1970 Plymouth Superbird - Road Trip
Engine Noise, Exhaust Rattles, Malfunctioning Gauges, And Mechanical Gremlins Be Damned. Trekking 2,767 Miles In A '70 Superbird Is About The Journey Not The Destination
From the September, 2007 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Kevin Shaw
Photography by Brennan Cook, Cheryl Soscia
Starting off with 60,000 miles...
Starting off with 60,000 miles on the factory drivetrain, 2,767 miles and 256 gallons of gas later, the Plymouth only required fresh fluids to keep going. Brennan never once had to break out the tool kit.
Not all wing car owners are affluent entrepreneurs or heavily backed investors interested in keeping a collection of rare American musclecars to diversify their portfolios. Thankfully, some of them are like 41-year-old Brennan Cook. The North Dakota native isn't a property developer, an investment banker, or a marketing coordinator, he's just a Mopar guy. Brennan has gone through a handful of different musclecars and trucks, but his heart always belonged to the Tor-Red winged Plymouth that would fall into his 16-year-old lap for $2,000 in 1981.
Teenage Brennan struggled to iron out the Superbird's nearly endless list of bugs and ticks to little avail. In 1984, frustrated with the car, he stowed the Bird for the next 22 years.
In February 2006, he finally extracted the dusty Plymouth from its holding cell for one last attempt at bringing it back to life. The near-quarter century of stagnancy had rendered most of the car defunct. Nearly everything would need to be either replaced or repaired.
While the Superbird underwent a whirlwind resto-resurrection, plans for a road trip with Brennan's girlfriend, Cheryl Soscia, retracing portions of the historical Lewis & Clark exploration began to gain momentum. With a near-3,000-mile trip in mind, he took the car to the only mechanic trustworthy enough to ensure its longevity-Todd Kramer of Fargo, North Dakota.
But even with Todd's help, the Superbird was in less than ideal condition. Despite a new camshaft, lifters, and adjustable pushrods, cleaned and inspected heads, and a second set of new lifters, the standard-bore 440-once replaced by Chrysler under factory warranty years earlier-still rattled with an audibly distinct valvetrain noise. Making matters worse were the gauges. Brennan says, "[The] instrument cluster is possessed. The needles [must be] moved by narcoleptic, mischievous leprechauns [because] sometimes a gauge will register a reading then suddenly it won't." But the cabin, for the most part, was sound. Only the bucket seats, carpet, and rear package tray had been replaced or recovered.
Externally, the Superbird retains all its original sheetmetal. Years ago, it was repainted an incorrect shade of Tor-Red, but the original vinyl top was preserved. Other factory components include the differential with only 60,000 miles on it . . . well, 63,000 now.
During the road trip, a mysterious leak would sap vital brake fluid from the master cylinder but with no clear indication of where it was going, thus forcing Brennan to continually check the reservoir every morning and at most pit stops. And a troublesome harmonic vibration would appear every time the Plymouth would creep past 65 mph.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
While preparing everything for the next day's start, Brennan and Cheryl discovered an obnoxious exhaust leak coming from the Bird's professionally-installed, high-dollar, reproduction exhaust system. With one more gremlin trying Brennan's patience, he took out only the required liability insurance needed to drive on the street. Why get specialty insurance since the nature of the trip would have voided the limited collector car coverage most would expect to be carried on a car of this caliber?
Realizing the Superbird's tendency to vibrate its occupants silly at anything over 60 mph, the duo opted to take mostly scenic back roads and highways.
Devil's Tower, Wyoming, was...
Devil's Tower, Wyoming, was the backdrop for Steven Spielberg's film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Pretty cool.
Cheryl would occasionally...
Cheryl would occasionally slip behind the wheel for some "clutch time." Brennan assured her the Bird's indestructible drivetrain could handle anything she could dish out.
Brennan and Cheryl at the...
Brennan and Cheryl at the home of Shawn Lince, the original owner's son, who recounted how he used to sit in his father's lap as a child and steer the Superbird. Brennan was also able to talk to Shawn's father, Bill, on the phone.
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
With Cheryl's truck in storage, the couple pulled out of Mandan, North Dakota, and turned onto I-94 towards Elgin, where the Superbird was purchased new in 1970. Brennan hoped that in the small town somebody would recognize the car and possibly offer some information regarding its original owner. Amazingly, at their first stop for gas (done nearly every 100 miles), a friendly attendant put him on the phone with the original owner's son, Shawn Lince. Within minutes, Shawn pulled into the gas station and invited them to his house. Brennan insisted that Shawn drive the Superbird to his house, where Shawn called his father, Bill, to talk with Brennan.
Bill had bought the car new in 1970. He said they were under the impression the car had been totaled in an accident years ago, and so never inquired further about the Superbird.
Brennan and Cheryl then drove on to Brennan's birthplace, Bowman, North Dakota, where then-9-year-old Brennan would watch the orange Plymouth occasionally pass by. Seven years later, he would own that very same car.
Making one more stop before crossing the border to South Dakota, Brennan tracked down old friend and engine builder Steve Mutschelknaus, who brought his kids out to see the Superbird since it might be the only time they would ever get to see one.
Traveling on, the two stopped for the night in Spearfish, South Dakota, where Brennan's mother lives. "Without her help," Brennan says, "I never would have been able to buy the Superbird in the first place."
Thursday, August 10, 2006
The next morning, Brennan woke semi-crippled. After only one day of sitting in the antiquated bucket seats, both he and Cheryl were having trouble raising themselves into an upright position. The maxim: "They sure don't make them like they used to" is in some ways a good thing.
A check of the fluids revealed the car was burning nearly a quart of oil every 200 miles.
After coming off the endangered...
After coming off the endangered species list, this buffalo decided to seek revenge on this Ford Five Hundred. Well, not really, but it would have been cool.
Even in August, the Montana...
Even in August, the Montana temperatures can plummet overnight and turn the condensation in the air into a layer of ice.
Within minutes of crossing...
Within minutes of crossing the Wyoming state line, they were pulled over, but instead of a citation, the officers only wanted to ask questions about the car and take pictures.
A short, low-speed drive landed them in Cheyenne Crossing, where the car became an instant attention magnet. At the time, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was in full swing, and the bright orange Superbird stood out amid the swarm of Harleys. Continuing into Deadwood, they decided to drive through Sturgis despite the inevitable traffic jam. Hailed with thumbs up and nods of approval, the Bird made quite a splash.
With some daylight left, they decided to drive on to Devil's Tower.
You don't think we'd have...
You don't think we'd have an article that mentions Yellowstone National Park without showing the obligatory picture of Old Faithful now do you?
Within minutes of crossing the Wyoming state line, they were pulled over by a state highway patrol car. Much to Brennan's relief, the partolmen were self-proclaimed classic car guys and only wanted to pose for pictures and chat about the wing car, noting their department just took possession of new police-edition R/T Chargers.
At the the Devil's Tower National Monument, they just missed the King himself, Richard Petty, who was visiting the same day.
Friday, August 11, 2006
The next morning, Brennan pointed the long nose at Thermopolis, Wyoming. They passed through Sundance on their way to the natural hot springs the town was built upon. Cheryl observed that judging by how many people ran up to the Plymouth every time they stopped for food or gas, apparently, closeted Mopar enthusiasts are all over the country.
creeping along at 65 mph can be tiring, especially when looking down an endless beam of bleached asphalt. Brennan says, "If I had more time prior to the trip, I probably would have swapped in an overdrive transmission to make highway driving more tolerable. [We were] getting passed by every Geo, motor home, and loaded semi on the highway." The stock 3.54-ratio gears kept the rpms at 3,000 at 60 mph, the speed where the 440 ekes out its best of 10 mpg.
At their next stop in Buffalo, Wyoming, they first coined the term "Parking Karma" because they continually scored the best parking spots.
The remainder of the day consisted of a leisurely drive to Thermopolis, where weary from the August heat, noise, and tortuous seats, they crashed for the night, saving the therapeutic spring waters for the next morning.
Sitting slightly off the road...
Sitting slightly off the road in Cooke City, Montana, they spotted this '73 Challenger. The trip revealed that not only are desirable Mopars still out there, but some are still relatively cheap and straight.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
After a quick soak in the hot springs, they set off for Cooke City, Montana, and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
"One of the most common reactions I received when I told people we were going on this road trip was the concern that something would happen to the car," Brennan told Mopar Muscle. "Would it get wrecked, stolen, stripped, vandalized, or ripped off? Frankly, I really don't worry about all the bad things that could happen. Worrying about potentialities only poisons the moment. I made the decision to take the Superbird on this trip, and that was that."
Stopping for fuel in Cody, Washington, a '59 Cadillac pulled in next to them. The owner, Chris Jetter, makes custom blown-glass accessories for cars. He said when he saw the winged car turn into the station, he had to stop and say hi.
After Cody, the Plymouth and its occupants continued north towards Cooke City, Montana. Undaunted by the steep elevation change, the Superbird ate up the hills. All it took was a slight nudge from the accelerator and the 440 surged upwards with little more than some lowered mpg. they arrived in Cooke City right on time.
Not far off the road in Helena,...
Not far off the road in Helena, Montana, was this lot with a couple of cars for sale. Catching the old Chrysler in his peripheral vision, Brennan stopped to talk with the owner. The '66 300 is notably clean, but the owner, Robin Stockton, was mostly interested in talking about the Superbird. Not far up the road was another cache of old Mopars.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Before leaving Cooke City, the couple drove past a straight Plum Crazy '73 Challenger for sale. After taking a couple pictures, Cheryl and Brennan piled back into the Tor-Red Plymouth and headed out of town, but not before stopping for gas. While filling the pump, Brennan realized the 440 was running longer on 87-octane than on high-grade. had he known this at the beginning of the trip, he could have shaved an extra $100 off the final $860 gas bill.
Arriving at Yellowstone National Park, the Superbird suffered its only casualty. without a side mirror, Cheryl accidentally hit the lower corner of her door into a rock, knocking a fingernail-size chip off the paint. Brennan says, "If I was worried about chips, bugs, dirt, and so on, I never would have taken the car on the trip in the first place."
Thankful to stretch their legs, they walked around Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot Springs. As they returned to the car, a young boy rushed up to the winged Mopar, exclaiming, "I know that car! I have that car. It is from the Cars movie!"
Brennan and Cheryl slide into the hot, non-A/C-equipped, black-vinyl interior and drove to the Yellowstone Hotel on the other side of the park.
Another chance meeting with...
Another chance meeting with a Montana local led Brennan and Cheryl to this super-clean '70 Top Banana Superbird. Nearly complete, the Plymouth was in nearly identical condition that Brennan's was half a year earlier.
Gorgeous photo opportunities...
Gorgeous photo opportunities abounded during their drive through rustic Montana.
With two trim rings going...
With two trim rings going MIA, Brennan pulled the remaining two and finish the trip with them in the trunk.
Monday, August 14, 2006
They woke the next morning to see a herd of buffalo grazing around the hotel.
After a great drive along the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake, they headed for Old Faithful and the famous Paint Pots, and ended the day in West Yellowstone with a pizza and a bottle of wine.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
This day would be bookmarked by pleasant conversations with Mopar enthusiasts wanting to take a closer look at the B-Body. Highway 287 runs all the way to Helena, making their route a straight shot. after a day spent crossing the state, they were unloading at their hotel when an enthusiast in his twenties stopped to check out the car. the young man explained that he had seen pictures of a Superbird, but had never seen one in real life, and though he was a proclaimed GM guy, he had to get a look at this Mopar.
After the third day, the high-back...
After the third day, the high-back bucket seats became as uncomfortable as a wooden park bench.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The picturesque capital city of Helena, Montana, is rich with beautiful scenery. But the locals have grown frustrated with tourists, who sluggishly wander the highways and roads more taken with the scenery than actually driving the speed limit. This, in turn, causes a lot of tailgating of which Brennan and his classic car were a target, causing him to finally let loose. "Since there appeared to be no posted speed limit, I took it up to 120," he says. "My tailgater shrank into a satisfying dot and then vanished all together. Meanwhile, my tachometer read about 6,000 rpm but also moved around like one of those drinking birds from the souvenir shops. The car hugged the road great. The nose and wing don't do much until about 80 mph when I felt the car begin to settle down. At that speed it felt good, too good. Since I wanted to finish the trip with no mechanical issues, I backed down and the multitude of clatters, rattles, and vibrations diminished." Coming back to earth, Brennan brought the Bird back to a manageable speed and ended the day in Columbia Falls, Montana.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Needing a recharge and some time to restock their rations, Cheryl ran off with two bags of dirty laundry, while Brennan took the Plymouth to the car wash. While at the car wash, Brennan was told about another winged car in Columbia Falls. Skeptical of any wild Mopar story, he decided to take a peek just for curiosity's sake. Sure enough, tucked into a local's garage sat a yellow, automatic Superbird. the factory 440 hanging from a hoist and the other bits and pieces laying around would make this sitting machine into a rolling cruiser not unlike Brennan's Bird.
Stepping off the main highway and circling through west Glacier Park, the world of cell phones, laptop computers, and Starbucks coffeehouses vanishes, replaced by vistas and natural beauty millions of years in the making.
During their drive, Brennan and Cheryl picked up a young hitchiker, who needed a ride back to the car where he and his friends had started their hike. The hitchhiker was Dennis Mitchel, who recounted how he grew up just a few blocks from Creative Industries when the Daytonas were built. Dennis believes the owner of Creative Industries kept the first Daytona and the first Superbird, and that he may still have them in storage.
One of two mother bears with...
One of two mother bears with their cubs spotted from their parking space at the beginning of their hike. Needless to say, they moved the Superbird before hiking in the opposite direction.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Cheryl and Brennan decide it is time for a vacation day that does not involve the car. Of course, before they can distance themselves from the Bird, another crowd gathers to gawk at the Mopar. Ed, a cook in a nearby restaurant comes out and says, "That is the single most beautiful thing I have seen today." With all of the picture taking going on, Cheryl joked that, "There are going to be about 5,000 '06 summer vacation photo albums with an orange Superbird in them."
Finally, Brennan and Cheryl take their much-needed hike through the Many Glacier portion of Glacier National Park.
The Glacier area had been struggling with aggressive forest fires before Brennan and Cheryl arrived, which left much of the area smoldering, but explained the abundance of visible animals during their hike.
Even the view from the parking...
Even the view from the parking lot is breathtaking.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Cheryl and Brennan decided to leave the Bird behind again and hike around Two Medicine Lake.
The next day would consist of more driving, a task that sounded less and less appealing as thoughts of the B-Body's non-air-conditioned interior and insufferable bucket seats bounced through their heads.
As they finished a light supper at the historic East Glacier Lodge, another motel guest and two of his friends from Texas approach to ask about the car-a pleasant and familiar routine by now for the duo.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
The couple decided to drive back along the road that skirts the south end of the park. As they were caught in a line of vehicles slowly ascending a steep grade, a black Pontiac rushed the row in the opposing lane trying to sneak in higher in the procession. the impatient driver of the sedan rudely squeezed in front of the Bird, hitting his brakes hard and nearly causing an accident. He then pulled out and passed the remainder of the line, but not without Brennan, furious, on his rear bumper. the driver weaved over to the slow lane as the winged Plymouth blew his doors off in the passing lane. Any future attempts to pass traffic by the Pontiac were thwarted by Brennan and the Superbird, who kept the head of the line for the next 20 miles.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Taking leave of Glacier, Brennan and Cheryl made a stop at the Lewis and Clark Center in Helena, Montana. Helena has the third of four such major centers that trace the trail made by the intrepid explorers under the direction of President Thomas Jefferson in 1804. After a miserably hot day of driving with the windows down, the Best Western turned out to be a lifesaver with a hot tub to the rescue.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Returning to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, they finished viewing the display, and then jumped into the Superbird to drive from Great Falls, Montana, to Glendive, Montana. The space between the two cities is a testament to the actual breadth of this nation's size. "There are places in Montana where you can't even get a country music station on AM radio," Brennan exclaimed. "Cellular coverage was nonexistent unless we were near a community."
At one point during the trip,...
At one point during the trip, Cheryl wanted to see something other than the dash of the Bird, so two days of hiking satisfied her cravings for spotting natural wildlife, including this gopher, some mountain goats, snakes, and plenty of bugs.
A local feline kept warm under...
A local feline kept warm under the cooling exhaust tubes. When's the last time you saw a Bird give a cat shelter?
It wouldn't be a road trip...
It wouldn't be a road trip without a picture in front of some wildly bizarre, fiberglass dinosaur . . . only in America.
Pushing on to the North Dakota border, they stopped in Jordan, Montana, for a tank of gas (and the usual meet-andgreet with curious auto enthusiasts). Once in Glendive, they collapsed into bed exhausted from a long, hot, slow, noisy, and uncomfortable drive. "I have no idea how Lewis and Clark did what they did," Cheryl gasped.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
"We are in the home stretch now," screamed Brennan over the noise of the rushing wind, exhaust clatter, and rattling lifters. With only about 200 miles of the Great Plains remaining, Cheryl decided to get a few more miles of clutch time, taking the wheel from Glendive, Montana, to Dickinson, North Dakota.
During a final gas stop in Glendive, only a few hours from home, a gentleman, after asking a few questions about the Superbird, said simply, "Thank you for sharing it." It would be the perfect summation for a trip filled with friendly faces, handshakes, and inquisitive glances.