BARTERING AWAY FIVE TO GET ONE AMAZING TOR-RED SUPERBIRD
In the scheme of Holy Grail muscle cars, this has to be one of them. Not only does it feature that awesome wedge shape and clothes-line rear deck spoiler, it has red hot Tor-red paint and the most incredible powertrain ever: a 426-cid Hemi engine backed with a Pistol-grip-shifted four-speed and Dana 60 rear end.
Yep, this one checks all the boxes.
The restoration of this 1970 Plymouth “Tribute” Superbird began after some pretty slick trading by the owner. Part horse trader with more than a side of culinary acumen, Brad Toles always wanted one of the legendary wing cars. At the time, he had a number of cars under construction, but a backyard full of cars needing some serious love to revive. To get the picture, Swiss cheese has fewer holes than the five cars Toles had located over time.
Enter one very rough Roadrunner. While a five for one trade rarely has merit, for Toles there was one element of the Road Runner that really caught his eye — the brand-new steel nose that came with the rough bird. As car negotiations go, this one was rather simple. Five for one and where there once was a load of cars to be restored, Toles now had one on which to focus.
As has become his way, Toles loves Hemi-powered machines. While he has several cars that were originally equipped with 426-cid Hemi engines, he has dedicated himself to building cars that feature these powerplants. So it was clear from the outset that the Road Runner would soon not only become a Superbird courtesy of that rare steel nose, it’d be running Hemi power under the Tor-red paint. It wasn’t long before the Road Runner was going under the knife, replacing those Swiss cheese panels for OE components he had collected over the years.
With the new body panels in place, Tribute Superbird began to take shape. While it’s common for Superbirds, both real and recreated, to have a fiberglass nose, the original factory cars wore the steel beak. Finding an original metal one isn’t easy. Upon review, the Superbird’s hood and fenders are also quite different from the factory Road Runner parts. With the skill of a brain surgeon, Toles and his team blended and shaped all of these components to build out the proper Superbird shape.
If you pulled up a photo of a 1970 Plymouth Superbird in a magazine that fateful year, you’d probably have seen the requisite photo of a magazine journalist sitting on the rear wing. The point to all of that was that these pieces were really strong, destined to deliver significant downforce on superspeedways around the NASCAR circuit. With its strikingly pointed nose that cut through the Talladega Speedway air like a hot knife through butter, the Dodge Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds of the era struck fear in the competition from Ford and Chevrolet.
In his book, American Racing Classics, Bob Myers quotes Chrysler Team GM Harry Hyde about his experience with the Superbirds and Daytonas of the era.
Said Hyde, concerning the Superbirds before they were reduced to 305cid for the 1971 season, “There is no telling how fast they would have run. Two hundred and eighty wouldn’t have been out of the question with the tires we have today. But it’s really just a guess as they (Dodge Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds) were almost the perfect race car. They were so stable. They had real low drag numbers, and we all know how important low drag numbers have become.”
As to handling, Hyde indicated that the wing was paramount in importance, as Myers quoted Hyde as saying, “You could just tilt the wing and make the car either loose or tight, whatever you wanted. No matter what the driver wanted, you could give it to him. The wing was tilted 11 degrees to start with, and this was almost perfect. But if needed, you could change the handling of the car just by tilting the wing. They were the easiest cars I’ve ever had to work with [but] NASCAR could see that they were too fastback then. The
speeds were getting out of control. Yeah,” Hyde continued, “The worst thing about the Daytona (and Superbird) was they helped create the carburetor plate. Later in the 1970 season, carburetor restrictor plates were required at Michigan, resulting in speeds being cut there by about 5 mph.”
The role of the Dodge Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird in racing history make this Tribute Superbird all more significant. With a shape unmistakable from an era when high performance was a key to marketing automobiles in America (remember
the adage of the era: Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday) these two vehicles did an admirable job of selling Chryslers — and share a legacy with Hellcat Dodges, Red Eyes, and Demons that live on today.
“The Toles Tribute Superbird is as impressive in person as it is in print,” says writer Cam Benty. “We photographed the Tor-red Superbird on a very hot day in Palm Springs, California, and the car drove very well. It was 119 according to our chase car temp display, and we had no issues running it around town. With that big camshaft the car cranked out a proper lope on idle and under power it roared through the Street Hemi mufflers. It was a great day all
around – both car and support team survived the day.
Upon completion of the ’Bird, Toles reached out to his former trading partner to show him just what had become of his rusty Road Runner. “He wanted to know if I wanted to trade back,” said Toles. “While that was a kind offer, I was pleased with the car and how my end of the bargain turned out. No deal!”
No American car in history, with the exception of its cousin the Dodge Daytona, strikes a more impressive pose than the 1970 Plymouth Superbird.
That unmistakable Superbird wing is adjustable, allowing racers to turn the downforce of the wing to help the car handle at high speed. These wings were super strong as well — nothing subtle about this car in any way.
With the baseplate covering the twin Holley 800-cfm carburetors, the engine compartment looks a lot more like the original. Aside from the addition of the MSD Billet distributor and thicker than stock MSD wires, no one can tell the huge horsepower output it packs.
In keeping with the Hemi theme but stir in a helping of modern engine technology, the Superbird sports a warmed up 426 Hemi that has grown to 477 cid and cranks out something over 700 hp.
No race car would be ready for the track without hoodpins. This view also shows the dramatic hood modification required to make it meet up correctly with the steel Superbird nose.
The trim tag on this Road Runner notes the large number of performance and comfort options included with this car when new.
These fender vents allow air out from underhood to keep the front end from lifting at speed.
This tray, ahead of the core support, helps to fill the void between the nose and the front of the engine compartment. It’s covered by the extended hood design. It also locates the hood latch mechanism.
The Toles Tribute Superbird uses all the factory suspension pieces including the Street Hemi rear leaf springs and Hemi torsion bars. The ride is very comfortable with no harsh qualities.
The Holley double pumper carbs are wired so that the choke stays open, the heat of Palm Springs rarely requiring much of a warm up. The intake is a Mopar Performance single-plane unit, and the Keith Black aluminum cylinder heads have been reworked to help the 477-cid engine get to over 700 hp.
Superbirds also came equipped with the Road Runner horn. The signature purple horn is located in the far forward passenger-side section of the engine compartment.
The doors on the Superbird were all business and as simple as possible with door release, armrest and window crank. No electric windows here; power motors would just have added unnecessary weight.
All Superbirds came with vinyl roofs to reduce the amount of time required by the factory to metal finish the tops. The vinyl roof covering made up for a number of final fitment challenges.
Most Chrysler products of the era had similar dashboard equipment but the huge, by comparison, brake failure light was a bad one if it happened to come on when you were driving.
The speedometer and tachometer were positioned right in front of the drive on the Superbird, the tach at the right featuring at clock at its center — thus called the “Tic Toc Tach.”