Plymouth's Winged Warrior
Al Rogers - December 08, 2011 10:00 AM
“The 1970 Plymouth Superbird went to the top of Steve’s dream car list years ago after meeting the King of NASCAR, Richard Petty,”
A One-time Bristol International Speedway “Plymouth Road Runner Superbird” Pace Car has resurfaced in the “Motor City” minus the graphics
NASCAR racing and big block Mopars have been a huge part of Steve Liabenow’s life. His family has been attending Bristol 500 races for nearly 30 years as season ticket holders.
During a typical oval track racing event, it’s hard to miss the pace car at the front of the pack. Automobile manufacturers jockey each year for the opportunity to have their product at the forefront showcasing a current model. Back in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s, it was common for private companies or individuals to dress up a special automobile with unique graphics, decals and paint scheme as an advertising tool or rolling billboard.
The pace car also serves as a group organizer at the start of a race and during interruptions to control the flow of traffic caused by crashes, blown tires and other unforeseen circumstances during the typical NASCAR event. It takes a special driver and automobile like the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird to serve as the “Official Pace Car”.
In 2010, Steve Liabenow had the fortune to acquire one of the most recognized and coveted automobiles from NASCAR’s past. Tucked away in North Carolina was a numbers-matching Fire Blue Metallic 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. While talking to the owner’s widow prior to the purchase, she revealed this Superbird had a connection to NASCAR racing.
The original owner resided in Kingsport, Tennessee, and used it as a pace car at Bristol International Speedway during the NASCAR racing season in the early ’70s to showcase his Oakwood Union 76 filling station. The exact nature of its role is not clear but documents and photographs support the claim.
Purchased new from Alley Motors in Church Hill, Tennessee, a short distance from Bristol International Speedway, the Superbird was done up with traditional colorful logos, decals and stickers to get the word out or advertise his local business. It remained in full pace car form until early 2000 when the owner attempted to put it back to factory form, only to realize it was too late. The (B5) Fire Blue Metallic paint was stained and faded beyond a typical rubout or polish state. A professional factory correct paint finish was applied and has held up extremely well after nearly 10 years with no signs of wear or degradation.
Under the hood of this original Superbird (except for the one repaint)is a well detailed “born with” 440 Super Commando V-8 engine factory rated at a modest 375 horsepower rating at 4,600 rpm. The factory original interior includes a Hurst four-speed shifter, tic-toc tachometer and standard AM radio.
Performance options include power steering, front power disc brakes, Hemi suspension, heavy-duty shocks, Trak Pak and Dana rear axle. Additional options include a set of original factory rally wheels and adjustable driver’s side remote door mirror.
The trunk compartment and deck lid underside with original paint and grease pencil markings remain factory original. It appears the area was left untouched during the one repaint. A factory original window sticker, build sheet and additional documentation came with the purchase of this thoroughbred.
Chrysler developed the Plymouth Superbird for NASCAR, or stock car racing as it was commonly referred to, in 1970. It was a spin-off from the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona. The platform dates back to the 1969 Dodge Charger 500 and has the honor of being the first American car to be designed aerodynamically using a wind tunnel and computer analysis. Ford Motor Company had the 1969 Torino Talladega and the two American muscle car giants went head-to-head on the stock car circuit.
Many in the stock car fraternity support the notion that the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird was built to lure Richard Petty back to the Mopar brand. Petty had hooked up with Ford Motor Company during the 1969 season after being with Chrysler for many years. In 1970, he was behind the wheel of a Petty Blue Plymouth Road Runner Superbird sporting the iconic #43.
He’s owned several Mopars including a 1969 Dodge Coronet RT, 1969 Plymouth Hemi Road Runner, 1970 Panther Pink Dodge Challenger T/A and an original 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda with Six-Pack.
A few years back, he purchased a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona. It was kept for a couple years then replaced with a 1969 Dodge Charger 500. Though pleased with the purchase, the “Winged Car” urge got the best of him once again. Enter the 1970 Plymouth Superbird.
The 1970 Plymouth Superbird went to the top of Steve’s dream car list years ago after meeting the King of NASCAR, Richard Petty, at a local event and seeing the world famous #43 Petty Blue Plymouth Road Runner Superbird at a museum. His collection of Richard Petty memorabilia is extensive and includes a signed vintage style race helmet, die-cast cars, Richard Petty album and Petty Blue with white striped racing jacket, to name a few.
Purchased in 2010, he enjoys taking his 1970 Plymouth Superbird to events with his wife Kelle and their two daughters, Jade and Hannah. It’s received numerous awards including Best of Show at the Roush museum car show in Livonia, Michigan.
As part of winning the top award, a local radio station will display the 1970 Plymouth Superbird at the 2012 Detroit Autorama.