1971 Dodge Superbee - The Accomplice
Jeff Wickstrom and his ’71 Charger/Superbee have seen and done it all—together
From the March, 2012 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Jeff Wickstrom
Photography by Jerry Heasley
“It’s an everyday driver that I just never got tired of,” is how Jeff Wickstrom from Mesa, Arizona, describes his ’71 Superbee. According to him, it’s a true daily driver in every sense of the word. With such a great story about how he and his Superbee spent a lifetime together, we’ll let Jeff take it from here.
Does this look like a car...
Does this look like a car with 325,000 miles on it? We didn’t think so either.
I never thought of it [the car] as special. The ’Bee is just an old friend who I enjoy spending time with. The story of the ‘Bee goes back to summer of 1979 when I bought it from a young woman in Annandale, Virginia. I hadn’t planned on buying the car, and until then, had never even heard of a ’71 Superbee. After reading a newspaper ad, some buddies and I went to look and see what it really was. Here was this stock, original paint, ’71Charger-Superbee with a bad transmission and a wrinkled fender parked on the street in a residential neighborhood. It even had the factory decklid spoiler. The woman didn’t live there; she had just coasted to a stop and left it after the transmission went bad. She met us at the car and explained that it had to go as neighbors were complaining. She wanted $600, but said if we would take it that day, then $400 would be enough. Being a poor high-school kid, I didn’t even have $400, but between me and my buddies, we scraped together all we had (I think less than $300) and towed it home with a rope. At the time I didn’t really care for the car as I already had a ’70 Road Runner, but we all thought that decklid spoiler was cool.
Between 1980 and 1985 it was used as a daily driver while I was in college in Southeastern Ohio. Even though I bought it in Virginia, it had a Remy Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge sticker from Waverly, Ohio, on the bumper. By 1985 the car was showing its age, so I repainted it the original Green Go shortly before graduation from college in 1986. After college I had no plans...or job, so I took all of the money I had saved up, packed a tent, sleeping bag, my tools, and what little else I owned into the trunk. I said goodbye to family and friends and proceeded to drive around the country for the next nine months trying to figure out what to do with my life. The ’Bee was my home address for all that time, and the road atlas was my “to-do” list. My bank account was an envelope hidden in a slit cut into the carpet under the seat. My only conversation was with the steering wheel or the other social outcasts I met along the highway. There were no cell phones or GPS back then, only common sense and independence. I didn’t even have a decent radio, it was the stock AM unit, with a single dash speaker, and an FM converter hung below the ashtray. I camped out in State Parks or off the main road in small towns while trying to conserve my limited finances. That trip lasted just a bit over 10,000 miles and stretched from Ocean City, Maryland, to Northern Iowa, down to Galveston, Texas, up to Silverton, Colorado, Las Vegas, Nevada, back down to Mexico, over to Death Valley and finally we reached San Francisco, California. I could go on and bore you further, but I’ll stop here with the comment that it was certainly the experience of a lifetime. Running out of money in Tempe, Arizona, in the spring of 1987, I put down some roots, and I’ve been in Arizona ever since.
Although a 440 with a Six...
Although a 440 with a Six Pack was available in 1971, this particular Superbee came with a 383. Jeff had the 440, so he rebuilt it and put it under the hood.
The old ’Bee continued as my primary transportation for quite a few years but eventually the wear and tear took its toll, and it became a shed in the back yard. After a few more years of deterioration, I realized it deserved a better life and felt a proper restoration was in order. Although I liked the original Green Go green paint, I was tired of it, so I decided to change the color. After so many years, I just needed something different. Planning once again that it was to become my daily driver, I chose to add a few other items to my liking. While the original 383 was a great engine, I’ve always enjoyed the drivability and response of a 440 Six-Pack...or as I call it, a 440 two barrel with a lot of secondaries. Somewhere along the way I had picked up a decent 440+6 motor, so with nothing more than a brush-hone and new bearings/rings/gaskets, I put it back together. I did upgrade to a hydraulic roller cam and roller rockers for efficiency and durability with today’s motor oils. I have been using the 833 overdrive transmission and a 3.23 rear gear. Last year I averaged 17.1 mpg on a 4,000 mile journey to the east coast and back. This compares with the prior year’s trip (2009 Mexico to Canada) where I only got 14.5 with the non-overdrive transmission. Other minor modifications are that I’ve added satellite radio, and to help protect the paint I have 3M Clearguard behind all the wheel openings and on the leading edges front bumper and lower valance.
The Mexico to Canada journey was a great trip. One quick memory was offering a ride to two young Hutterites outside of Two Dot, Montana. Hutterites are like the Amish back east. They had never seen a car like this, but soon hopped right in. They were asking all kinds of questions and eventually asked “How fast will it go”? My response was, “Well, let’s find out.”
It’s still a wonderful experience driving an old muscle car on a long road trip. When it’s time for paint again, I’m thinking Sand Pebble Beige and no stripes, you know, keep it subtle? To me it’s still the same old Superbee, but I guess times have changed and I haven’t. So what you see now is an ongoing 30 year bond that was never really intended to be. The odometer is still functional and shows 325,000 miles. I have no idea how many more miles the ’Bee has in it, but I’ve personally watched it roll over twice. It was at 114,000 when I got it all those years ago. This lifetime of memories has far surpassed any investment potential I could have ever realized.
A lot of miles and nights...
A lot of miles and nights sleeping have been spent in this interior.
'71 Dodge Superbee
Owned by: Jeff Wickstrom; Mesa, Arizona
- Engine: Originally, Jeff's 'Bee came with a 383 and a four speed transmission. When he rebuilt the car the last time, he added a 440 with a Six Pack, and an overdrive four speed. It's not a race car, it racks up street miles, and the overdrive is great for that. Other than the addition of a Crane hydraulic roller camshaft with .488/.509-inch lift, and 214/222-degrees of duration at .050-inch, it a basic rebuild with a cylinder cleaning, new bearings, rings, and gaskets.
- Transmission: One mileage-aiding 833 overdrive is mounted behind the 440. With 325,000 miles on the car, the overdrive has earned its keep.
- Rear: the 8-3/4 features 3.23 gears, and is bone stock.
- Suspension: If it came from the factory with it, it's been rebuilt and put back in place.
- Brakes: Manual drums. Apparently after 325,000 miles, they work just fine.
- Wheels/Tires: A very old set of American Racing 200 S wheels measuring 15 x 8-inches on all four corners hold the Goodyear 255/60/15 radials.
- Paint/Body: Originally, the 'Bee was a Green Go car, but during its last rebuild, Jeff had a shop in Mesa, paint the car Plum Crazy. The shop is gone, but the paint is still on the car. The deck-lid spoiler is actually the original one for the car. It leaks a little, but only when you open the trunk after a long hard rain. According to Jeff, "I've made a lot of sandwiches on it over the years. It's also a good place to rest beers when standing around BSing with the guys".
- Interior: Jeff has replaced the carpet, headliner, front seat skins, and the top of back seat. Jeff lived in it for 8 months in 1986-87 after graduating from college and driving around the country. Jeff tells us, "It's actually fairly comfortable, and fortunately had a bench seat".