Courtesy of Bonhams
  • 440-ci OHV V8 “Super Commando” powerplant
  • Single 4-barrel downdraft carburetor
  • 3-speed automatic
  • Numbers-matching
  • Three owners from new
  • Recently completed six-year restoration
  • Bucket seats/console/floor shift

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1970 Plymouth Superbird
Years Produced:1970
Number Produced:1,084 440-ci, 4-barrel cars, 716 cars with the 440-ci Six Pack. There were 135 Hemi cars. A total of 1,935 cars were made.
Original List Price:$4,298
SCM Valuation:$152,600
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:$18.40
Chassis Number Location:VIN plate on the driver’s side instrument panel behind windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad on top of the block near water pump.
Club Info:The Daytona-Superbird Auto Club
Website:http://www.superbirdclub.com
Alternatives:1969 Dodge Daytona, 1969 Ford Talladega, 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II

This car, Lot 104, sold for $154,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel, CA, on August 18, 2017.

If you’re reading this magazine, you probably know the story of Chrysler’s “Winged Warriors.”

If you’re a real Mopar fan, you know the part numbers, paint codes and racing stats, so I’ll be brief and outline the basics.

Winging to victory

In 1969, Dodge started developing a NASCAR-winning racer to combat the Ford Talladegas and Mercury Cyclone Spoilers. Those FoMoCo cars were introduced to counter the flat-grille Charger 500 in a seesaw battle for oval-track supremacy.

Working with a wind tunnel, Dodge engineers came up with a drag-reducing nose and lift-controlling rear wing to create the Daytona.

The enhancements worked, and Buddy Baker was officially clocked driving a Daytona at 200 mph at Talladega. To meet NASCAR homologation rules, 503 street cars were produced.

The next year, Plymouth wanted in on the action and decided to add Daytona-like mods to the Road Runner. Plymouth stylists tweaked the Dodge nose and swept back the wing uprights.

As a result, the Mopar B-body cousins do not share any sheet metal, and their aero kits are different as well. By then NASCAR had changed its rules, and Plymouth was required to build more than 1,900 cars for homologation. The aero cars dominated, which led to NASCAR changing the rules because of safety and competition concerns. The Aero Car era was over by 1971.

Variations on a theme

Plymouth produced the Superbird in three basic flavors:

  • The base 440-ci engine with a 4-barrel which produced 375 hp.
  • The 390-hp 440-ci engine with the Six Pack of three 2-barrel carburetors.
  • The 426-ci, 425-hp Hemi.

All three could be ordered with the A833 4-speed or the TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic. Interiors were white or black, with a standard bench seat and column shift — or buckets and a floor shift. All came with power steering, power brakes and a vinyl roof to ease the amount of body finishing required around the special rear window.

What’s under the hood?

As you might expect, the engine choices go a long way to determine the value of these cars today.

At the top of the heap are the 135 Hemi cars — just 58 had 4-speeds — with a current ACC Pocket Price Guide median valuation of $330,000.

Entry-level 440-ci, 4-bbl cars like our subject car are at $152,600.

The Six Pack cars are in the middle, with a median valuation of $170,500. This is not bad for a car with an original base price of just under $4,300.

That price, while a sizeable premium over a base Road Runner, was still several hundred dollars less than a Corvette.

Fast on the track, slow on the lot

What seems in retrospect like the performance deal of the century didn’t look so great to Plymouth dealers at the time.

Despite their race-winning heritage, legend has it that Superbirds were slow getting off dealers’ lots.

Over the years, stories were told of deep discounts (which probably were true) and of cars being converted into straight Road Runners.

“Stories of removal of noses and wings and huge numbers of unsold cars are generally tall tales that grow in stature from person to person,” said Doug Schellinger, president of the Daytona-Superbird Auto Club. “These kinds of things are largely unsubstantiated, but there were a few.”

Schellinger said the Superbird’s unique look and performance was appreciated at the time.

“I have met a number of original owners who said they knew the cars were a one-shot deal and they had to act if they wanted one,” Schellinger said.

Still, the end of the muscle-car era in the early 1970s made nearly-new cars bargains.

In 1973, a friend bought a Lemon Twist Yellow, Six Pack Superbird with pistol-grip shifter and bucket seats for $1,700 off a lot in an Eastern Washington farm town.

Value peaks and valleys

The winged Mopars eventually became the bellwether for muscle car prices.

One of the first ’Birds in the ACC Premium Auction Database is a condition 2 440 automatic that sold for $36,650 at a 1999 Mecum auction.

At the time, our reporter said the car was “bought right at the retail market” (ACC # 10745).

Near the height of the market in 2006, a car with the same specifications as our subject car brought $169,500 at McCormick’s Palm Springs sale (ACC# 43694).

The next year, a Hemi brought $529,200 at an RM event (ACC# 73873).

Following the 2007 correction, prices slowly rebounded. By 2011, the SCM Pocket Price Guide listed a price range of $86k to $128k for a 440-ci, 4-barrel car and $191k to $270k for a Hemi.

Happily for Superbird owners, prices have been steadily rising since 2011.

Fairly bought for condition

Our profile car is well equipped, with bucket seats, console, AM radio, Rim Blow steering wheel and Rallye road wheels.

The car is in its original Tor Red — aka Hemi Orange — color. A three-owner car, it was said to have been the recipient of a six-year restoration using only OEM parts.

However, a close look at auction website photos suggests a Mopar expert did not restore the car. Two issues are significant:

  • The lower part of the left front valance panel doesn’t smoothly line up with the front of the wheel opening.
  • The radiator is incorrect , and the upper hose is on the incorrect (left) side.

Lesser, more nitpicky, items include:

  • The headlight trim appears to be painted instead of a decal.
  • The hood pins are set 90 degrees off.
  • The lower grille appears to be unpainted, and a modern battery is installed.
  • The photos don’t show a jack and a spare tire in the trunk. These items can be expensive.
  • The radio has mismatched knobs, and a trim piece is missing under the steering column.
  • Finally, if you want a “day one” appearance, the car should be on Goodyear Polyglas GT tires.

In other words, our Superbird is a nice car, but it’s not quite 100%. The sale price, including Bonhams’ buyer’s fee, is $1,400 above the current ACC Median Valuation, so this car is fairly bought.

A “one-shot deal”

Even among notoriously partisan muscle-car fans, when new, the Mopar wing cars were something special.

With an undisputed racing pedigree, vivid colors, cartoon-character graphics — and that tall wing and bumperless nose — the sheer outrageousness of a Superbird or Daytona was the heart of their appeal.

To many of my generation, the cars became a touchstone of the period — as much as films or music of the day. While today’s prices mean they’re priced out of reach for many fans, they do show the cars are recognized as the icons they are.

The Superbird club estimates that more than 1,300 of the 1,935 built remain. That’s good news for future generations of car lovers, who will have the chance to see what all the excitement was about.

Oh, my friend who bought his for $1,700… he still has it.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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