There is nothing subtle about a Plymouth Superbird.
And that’s exactly the reason Bill Dallas loves the car.
“I wanted to own one of these since I was a kid,” he says, adding that they represent a brief era we will never see again in the world of automobiles.
He loves the in-your-face styling. The monster 440 cubic-inch engine fed via triple two-barrel carbs. And the huge wing and aero nose.
Best of all, he loves the fact that the cars were built to do one thing, and one thing only. They were designed to lure Richard Petty back into the MoPar fold and have him race around the high-banked superspeedways at Daytona and Talledega. The Petty and Superbird combo were so good at it that NASCAR emasculated the car after a single season, essentially killing it chances to meet its full potential.
The MoPar winged cars debuted in 1969 when Dodge brought out its potent Daytona to compete with the stockers fielded by Ford and Chevrolet. By the end of 1970, Chrysler pulled the plug on the project.
Petty had established his reputation as a Plymouth pilot, and when he found out Plymouth would not have its own version of the Daytona, he bolted and went to Ford for the season.
That lit a fire under the engineers at Plymouth, which hired Creative Industries to begin piecing together a car to run the next season. Plymouth also had to produce 2,000 of the final version to meet NASCAR’s requirement that its racecars had to be based on assembly-line vehicles.
Building them was one thing, selling them was quite another. While some dealers scrambled to get more than their allotted winged cars, other dealers complained they couldn’t sell the outrageous-looking package and had to move them via heavy discounts...two years later.
Dallas’s car is not one of those original 2,000.
“It’s a clone,” he says right off. “The most common question about the car is asking if it is real.
“If it was a real Superbird, it would be too valuable to drive on the street,” he says. “And why have it if you are afraid to drive it?”
He guesses about half the original cars exist today.
“Some of them got cut up and some of them ended up wrapped around telephone poles,” he says.
Dallas says his car began life as a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner with a 383 Magnum engine, bench seat and black, vinyl roof.
“It was drag raced most of its life,” he says. The original owner converted it to the Superbird body style and raced it in the Northeast for years.
Although it looks like a Superbird, it is different from an original in a number of ways. The headlight doors are welded shut and the lights fill the grill opening. There is no vinyl over the roof and the rear window isn’t correct. There also are no wind deflectors on the A-pillars.
It’s racing days over, the car was retired and put into a garage in Brooklyn, where it was stored for almost 20 years.
When Dallas purchased it via an on-line auction, the car had only 35,000 miles on it.
The previous owner agreed to swap the bench seat interior for a bucket seat configuration, more fitting the Superbird style.
“The car also had huge flairs on the rear quarter panels,” Dallas says. “They were all chicken wire, fiberglass and Bondo.
“I cut those out and replaced them with original sheet metal.”
At the time he considered repainting that car from the eyeball-searing green to a deep, rich purple.
“But I didn’t want to spend the time doing a complete repaint,” says the body shop owner. “Now, over the years, the green has kinda grown on me.”
It has “grown” enough that he uses the same color on two other cars he races on the road course at Portland International Raceway in Oregon.
Dallas takes the Superbird to the road course at least once a year. Each fall he uses the car to give rides during a fund raiser for the local children’s hospital.
It takes up a lot of racetrack. The car weighs in at about 4200 pounds and stretches roughly 18-and-a-half feet from the tip of the nose to the back edge of the high rear wing.
“We’ve done a bit of suspension work on the car, stiffer sway bar and lower rear end, so it actually handles pretty well on the track.”
He’s also added a full compliment of NASCAR-style racing decals and Petty’s traditional ‘43’ to the doors and roof.
On nice days, the Superbird is parked outside his Portland body shop, where it as effective as any flashing neon in drawing attention to his business.
Inside the shop -which has turned out some stunning work that has rolled across the stand at Barret-Jackson auctions -he’s working on a Superbird convertible.
“It’s a car Plymouth never produced, but that I thought would be a neat looking project.”
He says most parts for the Superbird are still available. There are some good ones and some bad ones, and because most of them are hand-built, many of them won’t interchange.
“You just have to be careful when you buy,” he cautions.
What would Dallas do differently if he were building the car?
“I wouldn’t put air conditioning in it, and I’d have working headlight doors,” he says. “And I’d paint it ‘Plum Crazy’ purple.
“Oh, and I’d build a 500 cubic inch stroker motor,” he says. “Something with a lot more power.”
Even Richard Petty would approve.