The Wildest of the Wild
While the 1969 Charger Daytona and the 1970 Superbird share some obvious similarities, the only true similarities are the front windshield and side glass. Additionally, their sheet metal nose cones and tall cast aluminum rear wings were unique. For example, the Superbird’s snout is angled downward more than the Daytona’s, and the grille is located on the underside rather than in the front center section. While the “buckets” for the headlights are interchangeable, the turn signals are not. The Superbird’s rear wing is more swept-back, but it is adjustable, just like the Daytona’s. Additionally, all Superbirds featured standard vinyl roofs. This was done simply because it was less expensive to fill in the rear plug window with bondo and cover it with a vinyl top than it was to lead with a torch and then sand, as was the case with all Daytonas.
Although this was a Road Runner Superbird, its drivetrains were largely identical to those of the GTX, with the 375 hp 7.2L (440 cid) Super Commando V8 as standard (instead of the 335 hp 383 V8) and the 390 hp 440 3×2 Six-Pack and 425 hp 426 2×4 Hemi V8s available as options. With any engine, a 4-speed manual transmission (with the ultra-cool pistol-grip shifter) or 3-speed automatic transmission is available, with the automatic transmission available with a column or floor console shift. It shared the Road Runner’s Rallye dashboard, which featured full instrumentation and an optional tachometer/clock, or “tic-toc-tach.” Unlike the Road Runner, however, there was no option for air conditioning, a rear window defroster, or Ram-Air. All Superbirds came standard with power front disc brakes and split top/bottom taillights, and distinctive decals such as the large PLYMOUTH decals on the rear quarter panels and the Road Runner cartoon character wearing a racing helmet surrounded by the words ROAD RUNNER SUPERBIRD in a circular pattern on the side of the rear wing left no doubt about the car’s intentions and origins.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, many muscle cars such as the Dodge Charger R/T, Ford Torino GT, and Plymouth Road Runner not only provided cheap-speed, bang-for-the-buck value to many devoted civilian owners but also doubled as race cars for NASCAR drivers. Automobile manufacturers took their relationships with NASCAR very seriously during that era. The adage “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” was never more applicable than during the 1960s and 1970s. To compete legally on the NASCAR circuit, a car must be available to the general public in a similar model, and a minimum of 500 copies must be available. NASCAR racing equated to significant advertising revenue for automobile manufacturers. After all, what could be a more ringing endorsement for a car manufacturer than having a well-known driver such as Richard Petty or Cale Yarborough win the Daytona 500 in a car manufactured by your company?
And, while we’re on the subject of Richard Petty, he was indirectly responsible for getting the Superbird project off the ground. Richard Petty, who had previously driven and won numerous races in Plymouths, did the unthinkable in 1969 and defected to Ford. Petty was reportedly dissatisfied with the way the new Plymouth Road Runner body style was aerodynamically inefficient in comparison to comparable Fords. Plymouth saw what racer Buddy Baker was capable of accomplishing with his outrageous ’69 Charger Daytona race car, including setting NASCAR records by reaching an unheard-of 200 MPH speed record, and as such, Plymouth was determined to reclaim Petty and was willing to go to any length to do so. Thus, after Dodge discontinued the Charger Daytona in 1969, Plymouth used much of the same technology in the Road Runner in 1970… in an attempt to reclaim Richard Petty. And they did so with this automobile.
Plymouth produced significantly more Superbirds than Dodge produced Charger Daytonas (unofficially, 1935 (officially, 1920), compared to the Daytona’s unofficial production of 500). More Superbirds were produced because NASCAR implemented a new rule in 1970 that allowed limited production cars to race only if they were produced in sufficient quantity to represent half of an automobile manufacturer’s dealerships. These cars were long and difficult to park due to the addition of a two-foot nose cone. They were also quite costly (well over $4,000), equal to the price of a new Chrysler Imperial. The nose cones and wings were manufactured by Creative Industries and painted with a fast-drying lacquer that frequently did not match the factory-applied enamel paint. Due to their high price and subpar quality, Superbirds lingered on dealer lots well into the 1971 (and even 1972) model years. Indeed, some dealers on the east coast have been known to remove the Superbird’s rear wing and nosecone in favor of standard Road Runner front ends in order to move them off their lots (the main way to tell a “converted” Superbird is if it still has the unique Superbird rear window and plugs on top of the rear quarter panels where the wing was removed).