A streak of blue zooming around a ribbon of black.
That's what the Petty Enterprises Plymouth Road Runner Superbirds looked like when they first ran at speed at Daytona in early 1970. Richard Petty (in the No. 43) and Pete Hamilton (in the No. 40) turned laps that made the Mopar faithful forget all about the previous two years in NASCAR's Grand National Division, where fastback Ford Torinos and Mercury Cyclones ran rings around the B-Bodies on the superspeedways of the day.
Hamilton won the '70 Daytona 500, and added two more wins while piloting the No. 40 Superbird that year--both at Talladega. Richard Petty recorded five wins in his Superbird (out of a GN-leading total of 18), despite missing five races after his crash at Darlington in May. Meanwhile, Dodge Charger Daytonas scored three '70 wins, by Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker and Charlie Glotzbach, in a year where Bobby Isaac drove the No. 71 K&K Dodges to the GN title.
Those eleven wins, out of 23 1970 Grand National events on tracks one mile or longer, were to be the high-water mark for Ma Mopar's "Winged Warriors." For 1971, NASCAR decreed a 305ci limit on the aero cars' engines and regular production bodies for everyone else, regardless of engine.
A NASCAR-grade rollcage surrounds the interior, with Kirkey racing buckets up front. The s
Away from the speedways, the 1,920 streetable Superbirds built by Chrysler to satisfy NASCAR's 1970 rules didn't exactly move fast out of dealer's stock. In many cases, they sat unsold for months--if not years--with some dealers converting them into "regular" Road Runners in order to sell them.
What about converting a production '70 Plymouth B-Body into a Superbird in these times? It can be done, but you need more than just the droopy snoot and rear airfoil.
First, you have to find a '70 Plymouth B-Body hardtop, be it a Satellite, Sport Satellite, Road Runner or GTX. (You've noticed that this is a lot more difficult than it was, say, 20 years ago.) You also need the front fenders and hood from the '70 Dodge Coronet, which worked better with the aero nose cone than the Plymouth pieces, and a "plug" to go on and over the rear window opening to smooth out the roof's aerodynamics.
But to make it truly a SUPER 'Bird, you need to incorporate NASCAR-grade hardware inside that vintage B-Body--especially that which saved Richard Petty's life at Darlington.
Worn out stock seats don't make it. Kirkey racing buckets with G-Force harnesses make it,
That's what happened in the case of this former '70 Satellite. Thanks to the efforts of big-time Mopar devotee Bill Goldberg (who came up with the idea for this project), YearOne, and others, this well-used B-Body was turned into one that's track-ready.
When the Satellite landed at YearOne's Braselton, Georgia, shop, the first order was "addition by subtraction." "The car needed new quarters, rear wheel tubs, trunk floor, and extensions, all due to rust," says Phil Brewer, the Superbird's designer and project manager. "But, with what we had planned for it, that was not a problem."
One problem the team solved: getting the car to have that certain superspeedway "look" to it. "We did a lot of research and took some photos of original race cars to find out what had to be done to get the NASCAR look," says Phil. "The car had to be smoothed underneath, removing hanging framerails, original suspension mounts, and trimming the rocker panels. The frame was C-notched for the rear axle, the wheel tubs where widened, and the transmission tunnel raised to get the car lowered." They also opened up and raised the wheel openings by almost six inches to get the needed "aggressive" look.
Filling those reshaped fenderwells was a challenge, as 15-inch wheels were set to go in. "We had to work with Baer to come up with some big brakes that would fit into the 15-nch NASCAR wheels," Phil says. "Some trimming on the calipers had to be done before powdercoating them."
Gillette/Evernham Motorsports provided this current Mopar NASCAR Sprint Cup engine to powe
That merger also included making sure the headlights worked properly, and putting the correct rear window trim on--two more challenges. Phil says there are no reproductions of the Superbird's rear window trim (not even from Year One---yet), and they couldn't find any usable originals. "It was important that it have polished trim to look authentic. We found a late-model rubber window seal that had a chrome insert that saved the day."
When the new sheetmetal was on, in went the full NASCAR-spec rollcage. As Phil notes, "The cage was designed after the roll bars used back in the day, with modifications to make sure it would be legal to run in current top speed competitions. After the metalwork was complete, the body and cage was powdercoated to make sure that if it saw any action in the salt at Bonneville, it would be safe from any corrosion." YearOne painted it Petty Blue over black, and added a fully-decked-out interior for driver and passenger comfort.
Richard Petty drove this tribute Superbird onto the auction block at this year's Barrett-J
To fill the engine bay, YearOne turned to the engine shop at Gillette/Evernham Motorsports for a current Mopar NASCAR Sprint Cup Series powerplant. With it came another problem: Hood clearance. "Once the engine was comfortably set in the K-frame, we noticed how tall the NASCAR intake was," Phil recalls. "The intake had to be slightly milled, and a custom air cleaner made to get it under the hood." Backing it are a NASCAR-style four-speed, and an 8 -inch rear end--just like what the Petty's used on their 'Birds.
Anyone care to guess what this finished repro Superbird is like to drive? We thought so. "It's a blast to drive," Phil says proudly. "The engine is a little grumpy at low rpms, so you can't lug it around, and you have to keep the revs up a lot more than a normal car, but any dealings with that are cancelled out by the unmistakable NASCAR sound coming from the exhaust. People hear it coming and know that it has something special under the hood. Get the rpm up, and it pulls like a beast and sounds even better, just like you would expect from a race-bred drivetrain."
A NASCAR-grade fuel cell replaced the stock 18-gallon gas tank, but still leaves some trun
Along with the sounds, this 'Bird can generate some big numbers. We're guessing that its engine is good for around 750 horsepower, and we're also guessing that 200 mph on an oval like Daytona or Talladega is possible. But the biggest numbers that it's generated so far came this past winter. At Barrett-Jackson's collector-car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona--after none other than Richard Petty drove it onto the auction block--this 'Bird sold for $501,000, with the proceeds benefitting the Darrell Gwynn Foundation (to support research of spinal cord injuries and assist those individuals suffering from paralysis, particularly children). Also, an additional $175,000 was pledged to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation during the auction session of the car at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale event.
The Road Runner and Superbird has always been about generating big numbers. This tribute 'Bird is generating them while looking like the No. 43 and No. 40 cars of 1970 at speed--blue over black with the look of speed, even away from the track.
1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird (Recreation) Built by: YearOne, Braselton, Georgia
- Engine: From Gillette/Evernham Motorsports' engine shop came a current-generation 358-inch NASCAR-spec engine, sporting a big Holley four-barrel, MSD's HVC Pro Billet distributor, coil and ignition box. It breathes out through a custom-fabbed exhaust (incorporating Flowmaster ½-inch oval track mufflers) by Gillette Evernham Motorsports. All engine plumbing by Brown & Miller Racing Solutions, Concord, N.C.
- Transmission: NASCAR-style Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual, built by Gillette/Evernham Motorsports.
- Rearend: Ma Mopar's 8¾-inch one (just like the ones that Petty Enterprises ran on their Superbirds). There's a pair of 30-spline axles, an Eaton Sure Grip differential, and a set of 3.90:1 rear gears inside.
You can see where the hood clearance issue came from, with the tall intake manifold under
- Suspension: (Front) Magnum Force's tubular K-frame/A-arms and spindles with QA-1 coil overs (Rear) A Year One-fabricated 4-link with a Panhard bar and QA-1 coil overs replaced the OEM leaf spring setup
- Brakes: Big Baer discs all around. How big? Try 13-inch rotors with Baer 6S six-piston calipers--at all four corners.
- Wheels: Aero 59 Series NASCAR wheels, 15 x 9 inches all around, wearing BFGoodrich Radial T/A gForce tires (27 x 10 x 15).
- Body: Original 1970 B-Body hardtop unibody was converted from a Plymouth Satellite into a Superbird by adding a Jannek fiberglass nose cone and rear wing. Remedial body work included replacing both rear-quarters, trunk floor and extensions, and rear wheel wells. Fabrication work was by YearOne's Mark McDonald.
- Paint: Steve Jones at YearOne sprayed on the BASF Petty Blue-over-black color scheme (The Body was powder-coated top to bottom by Miller's Powder Coating prior to paint)
- Interior: Inside the roll cage (fabricated by Mark McDonald) is an interior that's been upgraded with Kirkey racing buckets and a YearOne repro "Tuff wheel" steering wheel. Interior restoration by Henderson Upholstery of Sugar Hill, Georgia
Here's what the car looked like when YearOne got it: A well-used '70 Plymouth Satellite.
The Cause Behind The Car
The Darrell Gwynn Foundation
When the Bill Goldberg-inspired, YearOne-built '70 Superbird tribute crossed the auction block at Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale event this past January, it not only drew attention because of who inspired it, who built it, and what went in it, but also for the good cause that the car's sale was benefitting: The Darrell Gwynn Foundation.
Back in 1990, Darrell Gwynn was at the top of his game as a Top Fuel Dragster driver in NHRA's Winston Drag Racing Series. Then, on a test run in England, Darrell was left paralyzed after his dragster crashed at nearly 300 mph.
Before that crash, Darrell had selected The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis as his personal charity, and had been raising funds for that organization--and he'd added their logos to his race car.
Since then, his compassion for those with spinal cord injuries has grown, leading him to create the Darrell Gwynn Foundation in 2002. Its goal: To prevent, provide for, and ultimately cure spinal cord injuries and other debilitating spinal cord related illnesses.
This inside view came during replacement of the Plymouth's rusted sheetmetal. Along with b
The Foundation's website
(www.darrellgwynnfoundation.com) details how it helps improve the quality of life for those already afflicted with injury or illness by providing necessary equipment or special services. You'll also see how the Foundation assists in the funding of targeted research (in hopes of expediting specific cures), and you'll also see its dedication to injury prevention, with a special emphasis on programs aimed at children.
"I have learned that hope, encouragement, and determination aided by education, are among the keys in creating a meaningful, satisfying life despite physical obstacles," Darrell says on the Foundation's website. "I have a wonderful family and an amazing collection of friends and business associates who share my commitment to build a better future for those with spinal cord injuries and other central nervous system disorders. Significantly, there has never been a time of more important and promising research to find a cure for spinal cord paralysis then right now."
The $501,000 raised by the 'Bird's sale (and an additional $176,000 pledged to the Foundation during the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale weekend) will go a long way toward funding spinal cord research and improving the quality of life of those with spinal cord injuries or central nervous system disorders.