Remember the “Superbirds?”
They were wild, they were eye-catching, they were bizarre. But no matter how you described them, they did catch your eye. They only came in two varieties: the Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird, and they were only around for a little while, but when they appeared on the scene many people wondered what would happen next with automobile design. Both of these legendary models were the result of decades of aerodynamic experimentation by Chrysler Motors and were prompted by NASCAR’s incessant quest for speed on the big tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
The Plymouth Superbird, incidentally, was a highly-modified version of the brand’s popular Road Runner, and carried the conspicuous Wile E. Coyote graphics and the well-known horn. Check it out on the wing and the rear deck in the photo above.
But while NASCAR was looking for speed, and while the Superbirds delivered that commodity in spades, the result became a two-edged sword. Safety issues took center stage when the late Buddy Baker logged a lap speed of 200.447 mph at Talladega in a Dodge Charger Daytona superbird, and driver concerns over what could happen at those speeds prompted formation of NASCAR’s first move toward “collective bargaining” with the formation of the Professional Drivers Association. The result was an embargo of the event intended to be the debut of the winged racing machines in September of 1969–the Talladega 500 at Alabama International Speedway (today known as Talladega Superspeedway). Most of the NASCAR big names chose to withdraw from the event, leaving only two drivers (Richard Brickhouse and Bobby Isaac) to compete in winged 1969 Dodge Daytonas. Brickhouse went on to win the event, with Isaac relegated to a fourth place finish after encountering tire problems, but it was clear that the Superbirds could dominate on the speed charts.
If you’d like to see the Dodge Charger Daytona superbird in action, check out this YouTube video of Buddy Baker becoming the first driver to top the 200 mph: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdwhM5xB-8Y
NASCAR eventually took steps to restrict the use of superbird-type cars with radical aerodynamic designs, primarily because–safety issues aside–the sport was supposed to be “stock car” racing. In other words, cars that the everyday motorist could picture themselves driving. With their protruding nosecone extensions and rear deck wings that stood higher than the roof line, the superbirds looked anything but stock.
In 1969, NASCAR decreed that a minimum of 500 units had to be produced in order for them to qualify to enter an event, and this limit was increased in 1970 to a formula-based calculation that said production had to be at least equal to one unit for every two manufacturers’ dealerships. As a result, Dodge (who had reportedly produced 503 units in 1969) withdrew, while Plymouth rolled out a reported 1,935 units (although original reports put the number at nearly 2,800).
1970 was the second and final year of superbird production. Accelerated emission legislation, escalating insurance costs, and a tighter NASCAR rulebook forced the dramatic design out of competition, and racing returned to its “stock” roots. So the Superbirds disappeared from the NASCAR world, but not from the hearts of motorsports aficionados. In fact, the Plymouth Superbird has attained coveted status in recent years, with the collector car valuation experts at The Hagerty Group reporting that prices for the collectible are averaging $233,000 now and poised to continue growing.