Sunday, October 5, 2014

The holy grail of Nascar vehicles! Show Car Sunday returns with a rotten Fabergé egg!

Alright, I was tooling around upstate with one of my oldest and closest friends on a very specific mission; find and immediately devour a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese. The problem is that this was happening after noon on a Sunday. Deli after deli informed us that they turned off the grill at noon (Rubes!). On our way to the third and successful attempt my friend mentioned that there were sometimes old cars parked at this gas station along the way, AND THIS IS WHAT WE FOUND! 
Holy Toledo you've got to be kidding me! Ladies and gentleman what we have here today is the fabled 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. If you haven't seen one before I'll say this; yes that huge wing is original. It's very easy to discern the year of this ride because this is the only year it was offered. Less than 2,000 total were built and most of them lived a hard life on the dragstrip so they've become extremely rare and valuable to collectors.
What a breath of fresh rusty air this is to see! For whatever reason this 'bird remains a well-used Plymouth from 1970 as opposed to a show car; registered, insured, and driven around the area by the dude who owns it. The fact that it is heavily rotted and scratched makes this mythical beast seem within reach of the common man (the common man who's got $75,000 to $100,000 to drop on one in this condition!).
To make this outrageous car even more noticeable Plymouth licensed the Road Runner name and image for the wing graphics. Hidden under the hood is a less-noticeable result of this branding; all Road Runners came with a special "beep beep" horn installed that would mimic the cartoon characters signature sound when the horn was pressed. In high school a friend of mine bought a Jeep pickup truck that someone had installed an original Road Runner horn into. Originals are worth hundreds these days.
*By the way the original wing is made out of aluminum which accounts for its lack of rust.
Oh man the body rot resulting from moisture trapped under the vinyl roof is not for the faint of heart. On this car though it's completely worth the restoration cost. Superbirds all came with a slightly smaller rear window, smoothing out the corner of the roofline as a part of the overall aerodynamic package. For the Nascar cars the modified metal roof was finished nicely, but the regular street versions such as this one all came with a black vinyl covering as standard so they wouldn't have to bother making the frankenstein-patched roof look perfect.
 The etching on the rear quarter window says something like "YES I'M FAMOUS".
The Superbird was actually a 1 year only follow up to the Dodge Charger Daytona of 1969 which was essentially the same car. The Dodge with it's over-the-top wing and nose extension was originally designed for use in Nascar races, and has the distinction of being the very first automobile to be designed using a wind tunnel for aerodynamics. 
Nascar rules at the time stated that only production cars could be used in racing. This meant that at least 500 had to be produced to satisfy the requirement (503 came off the assembly line in total for '69). The following year it was the Plymouth taking over with the Superbird as the Daytona was dropped from the Dodge lineup. However, Nascar decided to up the number of minimum units produced to qualify as a production car to at least 2 examples per dealership, which raised the figure to 1,920. In 1971 Nascar further changed the rules enough to disqualify any high-winged cars by lowering the allowable horsepower for them to untenable levels.
Here she is from the front with the somewhat ridiculous 19" nose extension. The cone and the wing combined to make for a dominating race car, but the improvement on performance only started at higher speeds. In the 1/4 mile the regular wingless Road Runner was actually quicker because it wasn't hauling around the extra weight of the modifications. At the 1970 Daytona 500 these winged beasts finished in not only 1st place, but 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 10th as well! Unfair advantage! 
Those reverse hood scoops on top of the front fenders serve a purpose, though it's not the one most people think. Common belief was that the huge racing tires needed just that much extra clearance when stuffed inside the factory wheel wells. When you think about it though the car wouldn't even be able to steer if the tires were so large that they poked through the tops of the fenders! The real reason was to allow the air to escape so the car wouldn't lift up in the front at Nascar speeds.
The color on this car is Alpine White, however this nose extension looks to have the amazingly-named '70 color Vitamin-C Orange poking out from beneath. If this car was in decent overall shape I would surmise that this was a regular old Road Runner that someone made into a Superbird clone with the nose and wing of a wrecked donor car (and this may still be the case). However, with the entire car being so universally beat up I'm inclined to think this was a replacement after an old fender-bender from back when you could still find parts for these things. In the notoriously purple-hazed assembly lines of the 1970 Chrysler assembly plants they might've had an orange nose painted over in white at the factory (seriously; there are dozens of legendary mistakes and quick fixes from Chrysler Corporation in this era. The sloppy craftsmanship was so rampant that current judges of 100-point show cars will knock points off for your restored car being too perfectly! To be authentic you need to have paint overspray throughout the engine bay and underneath).
The sweet aerodynamic lines of the body can still be appreciated here. That line that wraps under the lights, around the corner and over the fenders all the way to the back is slick! 
Here's a serious car geek clue when looking at one of these cars to discern whether it's an original or a regular Road Runner with an aftermarket conversion kit (which are still available on Ebay): that thick stainless steel windshield pillar was only available on Daytonas and Superbirds as a part of the overall aerodynamic treatment.
The old guy working at the garage was tailing about this car as if they were everywhere and he'd never spend much to have one. I think he's spent a lot of time in that garage!
Inside is straight-up Plymouth circa 1970. Superbirds did not have air conditioning available as an option, and as a result most came with a black plastic cover where those vents are beneath the radio. Could it be an aftermarket or dealer-installed a/c unit? Just vents hooked up to the heater? Again, if this was a clone it was about as comprehensive as it gets with the smaller rear window and stainless windshield pillars. Also it would have had to have been done so long ago that the car could rot away to pieces. Back when it would have been done the original 'birds were still available for not-too-crazy money, so I'm still thinking it's the real deal.
YES I'M FAMOUS on the other 1/4 window too!
For decades the motor head community figured that the mathematics behind the height of the wing was a closely guarded secret of the Chrysler corporation. All this was put to bed when a former executive recently revealed the real reason; they wanted the trunk to be able to open and it needed that much clearance! A great lesson for conspiracy theorists.
When these cars were new they were so tough to sell that some remained on new car lots with heavy discounts up until 1972! There were even dealers that converted Superbirds back to regular Road Runners to unload them. Imagine buying a Road Runner for $15,000 and decoding the VIN only to find that it was originally a Superbird worth ten times that! Sounds impossible I know, but so is finding one of the rarest and most outrageous artifacts of racing history in a gravel lot in upstate New York.
By the way, the Bacon Egg & Cheeses were delicious.

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