Writing: Dave Smith
Photos: Matt Woods
This ’69 Super Bee has been on quite the adventure since it left the States…
Look at any of the big auction houses Stateside and you’ll see Hemi-powered muscle cars trading for telephone number prices, most of them doing nothing more than shifting from one collector’s climate- controlled, dehumidified garage to another’s. It’s a shame that something that was built as the ultimate rip- snorting, race-ready tarmac terrorist has been consigned to such an ignominiously pedestrian retirement – instead of shredding tyres, you get the impression that most of their tyres haven’t seen anything other than a trailer in a decade.
For this super ’69er, the opposite seems to be true. It started off as a 383 four-speed Super Bee belonging to a high school kid, so it probably did see some action, officially or unofficially, unless that high school kid was the poster child for self- restraint. It was sold in 1980 for the princely sum of $1,500 – it was just another 10 year old banger then – and was shipped to the UK, and since then it’s had quite a few adventures, which you’ll read about later on.
Nowadays, it’s owned by John Breen from Staffordshire, and he must be the only person in Britain who ever bought a Hemi muscle car without ever intending to. “I didn’t exactly buy it,” says John. “I came across it when I went to see a nearby Mopar enthusiast who was selling some Boss 351 cylinder heads – I had an Eleanor-style Mustang at the time. I bought the heads and was having a mooch around his place, and that’s when I saw the Bee. I thought it was a really smart car; I’d never considered a Mopar before, but I thought this was stunning. Then he told me it had a Hemi and that it wasn’t for sale, it was a keeper. Six months down the line I was trawling through eBay and spotted that it was for sale. I couldn’t raise the cash at the time, so I missed it, but shortly afterwards it came back up for sale, I struck a deal and got the car.”
“That was back in autumn, 2014. I didn’t really do anything with it at the time, as I was in the middle of moving house and my old garage was too small so I put it in storage, but as soon as I got to my new house, I began using it. It had hardly been on the road for years, and it still had its right- dip headlamps, so I took it down to the American Auto Centre for some proper Cibie lamps.”
“I thought it was a really smart car; I’d never considered a Mopar before, but I thought this was stunning”
“The car came with everything needed to go racing, including a Hauser-built roll cage, the original numbers-matching engine, a set of wheels with slicks, the racing seat, everything. I had the cage painted body colour and refitted it along with a set of Simpson Platinum harnesses. Chris at Custom Coachtrimming made me some custom roll cage padding in some nice, Seventies-style green vinyl, with a matching head pad. The rear seat was trimmed to fit around the roll cage, then reupholstered to look stock.”
“The gearbox had a serious whine in third gear, it sounded like a coffee grinder, but it was the original gearbox, had never been rebuilt, and had been raced for years! I took it back down to Martin at Rare Performance Motors, who knows the car inside and out, and he rebuilt the gearbox, fitted a new clutch, new bearings, and a rear disc conversion kit with Wilwood calipers to match the front. I also had the wheels refurbished and the centres painted gold for the Seventies look.”
“It gets used, as long as the weather’s right, and it goes anywhere – I’ll go to shows, to B&Q, to the chip shop, anywhere. It’s been set up to handle, and it really does. Put it into a corner and it really holds, and I’ve surprised lots of BMWs and Subarus. It’s quick off the lights, too, and I handed a Chrysler SRT owner’s arse to him the other day, changing into fourth at 110mph. The only problem is lift above 120mph – the steering gets really light, it wanders, and becomes a very involved drive. It’s very well- mannered but I daren’t take it out in the rain. It’s been very well set up, but I drive it too hard for the size of the car. It’s a 47-year-old car with 47-year-old characteristics, but it’ll still surprise a BMW M5, which I find funny.”
“It was the original gearbox, had never been rebuilt, and had been raced for years!”
“I’ve had classics since I was a kid, I used to read Custom Car and Street Machine in the seventies and go to the shows at Bingley Hall, and always wanted such a car. There are two items on my bucket list – to have a car worth featuring in a magazine and to have a car good enough to go on display at an indoor show. The MMA have asked if I might be interested in putting the car on their stand at the NEC this year, because I’m quite local, and here it is in American Car, so I might be able to tick both items off the list this year!”
“It won’t be going back on the track any time soon, though. That’s a very expensive hobby, especially while I’m still doing the new house up, though I’d still like to do what RPM planned to do, which is build it up to an aluminium block 528. I just look at it, though, and it presses all my buttons. It just looks right from any angle, and no car will ever be made like that again. They’re a massively underrated car, and you know that if the Duke boys had driven a Super Bee, prices would be very different today.”