Winged Warriors


Winged Warriors - 1969 Dodge Daytona & 1970 Plymouth Superbird


The Dodge Charger Daytona

NASCAR in 1969 stipulated that any car raced in their series had to be available for sale and must build a minimum of five hundred for the general public. Since the Charger 500 was not fast enough, Dodge went back into the wind tunnel and created one of the most outrageous and most sought after Chargers, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona.

The Daytona used a pointed nose piece that added 18 inches into the front of the car. This gave the car the down-force that the engineers were looking for, but the rear end still tended to lift at speed. To solve this, they mounted a large wing over the trunk lid which would give the Charger Daytona and its sister car, the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, the nickname of "wing cars". 
The wing was 23 inches tall so that the trunk could be open without hitting the bottom of the wing. Slightly modified fenders and a hood from the upcoming 1970 Charger were used on the Daytona. Rear facing scoops were added to the front fenders, right above the tires, which mimicked their NASCAR brothers. But while they looked cool they didn't add any aerodynamic advantage. They were only used to help with tire rub. 

Only 503 Charger Daytonas were built with either 440 Magnum or 426 Hemi power. All Daytonas wore red, black, or white bumble stripes that bore the name "Daytona" in the middle of the stripe. The wings were painted the same color as the stripes. The "wing cars" would prove to be so fast and dominating that NASCAR effectively outlawed them for the 1971 season, as a new regulation was introduced that restricted all "aero" cars to a maximum engine displacement of 5.0 L (305 in³), down from the previous 7.0 L (429 in³).


The Plymouth Superbird 


As a result, Chrysler engineers cobbled some pieces together and built a Plymouth version of the Charger Daytona with a 1970 Dodge Coronet hood and fenders for the sole purpose of getting Petty to come back to Plymouth. At that time though, NASCAR took the 'stock' in stock car racing reasonably seriously - vehicles to be raced had to be available to the general public and sold in sufficient numbers, a requirement known as homologation. In fact, in 1970, NASCAR raised the production requirement from 500 examples to one for each of that manufacturer's dealers in the United States; for Plymouth, that meant having to build 1,920 Superbirds. 1970 would prove to be its only production year.
The Superbird was basically a modified Plymouth Roadrunner, but it was realized that while it was alright on the street to have the 'aerodynamics of a brick' (typical of most American cars of the period), something a little better would help at high racing speeds. So, following the lead of the previous year's Dodge Charger Daytona, the Superbird sported an aerodynamic nosecone adding nineteen inches to the length and containing retractable headlights, a slightly smoothed-out body, and to counter a tendency to lightness at high speed, a rear wing was mounted high on very tall tail fins. The reason for the fins was mostly to give clearance beneath them to lift the trunk deck lid, but it probably didn't hurt that it put the wing into less disturbed air.

The name "Superbird" appeared on a decal placed on the outsides of the vertical fins of the rear spoiler, with a picture of the Roadrunner cartoon character. This was a natural equivalent of the Dodge Super Bee, and had nothing to do with the Ford Thunderbird.

All Superbirds used for racing were fitted with the 426 Hemi engine, but for the street, two lesser engines were available, the 440 Super Commando with a single 4-barrel carburetor and the 440 Six Pack with three two-barrel carbs. Only 135 street cars were fitted with the 426 Hemi; 665 took the option of the 440 Six Pack, and the rest were equipped with the 440 Super Commando.

On the street, the nosecone and wing made quite an impression, but the aerodynamic improvements hardly made a difference there or on the drag strip. In fact, the 1970 Road Runner was a slight touch quicker down the quarter mile. At 90 mph or greater, though, things were quite different.

The Superbird did reasonably well against strong Ford opposition on the NASCAR tracks that year, winning eight races and placing well in many more. It didn't hurt, of course, that Richard Petty, known as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers, was behind the wheel of a Superbird that year.

Contrary to popular belief, the Superbird, and the other "aero-body" cars in NASCAR, were not banned outright. The rules implemented for the 1971 season limited the aero cars to an engine displacement of no greater than 305 cid (5.0 liters). So while they were still legal to race, the extreme loss of horsepower which would come with the smaller engine, rendered the cars uncompetitive.

The Superbird's styling proved to be a little extreme for 1970 tastes (many customers preferred the regular Road Runner), and as a consequence, many examples sat unsold on the back lots of dealerships. In fact, some were converted back into 1970 Road Runners in order to sell them. In recent years, a Superbird has become quite valuable. A car in good condition can reach $50,000 to $70,000 USD or more, even with the more common 440 Super Commando, and examples with the 426 Hemi fitted at the factory (retrofitted doesn't count) and in near-perfect condition have changed hands for about $250,000. On eBay, bids for original Superbirds crossed $100,000. In a stark turn of events from 1970, some manufacturers are currently making kits to convert standard 1970 Road Runners and Satellites into Superbirds.

In 1999, the Superbird and the Plymouth Road Runner were featured in the game Gran Turismo 2. In 2005, the Superbird was featured in Gran Turismo 4, as one of two Plymouth models; the other being the Barracuda. I n 2006, the Richard Petty #43 Superbird was rendered as a cartoon character, and featured in the Pixar movie "Cars" -- voiced by none other than Petty.


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