When the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird were new, they were considered so ugly that many of the big winged muscle cars sat on dealer lots for months and were sold after heavy discounts. Sure, the dealers weren’t happy about it, but Dodge and Plymouth didn’t really care. These radical cars were homologation specials, created only to legalize their aerodynamic shapes for NASCAR competition. They were built to dominate on the sanctioning body’s superspeedways—Daytona and the newly constructed, 2.66-mile Talladega International Motor Speedway with its 33-degree banking.
And dominate they did. In 1969 a Hemi-powered Dodge Charger Daytona won the Talladega 500, its first race, and it became the first stock car clocked at over 200 mph. Although a fastback Ford Torino driven by David Pearson won the championship in 1969, Superbirds and Daytonas won 38 races in 1970 and Daytona driver Bobby Isaac took the championship.
To homologate their wind-cheating body modifications, including their pointed noses and massive rear spoilers, 503 Dodge Daytonas were put on the street in 1969 and Plymouth sent dealers 1290 Superbirds, although some say that number is 1935. The two cars look similar, but they’re actually quite different. Plymouth didn’t just stick a Daytona nose and spoiler on its 1970 Road Runner; the parts are unique to each car. Here are a few key differences between the two, and a few other facts about Mopar’s “Winged Warriors” every enthusiast should know.
Wing height was not for decklid clearance
Let’s bust this myth first: Some say the wings of these cars were 23.5 inches tall to satisfy a NASCAR regulation that demanded their sizable trunk lids would fully open. Not true. NASCAR’s rulebook had no such regulation. According to Lehto, the rulebook read, “Rear deck lids must have operating type hinges. Deck lids must be equipped with a self-holding device so as to keep lid up when open. Deck lids must be fastened with 2 pins, one on each side.”
The truth is that the 58-inch-wide, cast-aluminum rear spoilers on these cars were placed so comically high—essentially even with their rooflines—to get into the “clean air,” according to its designer John Pointer. The shape and size of the Daytona’s spoiler was refined using a three-eighths-scale model at Wichita State University’s wind tunnel, while full-size testing took place at Lockheed’s wind tunnel in Georgia. That the spoilers were also high enough to allow the trunks to open fully was simply a stroke of luck. If a lower spoiler worked better aerodynamically, Pointer would have attached it to the decklid in some fashion.
Unique nose and rear spoilers
After the success of the 1969 Charger Daytona, which was shaped in the wind tunnel, Plymouth’s designers began to work on the Superbird, tweaking the design of the Dodge’s 18-inch nose cone and the tall rear spoiler. Park the two cars next to each other and the differences are obvious. The Superbird’s beak isn’t as pointed and its rear spoiler leans back quite a bit more than the Daytonas. Apparently Plymouth’s stylists thought it looked better. Although shaped differently, the nosecones of both cars are sheet metal with fiberglass headlight covers and aluminum rear spoilers.
The Daytona was faster
Although Plymouths designers thought the Superbird looked better than the Daytona, their design was considerably less aerodynamically efficient. A Superbird has a .31 coefficient of drag while a Daytona’s drag coefficient is .29—about a 20-percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency over the standard Charger. On the high banks of Daytona and Talladega, this gave the Daytona an advantage of somewhere between 1–3 mph over the Superbird, which was significant in competition, and especially so over the course of a 500 mile race.
No fender holes for the Superbird
At 18 feet long, these cars are massive. And every production 1969 Dodge Daytona and 1970 Plymouth Superbird wears a reverse facing air scoop on each front fender. These were an important part of their aerodynamics package. On the race cars the fenders were cut out underneath the scoops. Some say this was for tire clearance, but the truth lies in the air management. The holes allowed air pressure to be released from beneath the car, reducing drag.
Steve Lehto, the author of Dodge Daytona and Plymouth SuperBird: Design, Development, Production and Competition, also wrote about these cars for Road & Track in 2016. “The tire clearance story had to be told to keep NASCAR’s czar, Bill France, from deeming the cars illegal,” he wrote. “At the time, NASCAR rules only allowed body modifications for certain situations, one of which was for tire clearance.” The lie also kept the competition misinformed of the modification’s true benefit.
Production Dodge Daytonas, which were assembled for Dodge by Creative Industries in Detroit, did have a small hole beneath the scoops, while the fenders of the production Superbirds did not. Creative Industries had also built the streamlined but less radical Charger 500s for Dodge in 1969, but it did not build the Superbirds for Plymouth. The Superbirds were assembled at Chrysler’s Clairpointe St. pre-production facility near its Lynch Road assembly plant in Detroit.
Every Superbird got a vinyl roof
Also in the pursuit of aerodynamics, both the Daytona and the Superbird received streamlined rear windows. A large plug was installed to fill the space between the buttressed C-pillars of the standard Charger R/T. The new rear glass lay at 22 degrees versus the standard Charger’s 45-degree backlight. The design had carried over from the Charger 500 along with A-pillar covers that smoothed the air flowing over the sides of the windshield and down the sides of the cars. On the Charger 500s and Daytonas, workers at Creative Industries carefully finished the bodywork around the plugs and repainted the roofs.
A plug was also used to reshape the rear glass of the Superbird, but after building the Daytonas, all that finishing work was determined too time consuming and expensive. Remember, to satisfy NASCAR, Plymouth had to build almost four times as many cars as Dodge did Daytonas. To save resources, every production Superbird got a vinyl top to cover up the mess.
No Daytona has a six-pack
A 440 wedge with a 4-barrel was the standard engine in both the 1969 Daytona and the 1970 Superbird. The 426 Hemi was optional and both engines were available with a 727 Torqueflite automatic or the A833 4-speed manual.
Although triple two-barrel carburetors were available on the 440-powered Dodge Super Bee and Plymouth Road Runner by the time the Daytonas were built, the Six Barrel (or Six Pack, as the intake system was called by Dodge), was not available on the production version of the NASCAR special. Plymouth, however, did build 716 Six-Pack equipped Superbirds, which were rated at 390 hp, 15 hp more than the standard 440. The 425-hp Hemi was installed in 135 Superbirds and 70 Daytonas.
Daytona driver’s death was not the first at Daytona
Before the 1970 Daytona 500 was won by Pete Hamilton in a Superbird, a rookie named Talmadge “Tab” Prince was killed driving his Dodge Daytona in a qualifying race when his Mopar collided with another. Although it’s been reported that this was the first fatality at the speedway, it was not. Driver Marshal Teague lost his life at Daytona in 1959, the same year construction of its high banks was completed.