchased at the gates on event days. Admission is $10 per day for adults with children ages 12 and under admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking is $5. More information can be obtained by calling the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.