Dream Drive: '69 Superbee
The single-day show at Bandimere Speedway near Denver had been excellent, though the weather was somewhat overcast. The annual Mopars at Thunder Mountain had come off without any major hitches and, as car folks are prone to do, tales were being told as the sun fell behind the front range of the Rockies.
I was talking with Jon and Melanie King, who had come to the event with two cars. Jon had driven their pristine restored '68 440-powered Dodge R/T, while his better half was in the family's '69 1/2 Super Bee. The latter was the Ride of the Month in last May's issue of Mopar Muscle.
I had already lined up an A-12-type Plymouth for a Dream Drive, Smith Stokes' low-mileage '69 440-6 bbl Road Runner. However, that car really was no longer a street driver. Fresh heads, a reverse valvebody, and other changes made it fairly radical. I didn't get much more than a ride in it during a stop at Farmington Dragway in May, so that particular experience was postponed until we could get more track time. I looked at Melanie's machine while talking to Jon.
"You know, this car would be very cool to do one of those trips in," I suggested. "Hey, we could even say you guys lent me the one machine that would scare me enough to wet my pants!"
"When does your plane leave?" Jon asked.
"Tomorrow at 1 p.m.," I replied.
"Well, how about I just bring it over to the hotel and you take 'er out for a spin in the morning?" Jon said.
The '69 1/2 package cars coded A-12 have been covered in depth by Mopar Muscle in the past. This was the most legitimate street racer to leave Detroit during the musclecar era. Think about it-a huge functional scoop on a lift-off fiberglass hood; a 440 fueled by a brace of three Holley carbs; worked driveline parts that had previously been reserved primarily for the Hemi set. You didn't pick up too many street races in this one; people knew just what it was from the day it left the dealership.
In fact, reviews of these cars in the day had perceived it as more than just a go-fast machine. Publications such as Car Life praised it for its handling (relative to that era's other offerings) with the new suspension and wide F60 tires. Indeed, these tires made it necessary to use rims from Chrysler's police car package, and no other wheels were offered with the car when new. Car and Driver magazine even gave one to a trio of bootleggers in North Carolina for a gravel-spitting road test!
With this in mind, and the mountains so close, it stood to reason that perhaps it was time to revisit this idea and save the drag car stuff for the Road Runner. Initially, the idea was to drive to the former gold district of Central City, gaining an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. However, with the fast waters of Clear Creek in full spring rush at road's edge and the narrow pavement occupied by casino buses, Jon thought better of that idea. Instead, we hit a section of winding, climbing two-lane that was 20 miles south, near Morrison.
One thing the magazines had been unanimous in protesting was the braking system, which consisted of four 11-inch drums. As soon as I slid behind the wheel, I understood exactly why. Slowing this puppy down requires a good deal of foresight; you could push that left pedal with all your might, but the car was going to stop when it wanted to, not when you wanted it to. Moreover, the steering wheel was more of a rudder; it also took some getting used to. The rumble of the free-flowing exhaust filled the car as it idled out of the hotel parking lot.