Hot Rod, Written by Ryan Brutt on October 27, 2015
People say there are no more cool cars left hidden in barns or hanging around in junkyards. While barn finds might not be as prevalent as they once were, there are still some incredible cars out there to be discovered. Sometimes those hidden cars can go from sitting in a concrete cell to a show car in the blink of an eye—especially when that car has a big-block, a large, pointed nose, and a wing on the back.
Roughly 1,900 Plymouth Superbirds were produced for the 1970 model year. These cars were built in a large part to bring Richard Petty back from Ford. He had gone over to Ford in 1969 because its NASCAR Talladegas had a slipperier profile then the equivalent Plymouth B-bodies Petty had been running. He also kept needling Chrysler Corporation to give him a Daytona Charger ride for 1969 and Chrysler ignored him. Plymouth was able to bring him back to its side with the Superbird, creating a nearly unstoppable force. While the old adage “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” might have been true years before, Superbirds did not do well on the showroom floors around the country, with stories of a few of them still sitting in showrooms in 1971, or being converted to conventional Satellite front ends. Yet by the 1980s they were gaining in popularity and collectability.
Around that time, Dan Bobbie of Pennsylvania was looking for a Superbird project to tinker around with. Finding one was tough. With only 1,900 cars (spread out around the country), he was lucky to see one at all if he wasn’t at a specific Aero Warriors event. But Dan had a friend who knew someone that had a project car that he might be interested in. So they drove out to New York to see the condition of the car.
To Dan's surprise, there was not one Superbird project—but four! Three of the four were 440 V8, four-barrel cars, with the best of the group being a yellow 440 six-barrel with a four-speed transmission. The owner actually wanted to sell all four if he could. Unfortunately, Dan didn't have the cash for all four of the cars. So he countered with an offer for the three “less desirable” cars—if there was such a thing.
A deal was struck and Dan loaded up his prizes. Out of the three cars, one was a solid builder, the other two were rough, but mostly complete. Dan’s plan was to take the two rougher examples and pull everything he needed for the nicer body, then sell off the rest to recoup some cash. So one by one he brought the Birds home. Of the three, the rough white Superbird was even able to run and drive.
Once home, he put the three Superbirds in a large concrete building with a variety of other cars—planning on getting to the cars as time allowed. But owning his own business (with multiple locations) meant Dan got busier and busier as time went on. And the cars just sat and sat. The 1980s came to an end, the 1990s rolled by, and even the first decade of the millennium slipped past. And the cars just sat in the corner of this concrete cell.
By 2014, Dan knew that he wasn't going to get to all these project cars he had. Someone came to him with an offer for his white Superbird, and he accepted. It's something you do not hear about very often with barn finds—one getting saved. This Superbird was about the lowest level Superbird you could get. It was a 440ci car with a four-barrel instead of the more desirable 440 six-barrel setup or 426 Hemi—with an automatic on the column and a bench seat. There wasn't anything making this car stand out. So it was a perfect beginning to an incredible transformation.
That's where Jonathan Ward with Icon 4x4 comes in. Icon is renowned for its 4x4 vehicles like the Icon Power Wagon and Icon first-generation Bronco, but it has also done a series of incredible custom cars and trucks, including the Icon Thriftmaster, a 1948 Buick Super Convertible, and a 1952 DeSoto married to a Chrysler Town & Country.
Ward’s client wanted to build a custom Superbird. He didn't want to take a Satellite body and make it into one. He wanted a real Superbird to start off with, so everything was there that they needed. And the one they were looking for couldn't be a rare one, because they didn't want to cut up something worth that much. So the search was on, and they found the perfect vehicle in Dan's white car.
The car was dug out of its cell and sent West, and what arrived was a rusted hulk. Nearly every body panel on the car was rusted out, and there were large holes in the floors, with the quarters nearly nonexistent. But the bones of it were good, it had all the correct parts that were needed for the project. The nose was there, but rough, and the wing was there. And all the small tweaks that Plymouth did to make the Superbird had survived all these years. With the car being in such rough shape, a rust-free 1970 Satellite was found to donate all the pieces needed to bring the car back to life. But Icon is not known for their stock car restorations. This car is going to be one of a kind.
Current renderings take cues from the famous architect Mies van der Rohe. Mies is known for his “less is more” philosophy and the modern architectural movement. The car will retain the style and shape of the original Superbird. But the guts of it will be modern. The plan is for the car to have a much coveted Hellcat swap, backed by a late-model NAG1 five-speed automatic transmission and Dana 60 out back. The chassis will be completely custom and done by Art Morrison just for this car.
While the body will remain mostly stock, there are a few touches that are going to be custom for this car. All the chrome and other odds and ends are going to be nickel or have a brushed look. The interior controls will have a 1970s stereo kind of vibe to them, and the gauges done in a similar style. The vinyl top that all Superbirds had will be gone, instead it will get a matte-black top. Out back, LED taillights with some custom touches will be done to make it stand out. And to cap everything off, the original Superbird logo will remain mostly untouched, except the lettering will now have the project’s name, Hellion. The helmet will have the Icon gecko on it and the Bird will be flipping the bird. It's going to be amazing.
This car has only just begun to get worked on, so don't expect to see it on the road anytime soon. But going from collecting dust in a concrete cell for 30 years, to one of the best custom car shops in the country, we wish more neglected cars would have such a fate.