Musclecars with scant mileage on their odometers are an oddity in this hobby. More than that, they exude an almost museum-like quality-especially if they've remained essentially untouched since rolling off the assembly line. The wealth of information they contain in their stampings and assembly procedures alone deliver tangible value. When lucky buyers manage to get their hands on one of these gems, the last thing they tend to think about is treating the car to a ground-up restoration.
Not John Balow of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. When John snagged the title to this '70 Plymouth Super Bird (an oddity in its own right), his mind was already formulating the restoration sequence even though the car had only 4,700 miles on the clock.
Now, before you preservation buffs start looking for a rope and tree to hang John by, hear his story out.
John fully understands and appreciates the historical and financial value of survivor cars as well as OE Certified iron. As the owner of Muscle Car Restorations, John and his crew have built a lot of OE Certified cars, won the Mopar Nationals twice, and developed seven Gold Certified restorations in the last 10 years as part of his business. So don't tie the hangman's noose just yet.
You might be wondering how a car like this came into John's possession with so few miles on it to begin with.
For the first 11 years of its life, the 440-4V Super Bird hung out at a dealership near Jay, Maine. John's not sure exactly of the car's use during all those years, but his best guess is that it was driven minimally around town and was used as a promotional car for the dealership, participating in parades and such. In all that time, the dealership never sold or even titled the car.
That happened in 1981, when the "original owner" pulled it out of the dealership's hands. Some years later, a friend of John's bought the car from the first owner through His intentions were to restore the car, but after further review, he decided that it wasn't exactly the right piece of Mopar iron for him. The friend offered John the car, and John didn't hesitate to buy it sight-unseen.
Now you would think that a car with only a few thousand miles on the odometer would be in tip-top condition. You'd also be wrong in this case.
"It wasn't really stored in a good location," says John, "and it was just rough around the edges. They weren't really nice brand new anyway. I mean, those cars weren't really well put together. They were slapped together by [the subcontractor].
"[This car] wasn't really in the survivor category. Belts and hoses and all had been changed. It didn't have the original carburetor on it; it was with the car, but someone very early in its life just changed the carburetor for whatever reason. I think that it sat around so long that it just...the gaskets dried out, seals dried out...cars really do deteriorate with lack of use."
With all of that, plus the fact that the original Lemon Twist paint was far from presentable, John figured a full-on rebuild would be the best alternative for bringing the Super Bird back into the light of day. Another reason is that John loves to drive his cars.
Being in the upper echelons of the car restoration business has its advantages-not the least of which is networking. When John's acquaintances at Year One heard of his acquisition, the company figured this would be a great project to get involved with and illustrate the breadth of Year One's parts offerings for the ever-popular Road Runner. Pretty soon the Mopar Performance Parts folks also fell into the loop, as well as a number of other companies (see sidebar), and an image-building project based on John's Super Bird was under way. But before the wrenches would start to turn, the group wanted folks to see how to take a restoration from "here" to "there" in high style.
John Balow's '70 Super Bird...
John Balow's '70 Super Bird
Restoration Resource Listing/Project Contributors
A ground-up restoration starts with a not-so-simple decision: Will this car be a driver or a museum piece? John Balow decided there were enough primping Super Birds in the Mopar world, and he wanted his 'Bird to spread its wings on the highway. That meant forgetting about NOS components and looking to repop and OE replacement parts for the buildup.
To get the Super Bird ready...
To get the Super Bird ready for the 21st Century highway, John and crew rebuilt the 440-4V engine with Mopar Performance Parts components. Hardened seats and stainless steel valves were also included in the mix to deliver a 9.7:1 compression that would safely handle 92-octane pump fuel.
After mapping out the project and its sponsors, John hauled the Super Bird, in its unrestored form, to Year One's Atlanta facility. From Atlanta, the Year One folks piloted the car on the '01 Mopar Muscle Return to Brice Road caravan to Columbus, Ohio. The plan was to let Mopar Nationals attendees see the car in its "before" condition, then see it at the 2002 Nationals after the restoration was completed-a perfect way to showcase the many varied parts available for these cars through the participating sponsors.
Once the Mopar enthusiast world had taken a good look at the unrestored Plymouth, John took the car back to Chippewa Falls, where he and the Muscle Car Restorations crew set to work.
"[This Super Bird] didn't have the big [restoration] challenges," says John. "What it has is a lot of rare parts. All the parts were there, so we had to seek out special people to help us restore certain [Super Bird-specific] parts. We had to keep real close track of those when we would send them out...like stainless polished [steel]. A lot of the stainless on a Super Bird is Super Bird-specific. [And] it's always a challenge to restore the nose cones on these things. It's always a challenge to get the vacuum system to work well when you're done. Other than that, it's just a Road Runner.
"The one thing that does separate this car from all the rest is that it's one of three known to exist with factory power windows. Aside from that, yellow is one of the most popular colors, [and] the 440 four-barrel engine is the most common engine. It does have bucket seats with a console, which is somewhat rare, and a six-way, manual-adjustable driver's seat, which is very rare. It's the most ingenious thing you've ever seen, and it's an extremely rare option."
Aside from dealing with the quirky anomalies of this particular car, the Super Bird's restoration proved to be fairly straightforward. And with a large crew working towards its completion, the project moved along at a healthy clip, with Year One components providing the bulk of the replacement pieces. As for the engine....
"Everything is stock," John tells us, "with the exception that when we did the valve job and rebuilt the heads, we [installed] hardened seats and stainless steel valves. We just prepared the heads for unleaded premium gas, and we rebuilt the motor at about 9.7:1 compression so it would run good and not overheat on pump premium. We used the stock Mopar Performance cam, lifters and pistons, and all the parts Mopar Performance sells to rebuild a factory engine. We [also] upgraded it to the Mopar Performance electronic ignition."
True to the mission plan, John and the folks at Muscle Car Restorations finished up the Super Bird in a quick 10 months-just 30 days before the Mopar Nationals. Folks who saw the unrestored car at the '01 event got to see first-hand in '02 what a lot of hard work, quality reproduction parts, and restoration skills can do in short order. But if you think this is going to be a perpetual show field queen, you'd better think again. When we asked John what his plans were for the car, he was quick to respond.
"Drive it. Enjoy it. And take it to car shows. Since the Mopar Nationals my wife and I have already put almost 1,000 miles on it. Just the week before last she and I took off on a Sunday and put 300 miles on it in one day. I mean, it's a rare and quite valuable car, but my mission is to enjoy the car and drive it. If we get a nick, we'll fix it. My enjoyment comes from driving the car and showing it...letting people see it and not just let it sit in the garage and polish it.
"I've sort of coined the phrase to describe the mentality, or to explain the mentality, and that's guilt-free driving.'"
Part of the goal behind this...
Part of the goal behind this Super Bird project was to showcase the multitude of parts available through sponsors such as Year One. Ready access to quality parts makes any project buildup a more pleasing experience. Of course, getting a vacuum headlamp assembly to work is never a fun job. Here the Muscle Car Restorations crew puts the final (and dreaded) touch to the Super Bird rebuild.
Driving duties also demanded...
Driving duties also demanded that the Super Bird be upgraded in the ride and handling categories. PST urethane front-suspension goodies deliver a substantial improvement over the OE rubber components.
Building a driver doesn't...
Building a driver doesn't mean you want to scrimp on the details. John believes that quality and workmanship can result in a non-concours car that maintains its value just as well as an OE Certified-style restoration. Here the Super Bird spins on a rotisserie while the folks at Muscle Car Restorations apply a striking coat of PPG's Lemon Twist.