There was never any doubt why Chrysler placed the Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird on the market in the musclecar era. They had just one purpose-to fly around the superspeedways of the stock car circuit. While a rare few were racing in drag competition at that time, no serious straight-line effort was made until 1999, when "Cowboy" Matt Tolbert debuted his carbon-fiber replica in IHRA's Pro Modified division. The founder of Global Electric Services, a contracting firm in Austin, Texas, he decided that if he was going to move up to IHRA Pro Mod from the Texas Quick 8 Association, he would do so with one of the most purebred race cars to ever come out of Detroit, Plymouth's 1970 Superbird.
"This car had been banned by NASCAR in 1972," he remarks, "so I thought it should go to bad car heaven-IHRA Pro Mod!"
A top category in drag racing, Pro Modified is full of radical machinery, and performances average in the 6.30 range at 220 mph, plenty fast in anyone's book. Matt's original "Texas Bad Bird" competed during the 1999 season without much luck, but it turned a lot of heads as one of the few Mopars in the class. In the offseason, some changes were made and the team took the car out to a new track near San Antonio for testing. It was there on a best-ever 6.53/223-plus mph lap that the 'bird took flight.
"To be honest, we weren't sure what happened," says Matt. "Somebody watching said that when I pulled the parachutes, they got sucked up underneath the car by vacuum. Whatever it was, I knew I was headed off the end of the track, so I just tucked in and waited for the impact."
The car ended up nose first in a top-end sand trap. Quality chassis construction by Gerold Mueller at Pro Comp Engineering kept the driver from harm, but the one-off, carbon-fiber front end was destroyed and there was dirt everywhere.
"It was in my helmet, in my mouth, and in every little nook and cranny in the car," he recalls. "It was a real mess!"
With IHRA's Winter Nationals only a few weeks away, the team began an exhaustive and expensive rebuilding project to get the car ready for the 2000 season. While a myriad of small details prevented the car's return at Darlington, they were ready three weeks later at the Holley Nationals in Rockingham, North Carolina.
As mentioned, Gerold Mueller of Austin constructed the 115-inch wheelbase chassis using 2516 chrome-moly pipe, and he went through the car again to ensure it was straight. Back onto the chassis went front suspension parts from Strange Engineering, Santuff rear shocks, and Pro Comp rear suspension hardware. Mark Williams and Strange supplied the new carbon-fiber brakes, and Stroud was the source for the parachute. Mueller also did all the tinwork in the car, some of which is in carbon-fiber as well.
Inside is mounted a single seat, a Lenco shifter, and a brace of Autometer gauges complete with a high-tech tachometer. Grant supplied the steering wheel while Simpson belts ensure that Matt will again stay put should the 'bird decide again to no longer be grounded.
Meanwhile, yet another front end was created from virgin carbon-fiber, using the stock Superbird mold the team had made to build the first Texas Bad Bird. Unlike some other body designs, a Superbird body isn't readily available. At the time of the car's construction, Matt had bit the bullet and bought a worn-out original '70 Superbird, took it apart, and created hand-laminated master molds for the body. Though not smaller than the original, the finished car is definitely lower to the ground. This time, a bubble was worked into the hood's center to help shroud the blower, and front wheel scoops ala the originals were added to the fenders. The body itself is chopped four inches and uses a flat deck-type spoiler in addition to the original high wing. Onto the one-off fiber panels went a great coat of Spiess-Hecker Petty Blue paint, applied by Kenny's Custom Colors. Von Otto of Waco did the airbrush work. With driver, the race-ready car weighs 2700 pounds.