1970 Plymouth Satellite Warrior - Return Of The Winged Warrior
Year One, Ray Evernham, And Bill Goldberg Have Teamed Up To Genetically Engineer A Modern Superbird That Might Be Even Better Than The Original.
From the July, 2009 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Robert McGaffin
NASCAR's premiere shindig--which started out as the Strictly Stock Series--later turned into the Grand National Series before morphing into the Winston Cup Series, followed by the Nextel Cup Series, and then the Sprint Cup Series. Obviously, change is part of the game in this sport, but it's all starting to resemble a sketch comedy routine. For instance, when Jimmie Johnson crosses the finish line in First, it's not his Chevrolet Impala that got him there, but rather his Lowe's Chevrolet Impala. And Jimmie never forgets to remind you of that in his post-race interviews either. Likewise, of the only three active drivers with multiple championships under their belts, none of them speak with a proper drawl, and two are California hippies for goodness sakes. Who would've imagined that a sport once defined by hillbilly hooligans trading licks on the infield grass would one day be superseded by scripted drivers sanitized by corporate sponsors?
Nonetheless, NASCAR has flourished in recent years, and as a race fan, the aforementioned gripes are merely minor distractions. After all, the action is still plenty intense. As automotive enthusiasts, however, the notion that these purpose-built race cars are even distantly related to actual production cars is downright preposterous. All Sprint Cup cars now run identical tube-frame chassis and sheetmetal. What's a brand loyalist to do, root for the stickers? If that's not bad enough, Chevys, Dodges, and Toyotas are powered by lumps that share absolutely nothing in common with any production engine ever built by each respective manufacturer. While NASCAR's attempt to limit costs is commendable, the whiny purist in us laments for the era when stock cars represented the pinnacle of hot rodding. Apparently, we're not alone in our assessment. An all-star cast that includes Year One, pro wrestler Bill Goldberg, and Gillett Evernham Motorsports have pitched in to recreate what's arguably the most revered machine from NASCAR's heyday: the Plymouth Superbird. Armed with a genuine 780hp Cup motor and a thoroughly modernized chassis, this 'Bird might even be better than the original.
The wild course of events that would create this wicked contraption was set into motion by NFL lineman turned pro wrestler, turned actor, Bill Goldberg. He called up his buddy, Kevin King, at Year One, and pitched the idea of building a modern rendition of a vintage Superbird. "He wanted it to look as close to a vintage stock car as possible, but with an updated powertrain," Kevin explains. "He had already talked Gillett Evernham Motorsports into donating an actual Cup motor and driveline for the project. Ray Evernham was awesome to work with, and he basically invited us to his shop and let us take whatever we wanted. The catch was, Bill wanted a car that could be tagged and driven on the street as well."
While maintaining some semblance of streetability would prove difficult, the most daunting aspect of the buildup by far was reshaping the body into period-correct form, which required tremendous foresight and planning. To accomplish this, the crew from Year One scrutinized real NASCAR-spec Superbirds at the Motorsports Hall of Fame museum in Talladega, and took copious measurements and photos. "We've all seen Superbirds from back in the day in photos and on TV where they look very sleek, but in person, they're big honkin' cars. The challenge was taking a production car, and getting the lines, stance, and profile just right to accurately replicate that look," says chief Year One fabricator, Phil Brewer. "Even when stock cars were production based, there was nothing stock about them. The NASCAR rule book from that era stipulated a minimum hood height of 27 inches. To achieve that height, a stock B-body would have to be sitting on its framerails, but the NASCAR guys made it all work and still managed to meet the ground clearance requirements."
Using a vintage rule book and their notes as a guide, the crew from Year One went to work. Emulating the chassis and suspension was an epic undertaking, and starting with a '70 Satellite instead of a Road Runner further complicated matters. "To get the car as low as we needed, we basically shaved everything below the rocker panels so the only thing hanging below them now is the exhaust. According to the rules in 1970, NASCAR allowed teams to build frames for unibody cars," Phil explains. "We first removed portions of the stock subframe, torque boxes, and floorboard, then built a new frame on the topside of the floorboard inside the car. The frame and the rollcage look very similar to what the NASCAR guys were doing back in 1970, but we welded up much more bracing and used modern materials to make it legal for various SCCA and land speed racing classes. To allow for adequate suspension travel and help the overall aesthetic proportions of the car, we made the wheel openings 7 inches taller in the rear and 8 inches taller in the front." Other tricks include a custom X-brace, a C-notched rear frame that enabled moving the wheeltubs and rear springs inward, and a trans tunnel that's been raised 4 inches. While the chassis takes cues from the past, the suspension has been fully modernized with a Magnum Force K-member, a custom four-link, and QA1 coilovers.
The interior blends race car...
The interior blends race car cues with modern touches. Occupants sit in Kirkey seats and face Auto Meter instrumentation, and a Year One steering wheel. The custom aluminum dash emulates that of a stock car, replete with toggle switches and Allen bolts. The aluminum floor inserts lend a racy look, as does the NASCAR-spec shifter.
The Evernham-supplied 358ci...
The Evernham-supplied 358ci small-block is a real-deal NASCAR Cup motor slightly de-tuned with lower compression. The headers are also from Evernham, and Year One tweaked some of the tubes to get them to fit. The motor plate and radiator core support are also modified Cup items. The custom air cleaner assembly is a custom piece designed to draw air from the cowl. Like all Cup motors, fuel supply comes from a mechanical pump driven off of the motor.
Stock Satellites and Road...
Stock Satellites and Road Runners had very small wheel openings. To give the appearance of reduced overhang, Year One elongated the openings in addition to making them taller. The wheels are genuine Cup items, and they're wrapped in BFG slicks.
The custom exhaust is built...
The custom exhaust is built from 3.5-inch oval tubing heisted from Evernham's shop, and dumps into Flowmaster mufflers. The rear spring perches have been raised to achieve the slammed stance. Evernham's crew plumbed all the lines themselves with slick quick-release fittings. The NASCAR-spec fuel cell is housed in a custom square-tube bracket.
With the chassis mods complete, the project didn't get any easier when it came time to recreate the Superbird's skin. The '70 Satellite Year One started out with was poorly restored in the past, and needed to have just about every single one of its panels replaced. In order to transform a plain-Jane B-body into a Superbird, Phil and company grafted on a nosecone and rear wing assembly from Wing Car Fabrication, however, the real challenge was in the details. "A project like this isn't as easy as sticking a nose and wing on it and calling it a day," Phil quips. "Things like the fender blisters, front spoiler, gas cap, and window straps take a long time to make it look just right. Satellites had much larger rear windshields than Road Runners, so we had to add sheetmetal around the opening to make it smaller and give the car a humpback look. For the paint, Kevin thought that straight Petty blue would be too unoriginal, so we came up with a custom two-tone black-and-blue scheme."
Perhaps the most extreme aspect of the Superbird's restructured DNA is its contemporary Sprint Cup running gear. Other than a slight drop in compression ratio for pump gas compatibility, the 358ci small-block isn't any different than the motors that powered Kasey Kahne and Elliot Sadler last season. It zings freely to 9,000 rpm, and kicks out 780 hp. "It can be driven on the street, but this setup obviously isn't for a daily driver," Phil opines. "Being such a small motor that makes so much power, it's very nervous, and an absolute riot to drive." Backing up the Cup mill is a super lightweight NASCAR-spec Tex Racing four-speed manual, which routes power to a Chrysler 8-inch rearend.
Making a cool story even better is that Bill Goldberg's plan all along was to auction off the Superbird, and donate the proceeds to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation. As expected, the plan worked out quite well. At Barrett-Jackson last January, the car sold for $551,000. While it won't cost you quite that much to build a Superbird clone of your own, Kevin offers a few caveats. "A project like this is an extremely long, drawn-out, and expensive process," he says. "It takes a tremendous amount of research and fabrication skills to pull off. I'm not sure if we will or will not offer parts in our catalog for a buildup like this, but we'll be more than happy to help anyone out with advice if they give us a call."
With all due respect to the car presented before us, a large part of why it stirs up so much emotion isn't so much because of the car itself, but because of what the car represents. By 1971--in a move aimed squarely at Chrysler's aero cars that dominated at the track the prior year with tops speeds of over 220 mph--NASCAR placed severe displacement and weight handicaps on such creations. It marked the beginning of the end of NASCAR's glory days.
Homologation rules got the boot, and efforts to slow the race cars down have continued to this day. Sadly, what were once hot rodded production-based cars would soon become tube-frame machines with skins that vaguely resembled production cars, before evolving into tube-frame machines that resembled production cars only with their sticky vinyl. In many technological respects, this modern Superbird is superior to those crafted at Richard Petty's shop in 1970. Nevertheless, the fact that the Year One build crew turned to a 40-year-old race car for guidance is a testament to the ingenuity of the original craftsmen, and reinforces why many consider the NASCAR aero cars the greatest hot rods ever built.
The nosecone adds 19 inches...
The nosecone adds 19 inches to the overall length of a B-body Mopar. Just how serious was Chrysler about winning in NASCAR? The company built nearly 2,000 Superbirds in 1970 to meet homologation requirements, but they were a tough sell to the general public. Many Superbirds sat on dealer lots as late as 1972, and had to be converted back into more plebeian Road Runners in order to finally get them out the door. Editor Hunkins lived in North Carolina at the time and remembers them collecting dust on dealership lots.
Just like back in 1970, the...
Just like back in 1970, the frame protrudes into the actual cabin of the car. A custom trans tunnel was built to accommodate the extreme stance.
One of the most demanding...
One of the most demanding aspects of the build was plugging up the rear window to emulate the look of a real Superbird. This feat is much more difficult with a Satellite, since its window opening is much larger than that of a Road Runner.
That's not the battery. Like...
That's not the battery. Like a real Cup car, the oil tank for the dry sump system is mounted in the rear seat area.
|BY THE NUMBERS |
|'70 PLYMOUTH SATELLITE |
Bill Goldberg * San Diego, CA
|Type: ||NASCAR-spec 358ci small-block Chrysler |
|Block: ||Spec Mopar R5 iron bored to 4.185 inches |
|Oiling: ||custom dry sump with rear-mounted storage tank |
|Rotating assembly: ||custom 3.250-inch billet crank, steel rods, and 10.5:1 forged pistons |
|Cylinder heads: ||spec Mopar P7 aluminum castings |
|Camshaft: ||solid flat-tappet lobes; duration, lift, and LSA specs classified |
|Valvetrain: ||custom belt-drive and steel shaft-mount 2:1 rockers |
|Induction: ||spec Mopar single-plane intake manifold, Holley 830-cfm carb |
|Ignition: ||MSD billet distributor and ignition box |
|Fuel system: ||NASCAR-spec billet mechanical pump, Fuel Safe fuel cell |
|Exhaust: ||custom 2-inch headers and 3.5-inch oval X-pipe; Flowmaster mufflers |
|Output: ||780 hp at 8,500 rpm and 545 lb-ft at 6,700 rpm |
|Built by: ||Gillett Evernham Motorsports |
|Transmission: ||Tex Racing NASCAR four-speed manual and clutch |
|Rear axle: ||Chrysler 8¾-inch rearend, 742 center section, |
33-spline axles, 3.90:1 gears, Detroit Locker differential
|Front suspension: ||Magnum Force tubular K-member, upper- and lower-control arms, |
and steering rack; QA1 coilovers, NASCAR-spec sway bar
|Rear suspension: ||custom four-link and NASCAR-style track bar; QA1 coilovers |
|Brakes: ||Baer 13-inch rotors with six-piston calipers front and rear |
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: ||NASCAR-spec 15x10 front and rear |
|Tires: ||BFGoodrich g-Force 27x10 slicks |