Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

A Random Encounter With Old Weird America

superbird

The only good thing about Florida–besides never having to shovel snow–is the little car shows that pop up in the winter. The snowbirds come down, hauling trailers with vintage Corvettes and resto-modded Fords, and you’ll be going for a cup of coffee only to park next to an American Beauty like this.

Just like the album, the Plymouth Superbird came out in 1970 and no one knew what the hell to make of it: even in ’70, this sucker was too garish and silly for most humans; the only reason they made it was because of NASCAR, and something called homologation.

The SC in NASCAR stands for Stock Car–I assume that both A’s stand for America–and that’s the main difference between European motorsport and American car racing. Formula One, owing to its heritage as an aristocrat’s hobby, uses bespoke racers that could never be driven on a normal road (practically or legally); NASCAR, which was started by Southern moonshiners, requires that their cars be (obviously tweaked) versions of autos you could buy at the dealership. (Although–just to make everything confusing–F1’s races are often run on city streets, while stock car races only take place on tracks.)

Put simply: if you wanted to race it, you had to sell it. Homologation.

So for the first couple decades of NASCAR, the automakers did just that, take street cars and turn them into racecars by ripping out everything that wasn’t the chassis or the power plant. (There was no safety equipment. In fact, the concept of “safety” was not invented until around 1981.)

The cars looked like this:

1950s

It’s as if Chrysler had ordered too many right angles and had to get rid of them.

There was some hinckery, obviously–the manufacturers jammed in heavy-duty shocks and exhaust systems, saying they were for cop cars–but for the most part you could see the same cars on the track as you could on the road.

By the late Sixties, everyone was burning dope and smoking Vietnam and protesting bras, and someone in Detroit got a rather clever idea: what if we use the race cars as loss leaders for the normal cars, and build something absurdly fast and eyecatching–designed specifically for the track–and if we sell the production units, we do, and if we don’t, we don’t. Thus, the Plymouth Superbird.

It was one of the first cars built using a computer and a wind-tunnel, and the mathematical formula for the wing’s height was a closely-held corporate secret for years. (The official line was that the absurd thing was so tall as to allow the trunk to open, which I can’t believe was ever said with a straight face.) The nose was extended out almost two feet beyond what you’d see on the Roadrunner the car was based on, and there are several pairs of semi-hidden vents for better air flow around the body.

It wasn’t technically cheating, but it was cheating, and almost everything about the Superbird was banned the next year.

But we–the folks living amongst beige Hyundais and grey Hondas–got lucky. As I mentioned, a certain number had to be produced for the public; in 1970, the rules of homologation changed. Whereas you used to have to only make 500, now there was a ratio: one car for every two dealerships. Plymouth–belonging to Chrysler–had quite a few dealerships, and so around 2,000 Superbirds were made. There’s maybe a thousand left.

This is the wing:

fullsizerender-2

When you honk the horn, it goes MEEP MEEP. This one is Limelight Green. I know a guy who’d buy it.

4 Comments

  1. Reminds me of my high school years in the early 70’s. Maybe I should have bought one of those ugly things then.

  2. Mean, Green, Devil Eating Machine

    November 20, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Da NOSE, ya gotta show the nose!

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