"Actually, the front end on this car is really tight!"
Tony D'Agostino was putting the pedal to the metal on a straight piece of two-lane blacktop in the rural farmland near Dover, Delaware. Given our propensity for such antics, that wasn't so surprising, except for the fact that the car under acceleration was not just another nice musclecar. This one was the pride and joy of a small collection of gems that he owns, an unworn, unrestored original with less than 20,000 miles on the odometer. Moreover, cars like this '70 Plymouth Superbird, with its one-year-only styling, are few and far between nowadays, a speedway-spawned relic from the horsepower era and the last true hurrah of the old Chrysler Corporation's NASCAR efforts. From my location in the backseat, I could see the speedometer inching over 90 and still pulling.
D'Agostino will be best known to most Mopar restorers as the proprietor of Tony's Mopar Parts in Harrington, Delaware. Serving the Mopar hobby for close to 20 years now, Tony maintains an immense stock of both N.O.S. and high-quality pre-owned parts and pieces for many classic Mopar machines and has even begun reproducing some of the more scarce small items for the restoration aftermarket. He is also a connoisseur of unrestored cars, but unlike most cars of this caliber, today his winged monster's engine was breathing in copious amounts of sea-level air as its caretaker wrung it out this particular morning.
I was in the back because my dad was sitting up front next to Tony. As you may recall from a past editorial, my old man saw me go through my share of Mopars in the past, and I decided he needed the front seat E-ticket ride more than I did. Besides, Tony had already promised to let me drive the car around a little before the day as out.
The speedo needle moved past the 100-mph mark, then 110, then 115. Telephone poles blurred by, but a curve was approaching. Undetered, Tony let off the loud pedal and eased into the sweeping turn at 85 mph, using the standard factory front discs to slow it down. Once out of the curve, fuel resumed pouring through the factory-installed AVS four-barrel as we hit another stretch of straight roadway. Of course, a watchful eye was being kept out for constabulary and slow-moving farm equipment, and as side roads appeared in the distance, Tony wisely brought the car down to a more legal speed.
As built, the particular Superbird wouldn't have been considered anything unique except for its aerodynamic styling additions. Painted B5 blue, powered by a 440 Super Commando with the four-barrel induction system and having a bench seat and column shifter, it was standard fare for the '70 musclecar model year and 1 of 626 that left the factory with the 440/automatic combo. Rounding out the drivetrain is the standard 8 3/4-inch rearend with a 3.55 Sure Grip rear cog inside.
It was originally sold through 1st Avenue Chrysler-Plymouth in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This dealership is documented as having sold the largest number of Superbirds in the nation during the model's brief run, turning 15 of the high-bank haulers over to the public. While one would think the Deep South would have had the handle on such machines, it must be remembered that USAC/ARCA greats like Ramo Stott, Don White, and Ernie Derr, who drove the wing cars with abandon, hailed from the Hawkeye State.
Though Tony has owned his share of quality musclecars in the past, this particular vehicle offered something few vintage musclecars possess-true originality. Since new, the car had been well cared for, as attested by the original paint still shining brightly on the body panels. Ironically, this state of preservation brings out some interesting production characteristics. For instance, the paint on the nose, wing, and fender scoops has changed and faded quicker than the rest of the car. According to documentation on how the cars were built, some of the Superbird pieces were prepped and painted apart from the car, as is the case here.
The spare tire and its pair of jacks (Superbirds received two because the bumper jack wouldn't work under the fragile nose cone) have never been out of the trunk and used. The interior on the car still smells new, while the machine still sports the original plugs, wires, and more. Tony's only changes were a fresh set of vintage tires, a new battery, clean oil and filters in the crankcase and transmission, and small detailing. The car also required a replacement exhaust system due to the typical condensation rust problems, but this is bone-stock as well. Though the engine shows some signs of road use and paint blistering, it's as original as they come.
Tony heard about the car two years ago, and worked very hard to buy it, finally convincing the owner to let him purchase it. A big plus was that all of the original paperwork, from the factory sales information and order form to the buildsheet, came with it. The ownership trail was documented and established, and contact with the manager at 1st Ave. C-P even yielded a couple of photos of this car on the dealership lot.
We turned down a dusty cattle farm road owned by the gentleman whose buttercup-laden field was the planned backdrop for the photo shoot; we wanted permission before getting in the corral with the horses. Once granted, we pulled back down the farm road to the apron of the two-lane and Tony handed me the keys.
Driving cars is fun, but obviously this one in particular offered its own level of stress; I didn't want to alter the car's pristine preserved condition. Nonetheless, I noticed that, as Tony slid into the back seat, my pop was looking for the seatbelts for the first time this morning!
"Oh, now that I'm driving, you decide to put your seatbelts on!"
Easing out on the pavement, it was immediate that Tony wasn't kidding about the condition of the front suspension. The 'Bird's steering was as firm as any car out there; better than any of the big-mileage Mopars I've owned. The fresh F70-14 Polyglas repro tires on the car clung nicely to the ground as I got a feel for how it handled. However, that loud pedal was begging to hit the firewall, and I saw my chance as Tony explained to my dad just what the Superbirds were in terms of options.
"Most of them didn't get a whole lot of stuff from the factory," Tony said as the road moved by. "A lot of them just got shipped to the dealers with standard equipment, but they were all big-blocks like the other Road Runners."
"Yeah," agreed my dad. "It seems like they just needed something that looked and ran fast."
"That's right, Pop! Looked and ran fast!"
Looking over at him with a grin, I layed the hammer down, causing the kickdown linkage in the TorqueFlite to engage. At 55 mph, the engine responded in kind, and the sound of air rushing through the air cleaner was soon forgotten as the speedo moved up the scale. By 90 mph, you could really feel the backend begin to sit down as the huge wing in the back created downforce. Likewise, the nose and front tires were going right where they aimed, with no sign of wandering around on the pavement. Two thirds of the way through the 150-mph limit imprinted on the speedometer, it was decided to let off the go-juice before things got out of hand. Besides, a curve was coming up quickly.
Unlike a 4.10 ring, the more common 3.55s didn't instantly drag the speed down to more sane levels. However, a light touch of the power-assisted brakes brought the car down 30 mph with no sign of pulling in either direction. Very nice.
"That nose and wing really help keep it stable," said Tony calmly from the back seat. The old man, to his credit, wasn't flinching either. A hot rodder in the '50s, he also found his share of cheap thrills this way, not to mention a former career in hazardous materials shipping that required cool thinking. Into the curve at 75 mph (this is a two-lane, remember), the car stuck to the ground with a moderate amount of bodyroll due to the heavy 3,700-pound curb weight and 500-plus pounds of human ballast. When we looked later, the tires showed evidence of this, with wear marks visible on the lower half of the sidewalls from tire roll. Still, this wasn't noticeable from inside the car while driving, a tribute to the condition and design of the never-touched Chrysler suspension.
We came to a stop sign. The engine was showing no strain from its recent trip into the upper 5,000-rpm range. Nailed from a slow roll, the tires were now warm enough that they held to the road, and the 'Bird was again in flight. Using the shifter manually didn't seem to make much difference in the degree of acceleration, and we made the turn down the street toward Tony's shop.
The number of cars still preserved to the level of this Superbird is unknown. What's known is that attrition and modifications have made such survivors of the super car era few and far between. Obviously, Tony D'Agostino doesn't take this particular machine out for everyday jaunts; it's a true artifact and has existed three decades without so much as a tune-up. Besides, he has a handful of other cars to drive when the urge to just roll off miles in vintage iron takes hold. No, the 'Bird is more like a vintage steam locomotive or road race car, taken out on those special occasions to relive history again just like the old days, looking and running fast.