Plymouth Superbird

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Plymouth Superbird
Plymouth Superbird.jpg
Overview
Manufacturer Chrysler Corporation
Production 1970
Assembly Detroit, Michigan
Body and chassis
Class Muscle car
Body style 2-door coupe
Layout FR layout
Platform B-body
Related Plymouth Road Runner
Dodge Charger Daytona
Powertrain
Engine

426 Hemi V8
440 Super Commando V8

440 Super Commando Six Barrel V8
Transmission 4-speed manual
3-speed or 2-speed automatic
Dimensions
Wheelbase 117.0 in (2,972 mm)
Length 221 in (5,613 mm)[1]
Curb weight 3,841 lb (1,742 kg)[2]

The short-lived Plymouth Road Runner Superbird was a highly modified version of the Plymouth Road Runner with well-known graphics and horn. It was the factory's follow up stock car racing design for the 1970 season to the Dodge Charger Daytona of 1969, and incorporated many engineering changes and modifications (both minor and major) garnered from the Daytona's season in competition on the track. The car's primary rival was the Ford Torino Talladega, which in itself was a direct response to the Mopar aero car. It has also been speculated one motivating factor in the production of the car was to lure Richard Petty back to Plymouth.[3] Both of the Mopar aero cars famously featured a protruding, aerodynamic nosecone, a high-mounted rear wing and, in the case of the Superbird, a horn which mimicked the Road Runner cartoon character.[4]

History[edit]

Developed specifically for NASCAR racing, the Superbird, a modified Road Runner, was Plymouth's follow-on design to the Charger Daytona fielded by sister company Dodge in the previous season. The Charger 500 version that began the 1969 season was the first American car to be designed aerodynamically using a wind tunnel and computer analysis, and later was modified into the Daytona version with nose and tail. The Superbird's smoothed-out body and nosecone were further refined from that of the Daytona, and the street version's retractable headlights (made of fiberglass[5]) added nineteen inches to the Road Runner's original length. The rear wing was mounted on tall vertical struts that put it into less disturbed air thus increasing the efficiency of the downdraft that it placed upon the car's rear axle. For nearly 30 years the mathematic formula used to determine the exact height of the enormous wing was thought to be a highly guarded Chrysler secret. However, in the 1990s a retired Chrysler project engineer admitted publicly that the height was determined in much simpler fashion: it was designed to provide clearance for the trunklid to open freely. The rear-facing fender scoops were to hide cut outs in the hood. These cutouts were thought to allow wheel clearance due to the lowered height of the car for NASCAR, but in reality the NASCAR tire was wider than the cutout and the scoop itself. Therefore there was no room for tire clearance. The scoops were actually for ventilating trapped air from the wheel wells in order to facilitate reduced under fender air pressure and lift. Ground clearance was 7.2".[6]

Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird decal
Superbird engine.

NASCAR's homologation requirement demanded that vehicles to be raced must be available to the general public and sold through dealerships in specific minimum numbers. For 1970, NASCAR raised the production requirement from 500 examples to one for every two manufacturer's dealers in the United States; in the case of Plymouth, that meant having to build 1,920 Superbirds. Due to increasing emissions regulations, combined with insurance hikes for high performance cars, 1970 was its only production year.

"Superbird" decals were placed on the outside edges of the spoiler vertical struts featuring a picture of the Road Runner cartoon character holding a racing helmet. A smaller version of the decal appears on the driver side headlight door. Superbirds had three engine options: the 426 Hemi V8 engine, the 440 Super Commando with a single 4-barrel carburetor, or the 440 Super Commando Six Barrel with three two-barrel carburetors. Only 135 models were fitted with the 426 Hemi. As the 440 was less expensive to produce, the "Street" version of the 426 Hemi engine used in competition was homologated by producing the minimum number required.

On the street, the nose cone and wing were very distinctive, but the aerodynamic improvements hardly made a difference there or on the drag strip. In fact, the 1970 Road Runner was actually quicker in the quarter mile and standard acceleration tests due to the increased weight of the Superbird's nose and wing. Only at speeds in excess of 60 mph (97 km/h) did the modifications show any benefit.

Production numbers[edit]

Chrysler memos of September 1969 show that the Sales Programming staff was preparing to handle 1,920 winged Plymouths for 1970, but published figures say as many as 2,783 were built. The current figure generally accepted is 1,935 SuperBirds built and shipped to United States dealers, with anywhere from 34 to 47 allegedly heading towards Canada. The engine option question is again a sticky one, although the most frequently seen numbers report 135 426ci. Hemi SuperBirds and 716 440ci. Six-Pack editions, with the remainder powered by 440ci. 4bbl. motors. It is believed that over 1,000 Plymouth SuperBirds exist today.[7]

NASCAR[edit]

Petty's Road Runner Superbird on display at the Richard Petty Museum

In Autumn 1968, Richard Petty left the Plymouth NASCAR Racing Team for Ford's. Charlie Grey, director of the Ford stock car program felt that hiring Petty would send the message that "money rules none". However, the Superbird was designed specifically to lure Petty back to Plymouth for the 1970 season. Petty did reasonably well against strong Ford opposition on the NASCAR tracks that year, winning eight races and placing well in many more. Petty's Superbird appears as a key character in the 2006 film Cars, with Petty as the voice of seven-time champion "The King" #43. The racing sponsor's branding in the film exactly matches the Superbird's paint as "Dinoco blue".

NASCAR's rules implemented for the 1971 season limited the "aero-cars" to an engine displacement of no greater than 305 cu in (5.00 l) or they had to carry much more weight compared to their competitors. While they were still legal to race, the power-to-weight consequences that would come with the smaller engine or the increased weight rendered the cars uncompetitive. This was the start of a trend of rules slowing down NASCAR, because the races were exceeding the technology of tires and safety over 200 mph (320 km/h). Ford in response also designed the 1970 Torino King Cobra with a batmobile-like nose, but it was abandoned.[citation needed]

Market impact[edit]

The Superbird's styling proved to be a little extreme for 1970 tastes (many customers preferred the regular Road Runner), and as a consequence, many of the 1,920 examples built[8] sat unsold on the back lots of dealerships as late as 1972. Some were converted into 1970 Road Runners to move them off the sales lot. Some manufacturers produce Superbird conversion kits for 1970 Road Runners and Satellites.[citation needed] Kits are also available for non produced 1971 and 1972 bodies for the Superbird.[citation needed] More recently they have been very steady in pricing, with them regularly fetching $100,000+ USD up to $200,000 however this does vary based on the engine, gearbox and other factory options on the car.[9][10]

The Superbird and the Dodge Charger Daytona were each built for one model year only (1970 and 1969 respectively).

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Street SuperBird Specifications". Aero Warriors. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  2. ^ by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (2007-01-16). "HowStuffWorks "1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird: A Profile of a Muscle Car"". Musclecars.howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  3. ^ http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/11/03/plymouth-road-runner-superbird-auction/3349815/
  4. ^ "Plymouth Road Runner Superbird, 1970 Road Runner Superbird | Conceptcarz.com - Pictures, Pricing, Information, Wallpaper, History". Conceptcarz.com. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  5. ^ "Street SuperBird Specifications". Aero Warriors. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  6. ^ "Street SuperBird Specifications". Aero Warriors. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  7. ^ SUPERCARS: The Story of the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth SuperBird; Frank Moriarty: ISBN 1-57427-043-5, (1995), page 149.
  8. ^ Flory, J. "Kelly", Jr. American Cars 1960-1972 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Coy, 2004), p.771.
  9. ^ RM Auctions http://rmauctions.com/results/result.cfm?feature=0&category=Cars&sort=year&view=list&SaleCode=&fromYear=&toYear=&lot=&make=plymouth&model1=superbird&submit=Search
  10. ^ Haggerty Classic Car values http://www.hagerty.com/price-guide/1970-Plymouth-Superbird

External links[edit]