The NASCAR special for the regular guy

The Plymouth Superbird is an American automotive legend and icon – both on and off the NASCAR circuit. In 1970, Chrysler needed a car that could compete and win races on high-speed tracks, primarily those over a mile in length known as Superspeedways. Speeds were steadily increasing and Chrysler needed something to cut the air better than the competition.

The previous year, Dodge had built the Charger Daytona – a highly modified version of the Charger that included a nose cone and tall rear wing. The Charger Daytona was in fact the first American car ever designed (or more specifically, modified) in a wind tunnel. The Charger Daytona’s 1969 NASCAR season was successful, having been the first car to break the 200 mph barrier in a race, along with numerous wins including Talladega.

But for the 1970 season, NASCAR changed the rules regarding the required number of production cars that needed to be sold in order for a particular model to race. In fact, the number jumped from 500 cars sold in 1969 to a ratio of one car per every two dealerships. This, along with Plymouth’s attempts to win back Richard Petty who had left the Plymouth team for Ford in 1968, resulted in the Superbird – a modified version of the Road Runner. Petty won eight races in 1970 from within the Superbird, while placing well in several others.

Though Dodge and then Plymouth had successful runs in NASCAR with the Charger Daytona and Superbird, their respective homologation specials were the real success – at least in the big picture. Neither car sold well initially, with reports saying consumers didn’t like the aero packages. There’s even reports of the cars sitting unsold on deal lots for several years.

Nowadays, the cars – especially those with the 426 Hemi – are worth anywhere between $200,000 and $350,000. Only 1,920 examples were built, though legend has it Plymouth made several more. Either way, Superbirds are a rare bird indeed.

Continue reading for the full review

  • 1970 Plymouth Superbird
  • Year:
    1970-
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    426 Hemi V8
  • Transmission:
    4-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    425@5000
  • Torque @ RPM:
    490@4000
  • Displacement:
    6982.1 L
  • 0-60 time:
    4.8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    200 mph
  • car segment:

Exterior

The Plymouth Superbird borrowed several aerodynamic qualities from the Dodge Charger Daytona, the most obvious being the nose cone and rear wing. There were other items, too, including the vents along the top of the front fenders. Engineers also copied the way the Daytona’s rear window was made flush, eliminating the sail panels. This made the both cars more aerodynamic.

The cars weren’t identical, however, as the Plymouth’s nose had a center crease and a lower air intake. The Dodge lacked the center crease and its intake was split between the upper and lower sections with a wire mesh. The Plymouth also kept the Road Runner’s side vent ahead of the rear tires. The taillights were also much different, with the Plymouth keeping its Road Runner styling.

Also kept was the Road Runner’s cartoon caricature. The car featured the Road Runner logo with the iconic cartoon character holding a racing helmet. Honking the horn brought laughs as the Road Runner’s “Beep Beep” chirp was heard.

Interestingly enough, Chrysler was rumored to have a secret formula for the height of the rear wings on both the Dodge and Plymouth models. Years later, a retired Chrysler engineer admitted the wing’s height was so tall in order for the trunk lid to clear. Paint color options included Alpine White, Tor-Red, Vitamin-C Orange, Lemon Twist, Lime Light, Corporation Blue and Blue Fire Metallic. All cars were also fitted with a black vinyl roof, regardless of paint color, to reduce the already labor-intensive time needed for fitting the Superbird-unique body panels.

Interior

Plymouth didn’t do anything different to the interior of the Road Runner Superbird. The car kept basically the same interior. Of course, those Superbirds custom-built for NASCAR racing had full roll cages and other required equipment. Despite this, opting for the Superbird package meant losing the availability of some option packages. The front seats could be upgraded from the standard bench seat to more sporty front buckets. They could be had in either black or white vinyl.

Drivetrain

The Superbird available at your neighborhood Plymouth dealership had three V-8 engine options. At the bottom was the 440 Super Commando making 375 horsepower with a single four-barrel carburetor. Those who wanted a bit more power could opt for the 440 Super Commando Six Barrel. This engine sported three two-barrel carbs to flow more fuel into the engine. Peak horsepower was 390.

Then there’s the 426 Hemi V-8. This big-block V-8 featured two Carter AFB carburetors and is said to have produced 425 horsepower, though in reality, the engine produced 433 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque in dyno testing. The sprint to 60 mph took 4.8 seconds – surprisingly quick considering the narrow tires these street cars ran. In total, only 136 production Superbirds came equipped with the 426, making it the rarest of the engine options. All three engines could be had with either a heavy-duty four-speed manual or the 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission.

The 426 Hemi is the engine used by NASCAR as well, though the racing engine used unique intake and exhaust manifolds, its own camshaft, and used a different compression ratio.

Price

The Plymouth Superbird sold new in 1970 for $4,298. While that seems like a steal today, that price was roughly $1,000 more than other muscle cars of the era. Money was also worth a lot more back then. However, throw the numbers in an inflation calculator, and the $4,298 price equates to $26,500 in 2016 money. It’d be a challenge to buy a base model work truck for that money today. Ouch
But while money has depreciated, the 1970 Superbird has done the opposite. According to the classic car insurance agency Hagerty, current prices can range between $192,000 for an example in fair condition and $371,000 for one ready to win Concours.

Competition

Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II

1970 Plymouth Superbird
- image 673221

Photo: Carl Sharp
Both Mercury and its parent company Ford were the two main competitors to the Mopar twins. Like the Dodge and Plymouth, the Ford Torino Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II were basically one and the same, with several shared parts and design cues. The Ford pair was highly competitive in NASCAR and sold just as many homologation specials at dealerships. Sadly, values have not risen like they have for the Mopar pair.

The Blue Oval two also had special aero packaged added on, though they’re much harder to spot. Ford factory workers actually extended the nose of the cars by cutting off the original grille and added sheet metal. The new, sloping front end was more aerodynamic and helped the track versions compete with the Mopars. More specifically on the Mercury, the Cyclone Spoiler II could be had in two trim packages: the Cale Yarborough Special and the Dan Gurney Special. Both were powered by a 351 Windsor V-8 and had an automatic transmission with a column shifter.

Conclusion

The 1970 Plymouth Superbird, along with its Dodge predecessor, is an icon of automotive history, engineering, technology, and homologation. The car represents a golden era of NASCAR racing and how the general public directly benefited from the automakers’ racing programs. Today we enjoy the Superbird as a ultra-rare vehicle with rising values and never-ending stories.

  • Leave it
    • * Only made for 1970
    • * Hard to find
    • * Expensive regardless of condition
What do you think?
Show Comments

4 comments:

  (518) posted on 01.24.2010

original Superbirds and Daytonas were legal for the street. you could buy them right off the dealer lots. trivia: the wings on the Plymouths was completely different than the wing for the Daytonas.

  (6023) posted on 02.10.2008

cars like superbird is the monna lisa of cars not a hip hop video

  (6023) posted on 02.10.2008

ghm you dont know what you are talking about classic should be classic

  (6023) posted on 02.10.2008

i think dodge should make a new superbid like t charger,challenger and and the cuda

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