What do you get when you mix the King of NASCAR and one of the world’s most prestigious classic car shows? Those lucky enough to attend the 15th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance recently had the chance to find out, as Richard Petty was honored at this year’s event in mid-March, and was the keynote speaker at the gala dinner as well.
Even better? The seven-time NASCAR champion brought along some of his hallmark racers, including a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere, 1974 Dodge Charger and 1982 Buick Regal—and perhaps Petty’s most iconic ride, the amazing 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird.
The Superbird, with its towering rear spoiler and radically designed nose, was perhaps the most aerodynamically advanced NASCAR racer of its time. Essentially a further refined version of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the first NASCAR car designed with the benefit of wind-tunnel testing, the Superbird packed a monster 426-cubic-inch HEMI—that’s 7 liters—capable of making 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque. That made the ‘bird one of the fastest cars of its era as well, capable of more than 200 mph. In fact, the car was so quick, and so far ahead of the sport’s then-current tire technology, that NASCAR had to implement new rules in 1971 to slow the vehicle down.
The most amazing part of the powerful Plymouth’s performance specs: The production model shared them; well, at least 135 cars did. The Superbird was designed from the start as a NASCAR racer, but back then, drivers could only compete in vehicles that were actually on sale to the public; 135 HEMI-powered units was the minimum that needed to be produced to meet this requirement. All told, only 1,920 Superbirds were built, all in 1970, before increasing emissions regulations and high insurance premiums ended the car’s production.
The remaining cars from that short run were outfitted with one of two other engines available on the Superbird, two even bigger V8s (440 cubic inches/7.2 liters). The 440 Super Commando leveraged a single, four-barrel carburetor—remember those?—to develop 375 hp, while the Super Commando 440+6, rocking triple two-barrel carbs, put up 390 horses. The two transmission choices were either Chrysler’s long-running three-speed automatic or a Hurst four-speed manual.
All that power was used to drive a car that was relatively lightweight, especially considering its length. The Superbird weighed in at a bit over 3,800 lbs, spread out over approximately 220 inches of Plymouth coupe. For comparison’s sake, the biggest high-performance Chrysler product today is the Dodge Charger SRT8—now a sedan, of course—and it’s some 20 inches shorter and a couple hundred pounds heavier. Street-ready Superbirds could turn 0-60 times of about 5.5 seconds, just a half second behind today’s Charger.
Another interesting comparison comes when looking at MSRPs: While the SRT8 currently stickers at $40,630, Branford Dodge points out that the Superbird cost about ten times less, sporting a price tag of under $4,300. Of course, that was in 1970; to get into one of these super-rare Superbirds today, Philadelphia Dodge says it takes a super-size bank account: At a Barrett-Jackson auction earlier this year, a a HEMI Superbird went for a cool $286,000.
Petty Blue Superbird
1970 Plymouth Superbird 440 6-Pak 4Spd.
And of course, the Road Runner’s horn
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