How do you acquire one of the most coveted classic cars ever built? Apparently one way is to get a chain saw and set the Superbird free. Yup, strangely enough, for Mike from Ohio he caught his “bird” through the help of such a tool.
Like most of you reading this article, classic cars, in general, are a passion to Mike. But then there are cars that simply defy the simplicity of that word. To Mike, and us, the Superbird is more like a marvel, a wonder of the world that makes people stare and just take it in, inch by inch, trying to comprehend the minds that conjured up this warhorse. When you realize that only 1,930 such cars were built and sold by Plymouth in 1970 that fact adds to the car's mystique. In addition, imagine or contemplate that you have a chance to “catch one” for yourself. How would you do it? In Mike's case it was far from being a conventional acquisition. Superbird Mike from Ohio's amazing story tells it all. And it goes like this.
This story starts around 1992, when Mike attended a car show in Pennsylvania. He met a man there who helped guide him to New York State where a 1970 Superbird was just waiting to be set free, if only the owner would loosen his grip on it.
Mike's been a classic car lover since his childhood and an owner of several classic cars as an adult. In 1970 his father bought a brand new 1970 Light Sublime Green Dodge 440 Challenger. He and his twin brother loved that car but disappointedly, it “didn't have the wing!” You see, by this time the twin brothers boys had already developed an obsession for the Superbird. This love was developed when, at the age of eight, the two boys would play out in the front yard of their home and many times a week the ground would tremble from the incredible noise a Superbird made when it drove down the street as they played. This particular Superbird had its muffler rusted open (possibly totally fallen off) and the noise from its powerful engine gave them chills up and down their spines. Mike decided then he had to own one of those cars someday!
As I said earlier, Mike had attended a car show in Pennsylvania in around 1992. It was there that, while a group of Superbird enthusiasts were gathered around one on display, he heard someone talk about a penned up Superbird which he knew of that was “nesting in a chicken coop” (really his words) just waiting to have life brought back to its distinguishing racing wing.
Mike listened intently to this fellow's story about the car. It was a rare never titled, Corporation “Petty” Blue Superbird with 3648 miles on the odometer. Mike had had an obsession to own a Superbird this color for as long as he could remember. In fact, by this time, he had already missed two opportunities to own one of these special colored birds. And this chance was NOT about to be disappointment number three!
At the car show in Pennsylvania the storyteller explained that many people had approached the owner over the years to buy the bird but every offer was promptly rebuked with, “The car is not for sale, period!”
By this time Mike had heard enough to know he couldn't let the storyteller leave without getting the info he needed to contact the car's owner. After some convincing, the story teller gave Mike the car's general location in New York State and the phone number of its owner.
Mike grabbed onto that contact information like he had just gotten the prom queen's phone number for a date. He immediately jumped into his car and drove to New York State to zero-in on this new opportunity to own a very special Superbird. Having obtained a general description of the property where the car was stored, he drove around the area for hours until he realized that all the farms in the area could fit the description he was given. This approach wasn't going to work…
Then he initiated his telephone campaign to cajole the car's owner to set it free from his barn. In his first contact with the Superbird New Yorker who, after some convincing, very reluctantly shared with Mike the details about the car. As Mike listened he learned that the Superbird New Yorker was the first and only owner of the Superbird and that it had never been titled when purchased from the dealership. He also explained how the car was safely tucked away in his barn (certainly better than a chicken coop!) waiting to be restored to its original purpose, i.e., a mean, street eating machine.
Amazingly this story gets even more interesting. You see, very early in the car's life as a dealer demo, the Superbird New Yorker told how he was the son of the owner of a Plymouth dealership. When he was 17 years old he had taken it out to do a little “Hot Rodding,” which we all know we would have done if we had the chance. Everyone knows that pushing 430hp / 490 ftpd torque through those Goodyear polyglas tires can make it difficult to keep the back end lined up with the nose. As bad luck would have it, as the teenage boy stomped on the gas pedal the unpredictable carburetor linkage opened all six barrels and then froze open! With the 440 six-pack Superbird roaring at full throttle Junior didn't have the skills needed to control this animal. As the rear of the car drifted wildly he “kissed” a car next to him with his passenger side rear quarter panel. The impact caused him to veer off the road into a shallow ditch that put a slight bruise on the right front of the demo's nose.
He then explained how the car's dent had been fixed by the dealer but it could never be sold as a “New” car. This fact, needless to say, burned his dad's bacon….big-time! Regretfully, this event caused a huge conflict between them. So, in an effort to cool things down, his dad decided to park the car out of sight in the barn behind their home.
Nevertheless, this teenaged New Yorker was still passionate about the car. Therefore, he made a commitment in his heart to never let it stray from his custody and to NEVER let it be transformed from its original, factory-built “purity.” Over time he saved enough money and bought the car from his father. But even after he had complete ownership of the car, the Superbird amazingly remained in the barn patiently waiting to be turned loose someday and driven like the beast it was intended to be.
As the story continues, the car's owner explained that he made an effort to repair the car's minor damage. He said that, after a year or so, he sent the car to a body shop to have the dinged nose properly repaired. He left it there with the strictest instructions for it not to be touched until he was personally present to supervise the repair process. To him, it was essential that the car remained pure to its factory-built condition as much as possible.
When he eventually arrived at the shop he was shocked to see that the repair shop had gotten overly enthusiastic about repairing the nose and started removing trim, door handles, etc. as though a complete new paint job was in order. Upon seeing his prize in the midst of being unwantedly disassembled, it was “Game Over!” and the he had the car, as it sat, towed back home and put back in family barn where it was to languish for the next 40 plus years! Poor birdy….
The car's owner closed this first conversation with Mike using the same words all other car shoppers heard over the phone, “The car IS NOT for sale”! But, if the car ever did come on the market, he would be number two in line. Not good news…
Relentlessly, for more than 20 years since that first telephone conversation, Mike repeatedly called this Superbird New Yorker to ask about the Corporation Blue car he had to own. Each year the owner was polite but rejected each of his offers to buy the car.
However, shock of all shocks…in October of 2014, Mike made his well-practiced telephone pitch despite the fact he'd never even seen the car and stunningly he heard, “I guess I've reached the point in my life where I realize I'll never do anything with the car.” That meant it was time to sell the car! Yippee!!! This was music to Mike's ears, in fact it was like a choir of angels were singing Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus” in his head!
It was during that telephone conversation that the Superbird New Yorker also shared how sometime earlier the first potential buyer in line had negotiated a deal and came to the barn to purchase the car. However, when he arrived to close the deal, he made a serious mistake. He attempted to re-negotiate the deal….duh!
The owner having always been a business man who was particular about how to transact business was taken aback by this attempt. It only took a moment for him to determine this buyer was not worthy enough to own his precious bird and promptly told him “to take his money and leave!” With this sudden turn of events, the Superbird was back on the market. The owner then waited for potential buyer number two (Mike) to make his usual and anticipated telephone call to him. And sure enough, Mike did call again, as expected. (In hindsight, Mike now realizes how lucky he is to be sharing this story today).
The owner now suggested that Mike make him an offer. Mike realized this deal needed to be approached delicately and that the way to make this deal work was to make sure the seller didn't get annoyed with a number that didn't meet his expectations. Mike then made a bold decision and suggested to the owner that he'd be willing to pay whatever the prior buyer had negotiated. The owner seemed to like this approach and shared with Mike what the original deal was which he immediately agreed to and the deal was “sealed with a verbal handshake”. With this done, Mike was now one step closer to taking this puppy home but, strangely enough, he realized that he still had not seen the car! He had no idea if it was a pile of rusted parts or a true survivor car. This was one large leap of faith he took.
After some discussion about the timing of payments and the delivery date, the owner disclosed that the car was literally boarded up in the barn as a result of the need to add additional garage space over the years. He told Mike, “The only way to get the car out of the barn was to put a chain saw to the barn and cut a doorway”. This was shocking to hear. What's going on? What did he just commit to buy?? The owner calmed Mike's nerves as he agreed to take on the burden of freeing this cooped up Superbird. He told Mike that when he came for the car it would be freed from its confines, fully visible, waiting for his gaze.
Now with the details worked out there was one question left from Mike. “Can I come see the car”? The response was not what he was hoping for, “You can see it when you come to get it. If it's not what you expected you don't have to buy it”. So Mike accepted the fact that he was in the process of buying a car that had been stored in a barn for over 40 years and he didn't have the foggiest idea what condition it was in. All he could do then was hope for the best…
Now that Mike had a verbal deal with a man who had proven to have integrity, he was now committed to keeping his purchase arrangement very secret. He knew that if the sale of this “Barn Find” gets out, things would get dicey, as in competitive. His newest challenge to overcome was the fact that he made the offer without having all the money he needed in hand. Fortunately, with help of friends and family and liquidating a portion of his classic car collection, he was able to pool together the funds needed to make this deal happen.
In the end, we can say Santa Delivered on Mike's Childhood Christmas List:
On December 21st, 2014 Mike packed up a car hauler, two buddies, the funds and headed to New York State to consummate his “Deal of a Lifetime”. When they arrived they all got to view the bird for the first time. There it sat in the barn, viewable through the hole cut in the side of barn by the owner's chain saws which enabled it to roll out to freedom.
Surprisingly, it was in amazing condition! (I knew if it were me I'd been hopping around doing some kind of Irish Jig or the multiple fist pumps in the air). But it got better…closer inspection showed that this bird had been well fed during the past 40 years as the owner smartly filled the entire 440 engine with motor oil right to the filler hole in the valve cover. It was at this first viewing that he read the fender tag to learn that not only was this the #11 Superbird built, but more importantly for Mike, the first of 44 Corporation (Petty) Blue Superbirds. Some might think, and we know Mike does, that this car is the “Holy Grail” in the series of these cars built.
It was then time to close the deal once and for all. However, it instead turned into “glitch time” which put a serious doubt in Mike's mind about the deal getting done. You see, Mike presented the agreed upon funds only to learn that the owner hadn't been able to locate the car's MV50. This was the 1970's New York State ownership document that is equivalent to today's car title. Holy moly, is this another gotcha in his lifetime quest to own a Petty Blue Superbird? However, once again, Mike decided to believe in the seller's integrity. They worked out an arrangement where he could take the car home with a receipt for the car until he received the car's proper title. This absence of proper car title was not a small issue! It literally was the one last hurdle to owning this car outright. But his confidence remained unshaken. So, they pulled this dusty bird from the barn, loaded her up and made tracks back to Ohio grinning from ear to ear! Happy trails…
The next morning Mike looked to see that, sure enough, Santa did deliver early and big time this year! There sitting in his driveway was “The Ultimate” Petty Blue Superbird! Thanks to his perseverance, and the loyalty of his friends and family, he is the owner of the ever elusive Superbird! Merry Christmas…
Several months later, in July 2015, covered in its original dust and pieces of hay, the matching numbers, single owner, never titled, 440 Six-Pac, 4 speed, Corporation Blue, Superbird was displayed in Building “T” at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals car show, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. At the show, it was like “Elvis was in the house.” Where? Let's go see that lucky man's new gem! That's the stir this barn find caused.
Mike assured everyone that the car will be restored, piece by piece, but he brought it to the car show to share what a man with a chain saw, and another with a lot of patience, can do.
Stay tuned at Ed's Project Car Swap Meet to read our follow up report which will be a step by step account of Mike's journey to get his childhood dream come true car road worthy again.
This article is by JP, a published author and contributor to EdsProjectCarSwapMeet.com website and blog. Please feel free peruse the site's forum, project car listings and parts or restorations services.