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Media post: The Story Behind the Superbird

superbird

In the late 1970s, NASCAR was becoming a major automotive institution. With large audiences following the weekend races, the car industry noticed something interesting; when a particular car won a race, people went to their local car dealer the next week and bought that car. Essentially, a win at NASCAR was like any other sales campaign; it was a way to sell cars.

During these times, Chrysler Corporation was paying close attention and decided that they needed to start winning as many races as they could. They soon went to work on a NASCAR-killer racecar and what came out of the effort was a specially-modified Plymouth Road Runner. It was called the Superbird. To get the full story behind this car, we spoke with Kim’s Chevrolet of Laurel, MS, an authorized Chevrolet dealer, and they painted the whole picture for us.

Built for NASCAR

As mentioned above, the Plymouth Superbird was built with a singular purpose in mind and that purpose was to win at NASCAR. Problem is that because it was a “stock car race,” in order to race at NASCAR you had to drive a car that was unmodified. Basically this meant whatever car you raced had to be available to the general public. When questioned about this requirement, NASCAR stated that “available to the public” meant each of a company’s dealers needed to have at least one example of the model they wanted to race. This meant Plymouth needed to build 1920 high-performance race cars and ship them to all their dealers. That car was called the Superbird.

Why the wing and nose?

The Superbird was basically a modified Plymouth Road Runner. The first thing they did was make it more streamlined. This was accomplished by adding an aerodynamic nose-cone and a very large rear wing. In the power department, the Superbirds could be had with three engines: a 440 cu. in. Super Commando with a single 4-barrel, a 440 cu. in. with a 6-pack carburetor or a full race engine, the famous 426 hemi. For those who are wondering, only 135 street cars were fitted with the 426 Hemi.

The Superbird at NASCAR

Plymouth competed at 1970 NASCAR with their 426-power Superbird and did quite well. They won eight big races and placed quite high in many more. It certainly didn’t hurt that Richard Petty, known as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers ever, was behind the wheel. In fact, he was the winner of many of those eight big races.

For all the drama, Plymouth made quite a name for itself in the 1970s but sales of actual Superbirds were another story. The exaggerated looks of the ‘Birds was a little extreme for most customers. That being said, the dealer network sold a lot of standard Roadrunners. Today a Superbird, which represents a genuine slice of automotive history, is quite valuable. A nice example of a genuine Superbird with the 426 Hemi option can bring $300,000 to $500,000 at auction.

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