One Wing To Rule Them All

Writing: Paul Dodd

Photos: Sy Parrish

Not all 100-point Winged Warriors exist purely in the hallowed halls of high-dollar auction houses – some can still be found on the street…

If you ever wanted to know exactly what a Plymouth Superbird looked like when it rolled off the assembly line back in 1970, well, this is it. And whilst this particular model is 46 years old, the fact is it has spent more than 30 of those off the road. That’s how long it took owner John Castleman to restore this ‘bird, doing it in between having a family and carrying out his regular work as a car body and paint specialist.

John Castleman is the JC of JC Auto Finishers and is well known in the American car world as the man to go to if you want a proper paint job, and if ever he needed a promotional vehicle for his business then surely this is it. John finally got the car back on the road again just a few months ago and turned up at this year’s Mopar Euronationals. He put the Superbird in the Show’n’Shine where it swept the board, picking up no fewer than three trophies. It’s a far cry from the state it was in when he purchased the car back in 1988, and who better than the man himself to tell the tale.

“The car came into the country back in 1972, and had five previous owners before I bought it in 1988 at an auction in Scotland. It was part of a collection and I paid £6,300, which was a lot of money back then and the car was in a bad shape with a seized engine! It had also been customised with black paintwork, brown bucket seats and white wheels. I already had one Superbird, so to have two was a dream! I had one to drive around in whilst I started taking the new one apart, until I blew the engine a year or so later. I sold that one about a year after that which just left me with this one in bits, and that’s how it stayed for the next 20 years whilst I raised a family and rebuilt the house we were living in. Finally, after all that time, we got the car to my workshop where the first thing I did was put the old nosecone and tailfin back on and that was it, it fired me up to do the car.”

“I set about removing all the panels before sending it to the sandblasters, and once the clean shell was back my panel guys started to do all the metalwork. I did the rest of it myself including the panel fitting, filling and painting. All of the body has been unpicked, cleaned, treated and put back together. We replaced most of the panels as they were too far gone to patch up, the rear wings, inner and outer tubs, inner front fenders, door skins, new nose cone, the floors etc etc. I have seen many Superbird restos, but none where we cut away the rear window from the roof, fitted a new sail panel then put it back in again! Once all the panels were refitted, aligned and filled it was put on a rotisserie for the paintwork. Once the paint was done I could put the car back together, which took about 1,700 hours in all, mostly on Saturdays over the last eight years, not including all the searching and negotiating over all the parts. The car is now like brand new, just how I wanted it, and finally, in June of this year, it was ready after not being run for 35 years. Since then I have done about 800 miles in it and look forward to many more. There are many people I need to thank for all their help on this project, you know who you are, but one in particular I would like to mention is Andrew Elston for all his help.”

“I paid £6,300, which was a lot of money back then and the car was in a bad shape with a seized engine!”

The car’s original factory colour was Blue Fire metallic B5, so that was exactly the colour that John laid on it and it really is flawless. As for that seized engine, it was rebuilt to the exact factory specifications of the 390hp 440 six-pack, as, of course, was the 727 three-speed auto transmission and 3.55-geared rear axle, with all machine work carried out by Serdi Engineering. Many of the other parts including most of the interior were supplied by Legendary Interiors and John put it all together. When you look around the car, you note that everything from the wheels to the steering wheel look like brand new. That’s because they more than likely are, and, of course, every part and every thing is factory correct. It really is an amazing piece of moving automotive history.

The Plymouth Superbird, along with the Dodge Daytona built the year before, were muscle cars with a difference, for they were built purely to race and to compete with the dominance of Ford on the NASCAR circuit. Rumour has it that the Superbird was built to tempt Richard Petty back after he defected to Ford in 1968. Whatever the truth, it worked, with Petty in his famous No 43 car, winning eight races that year, including the Daytona 500 at speeds of over 200mph. After 1970, major rule changes including engine size restrictions made the Superbird obsolete so it really was a one year wonder. It was not a great seller, however, and it took a good few years to shift the 1,935 cars produced. Of these, 135 came with the legendary 426 Hemi, 716 came with the 440 six- pack, as in this car, and the rest had 440 Commando engines. The race versions were stripped out making them somewhat lighter than the 3,840lb road-going models, whilst the power of the aluminium headed race Hemi engines was over 600hp. The road-going version of the Hemi engine was rated at 425hp, giving it a bit more grunt than the 390 horse six-pack 440, but this engine’s slightly larger displacement actually produced more torque at 490ft.lbs.

The car was based around the Plymouth Road Runner of that year and the cartoon hero was used to promote it; even the horn sounded “Beep Beep” and, whilst I did not try it, you can bet the one on this car sounds exactly the same. As for that rear wing, it is a lot stronger than it looks, being able to take the weight of a person sitting on it, but as with the horn I dared not try that on this beauty! It’s almost too good to drive, but instead of wrapping it in cotton wool and storing it away, driving it is exactly what John is going to do. He obviously feels that this car has already been off the road long enough and now he can enjoy the fruits of his labour – good man!

It’s fair to say that most of the cars we feature in American Car have been “messed with” in some way or another, whether it be via a hotted-up engine, perhaps a bling paint job, and most certainly it will have aftermarket wheels. However, with this super Superbird it really needs nothing, it was already all done for you at the factory. Unless, of course, you’re someone like John Castleman who had to start from scratch and build it himself, and this car, one of the finest examples of its type around, is a credit to his dedication and abilities.

“It’s almost too good to drive, but instead of wrapping it in cotton wool and storing it away, driving it is exactly what John is going to do”