It's 40 years since The Blue Flame became the first car to achieve 1000km/h, setting a World Land Speed record that lasted 27 years. It could have gone even quicker - but it very nearly didn't make it at all.
If any two cars epitomize the whole musclecar phenomenon, it would have to be the Mopar winged warriors: the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. The appearance of these two cars coincided with the peak of musclecar competition among domestic auto manufacturers. Besides sales victories, the factories were eager for racetrack wins. They firmly believed in the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra.
Mopars were doing fine on drag strips, but the radically styled Ford Talladega and Mercury Cyclone II were usurping Chrysler’s former NASCAR domination. Even Mopar stalwart Richard Petty defected to Ford for 1969.
Dodge entered the “aerodynamic wars” with the 1969 Charger 500, which was more slippery than production Chargers. The Charger 500 had a flush backlight and grille. Its first race was the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside Raceway on February 1, 1969. The Charger 500 was an improvement over the standard Charger, but not as successful as hoped, so the engineers went back to the drawing board.
The improved Charger 500 featured a radical, aerodynamic nose cone, reverse-mounted fender scoops (for tire clearance), and a huge rear wing (influenced by Jim Hall’s revolutionary Chaparral Can-Am racers) that was two feet above the deck lid. In keeping with the 500 theme, the name was changed to the Dodge Charger Daytona. The first race for the new Daytonas was September 9, 1969 at the Talladega 500. Richard Brickhouse won the race in a Daytona. Later, Bobby Isaac set a world closed-course speed record of 201.101 mph in a Daytona (that record stood for 13 years). Dodge clearly had a winner on its hands.
Plymouth longed for NASCAR glory, and they wanted Richard Petty back. Plymouth told Petty they would build him a Road Runner version of the Daytona, so the “King” returned. Plymouth was able to learn from Dodge, but they didn’t have a Charger clone. The 1970 Road Runner had to be quickly modified. Even though the two cars look very similar, they don’t share any parts. The noses and wings are unique to each car. Belvedere front fenders wouldn’t work, so Plymouth modified Dodge Coronet fenders. A filler panel was used with the special convex rear window. Vinyl tops helped hide the quickly executed conversions.
Richard Petty won eight races in his Superbird. Daytonas and Superbirds combined to win all but ten races, and Dodge took the Manufacturers Championship. All those wins prompted rule changes that ended the winged warriors’ supremacy.
Rule changes impacted the number of Daytonas and Superbirds homologated for racing. Dodge worked against a 500-unit rule, but Plymouth was required to build a car for every dealership – almost 2,000 cars. Three Superbird engines were offered – a 440 with a single four-barrel carburetor, a 440 six barrel, and the 426 Hemi. Jim Ferrell’s featured Superbird has the relatively rare 440-6, while Wayne Schmeeckle’s Daytona has the single four-barrel 440 (the Hemi was the sole Daytona option). Both cars have TorqueFlite automatics.
The Daytona/Superbird reign was short, but it left a lasting impression.