The cars we loved.
This is the time of year when many Americans swell with nationalistic pride. As the birthplace of the pony and muscle car (or super car as they were called back then). Americans have taken the front engine rear wheel drive concept to many extremes (often at the expense of other concerns). It’s these extremes that many Baby Boomers tend to romanticize. When it’s not a Mustang, the cars that are part of these daydreams are often Chrysler products. Think Charger, Daytona, Barracuda, Road Runner, Duster and the list goes on.
The legacy of the muscle and pony car is one of the few marketing assets that the Chrysler-Fiat group has to lean on in America. Dodge with it’s He Man V8 powered bad boy line up arguably makes America’s most extensive homage to the muscle car. Maybe that’s why cars like the Dart or Chrysler’s 200 can’t seem to get a grip in the market because Dodge is where America gets big cars and even bigger trucks. Whens the last time you saw a bad guy in a film driving a dart or Chrysler 200?
Every since the new Challenger appeared in 2008, Dodge has been cashing in on it’s performance heritage with a 70′-74′ Challenger/Barracuda inspired design. Even it’s big sedan was oddly named Charger and looks like it could eat a Civic or Imprezza.
Despite it’s street cred with those who remembered the 60’s and 70’s pony cars, Dodge was always the third wheel sales wise. As such much attention was placed on the Mustang and the Camaro. The void left by the departing Trans-Am was filled with numerous conversions that essentially carried the Pontiac spirit into GM’s post restructuring period.
Dodge had created a viable successor to the storied MOPAR cars of old, but no one was rushing to create new custom Barracudas or Superbirds.
The Plymouth Superbird/Dodge Daytona was a one year experiment in aerodynamics. Made street worthy to fulfill NASCAR homologation rules. It took the racing by storm, showing that advanced aerodynamics could win races. Richard Petty’s wins would amount to sales for just one model year in 1970. Since then the wedge faced high wing coupe has been the stuff of good olde boy legend.
Flash forward to 2008. The Camaro and Mustang are selling briskly with retro themes, while a new Challenger rolled out to much fanfare and initial success. Still, Dodge knew the versatile LC platform could be the basis of new muscle and pony cars from it’s vast historic ccatalogf historic names.
But as usual, market conditions and Chrysler’s almost periodic downturns would hamper efforts. The two door Challenger was a natural candidate for the aero facial treatment of a new Daytona. Although it was a big car with more stout proportions, the even heavier four door Charger was out of the question.
Just before Chrysler nearly went belly up again (before Fiat stepped in), the folks at Dodge commissioned Heide Performance Products of Madison Heights Michigan (HPP) to build a prototype of what a modern day Superbird might look like. The completed prototype was on the edge of approval for production, just before Chrysler announced it’s financial difficulties and the project was scrapped.
HPP had already developed the tooling and decided to continue the project on their own, rolling out a working prototype at auto show events in 2008. The Superbird kit could be purchased as a complete package for under $17,000 or could be assembled piece by piece. The most important part, the aero front end was made of epoxy resin and urethane. As part of a base package that included pop-up headlights, aluminum hood and 20 inch rims, it was enough to turn any Challenger in to a Challenger Superbird.
The full kit included a three piece wing, a functional shaker hood and a rear tail light treatment reminiscent of the 1970 car. Except for some exhaust swaps, HPP made mostly body modifications, but at some point the company turned over it’s designs for the Challenger Superbird to Richard Petty’s Garage based in North Carolina. HPP no longer maintains a web site, it’s last Tweet was in 2012, so I don’t know what became of the company in it’s original form.
In addition to the HPP body work, Petty’s Garage would make all kinds of suspension and engine modifications to turn your already highly customized Challenger to a special car with power to rival Dodge’s own Hellcat variants. In fact deep pocket MOPAR fans could go beyond the Hellcat. It was all limited to the budget and imagination of the client.
As such no two Challenger Superbirds are alike or stock Challengers leaving Petty’s garage for that matter. Any number of modifications from mild to extreme could occur while the cars might appear similar externally. Besides mechanical enhancements, stock Challengers could get custom seats and other interior bits. Petty’s Garage customizes a growling list of cars and is no stranger to tweaks to everything from sedans to pickup trucks.
The most interesting thing about the Challenger Superbird is how well HPP’s designers managed to make the aero clip work on such a large car that was more upright than the original Daytona with it’s low long shape. While the Challenger Superbird was a popular oddity at auto shows and SEMA events, it never gained the traction to become an official Dodge offering. It did become a dealer option in some markets, but remains a rare site on the street or in car shows.
With the LC platform starting to show it’s age, Dodge is once again considering rolling out a new version of one of it’s storied muscle cars. The Barracuda promises to be smaller, lighter and more efficient, things the Challenger was not. It might also be a good basis to study the ideal of a new Daytona/Superbird- assuming that Dodge finds a new old name for it’s big sedan. Polara anyone?