This special class will resonate with a lot of CC readers I expect, even if these cars aren’t likely to be spotted at the curbside any more. Last Days of the American Supercar was the title of the class, as that was the name actually used for these cars in the era, not muscle cars, and was intended to reflect the end of the big horsepower era before the party came to an end. There were eleven cars on display in the class, plus an Australian cousin nearby.
To start with one car in the group that doesn’t really fit with the ‘last days’ aspect of the title – a 1963 Ford Galaxie fastback with the 427 ci R-code engine that was part of Ford’s “Total Performance” era, focussed on the high-bank NASCAR tracks in this case.
This car is an original R-code 4-speed car, and had one family ownership until it was imported in 2015, part of the flood of US cars heading here in the last decade. Only 200 of these cars are known to have survived, and this one had a restoration 40 years ago, and has done just 6,500 miles since. The 427 has dual 4-barrel carburettors and is rumoured to actually make 475 hp rather than the factory rating of 425.
Most of the cars were from 1969-70, starting with this Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, which had the 302 ci engine needed to homologate the car for Trans-Am racing. Unlike most American V8s, these and the competing Ford Mustang Boss 302 were high-winding engines, (under) rated at 290 horsepower.
I didn’t get another shot of the 1969 Chevelle SS 396 in the background, or register which version of the engine it had (350 or 375 hp). Due to limited time at the show, some cars didn’t get full attention.
Next to the Camaro is a much less common car; the GTX version of the Plymouth Belvedere. This was a more highly-equipped car than its Road Runner stablemate, and also came with a 440 engine standard, effectively cutting out any sort of ‘base model’ and was consequently much less popular. This one has the optional 426 Hemi engine, and has been in Australia for 4 years.
Another high-end supercar was the “banker’s hotrod” Buick Gran Sport or GS, another version of the second generation A-body. There were fewer than 1500 cars built with the Stage 1 option. This meant the 401 engine (officially nominated at 400 cubic inches because that was an internal GM limit for intermediate cars) had 350 hp instead of the standard 340, as well as a shorter 3.64:1 diff ratio. With a shorter first gear in the TH400 trans than other cars the GS was respectably quick.
This car is unique because it was sold new here, and thus has a right-hand drive conversion. The car was restored in 1990, and remains in excellent condition.
The last of the 1969 cars featured is probably the rarest, thanks to some shenanigans by Mercury when homologating the Cyclone Spoiler II – amongst the 503 cars lined up for inspection by NASCAR officials were a bunch of the standard non-II Spoilers; they didn’t check all the cars closely enough to pick up that they didn’t all have the extended nose and flush grille needed to compete on the super speedways. The car has a 351 Windsor V8, so not the most powerful here, but its Cale Yarborough race replica colour scheme probably makes the most impact. There was another variation of the car with blue accents for Dan Gurney’s car.
The Plymouth Superbird is the best place to start with the 1970 models. I don’t think a lot needs to be said about this icon, which is good because I don’t know much about the specific car…
The Dodge Coronet R/T 6-pack (doesn’t the Sublime colour fit in well with the modern hi-visibility safety requirement!) is another one of an almost bewildering array of Mopar muscle cars of the era – it is just the R/T badge on the nose and some other cosmetic touches that indicate this is a Coronet and not a Super Bee. From an Australian point of view it is hard to understand how a mere badge, even one as nice as the cast Super Bee, can make a car a whole separate model. Against the Charger and Super Bee this car was a third fiddle, but with the 440 6-pack (365 hp) finishing in 1970 it fits nicely with the ‘last days’ theme here.
I didn’t get full details on this Oldsmobile 442, which as far as I can tell is a 1970 with the Ram Air option – those are some pretty large and distinctive nostrils! The W30 option increased the horsepower rating of the 455 engine by five to 370 hp officially, at least. The rear spoiler carried over from 1969.
The 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am has the 400 ci Pontiac engine rated at 345 hp, unless you got the Ram Air IV or V options, plus stripes and spoilers that actually produced functional aerodynamic results.
Would there be a “IV” badge to indicate if this car had the upgrade? The intake manifold might be aluminium, but only 88 of the 3186 ’70 Trans Ams had the Ram Air IV option.
In the corner was a 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda AAR, which I also didn’t spend a lot of time on to say the least. Blame it on the much rarer cars elsewhere in the hall. I probably should have, because as a road-race special it is more in my wheelhouse than some of the other cars in this group, but I suppose that the E-body cars not being sold here plus their bigger, heavier size than the other pony cars mean they don’t resonate as well. The 340 engine only made a cameo appearance down under, in the Chrysler Valiant Charger 770 SE ‘E55’ where it was choked down to disguise its hi-po roots.
A local counterpoint to the US cars featured was this 1969 Holden Monaro GTS, one of the first models (HK, introduced in 1968). Aesthetically, it combines the A-body cars we have seen with the Opel coupe. This car is slightly unusual these days because while it has the stripes badges and fantastic hub caps, it is powered by a 186 ci straight six. Of course when new it was a great option for those who didn’t want the extra costs of a V8, in purchase price, fuel and insurance. Unlike the seemingly cheap-as-water fuel in the US back then, it never has been so here in Australia, and the standard Ford or Holden has always been the 6-cylinder version.
This car had just finished being restored to a fantastic standard, and was awarded the People’s Choice for the show by popular vote.
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Quite a selection, though I must say that out of everything you have shared, this is the installment most likely to be replicated at any Cars & Coffee event in one of the larger cities of the US.
I think that 63 Ford is my favorite, although for street use I would have chosen a 4 bbl 390 with that 4 speed. I do love that white paint/red interior combo that was popular in the early 60s.
The Buicks were the rarest in my experience.
I like the Ford best, a car which made a strong impression on me as a kid. The so-called “fastback” looked so sleek compared to the only other fastbacks I saw outside of pictures in books, our Volvo 544 and the early ‘50’s GM fastbacks. An AMT plastic model ‘63 Ford which I built, met an ugly demise at the hands of the school bully, and I don’t think I ever brought another toy to school. One thing though … the whitewalls on this example look wrong. Fred Lorenzen (NASCAR’s big winner in a Ford that year) wouldn’t approve.
That’s a good point about the white walls. Definitely adds a sleeper aspect to the car though!; people wouldn’t expect 427 bite!
I think the Coronet R/T – Super Bee situation is the same as the GTX – Roadrunner. The R/T was better equipped, the Super Bee was supposed to be bare bones for quicker E.T.
Supercar is correct, and Muscle Car is overused. Seems like any 60s/70s RWD car is called a “Muscle Car” on Cable TV and internet. Seen a plain v8 Nova with automatic called it on a restoration TV show.
Well, if it was a L79 ’66 Nova, musclecar does apply. The Corvette-powered Chevy compact was a fearsome terror on the street and widely regarded as the inspiration for the equally as fierce 340-powered Mopar A-body musclecars.
Language changes over time, and if you say supercar to 99% of people they will be thinking Lamborghini etc, not Plymouths. I bet a lot of younger people would not have heard the term applied to muscle cars.
I assume it was the rise of the Lamborghini, Ferrari Testarossa and Porsche Turbo that saw the terminology change?
Yes, Supercar was more commonly used back then in the “super sixties”.
Super Bowl, Super Ball, and the cars themselves. Super Sport, Super Bee and Superbird. Muscle Cars became more commonly used in the ’70s’ when the “Pumping Iron” (body building ) becoming more main stream.
I’m still trying to find my old Super Ball. I only bounced it once.
I’ve been trying to bring supercar back, but I seem to just confuse people.
What’s a Plymouth?
It’s somewhat ironic that the Plymouth Superbird should be followed by a 1970 Dodge Coronet R/T: they both used the same front fenders (although the Coronet fenders had to be slightly modified). Likewise, the Superbird also used a standard (but also slightly modified) Coronet hood, as well.
Whether by design or accident, the loop-front bumpers of the 1970 Coronet worked out to be used with the NASCAR nosecone; the stock Road Runner front end would have been much more difficult to mate.
It’s also worth noting that the Superbird’s front fender scoops weren’t there as scoops, at all. They were really more like ‘blisters’ for tire clearance when the car squatted down at racetrack speeds.
Venting pressure from under the fenders would be beneficial too – the Firebird Trans Am does that too.
The Coronet R/T vs Superbee thing was a lot more clear in 1968 and makes a lot more sense with entry level examples. At their core Superbee = stripped down sedan with a souped up 383. R/T = well equipped hardtop with a 440.
Of course this being the 60s one could equip both with Hemis from the getgo, and the SuperBee could be optioned up to and beyond standard R/T levels – hardtop, bucket seats, console etc. Even more confusingly, the 69 Bees introduced a 440 variant of its own(six pack), so even that displacement wasn’t R/T exclusive anymore.
FWIW Coronet R/Ts and Superbees had different taillight treatments from each other every year they were made. 70 R/Ts also have side scoops, Bees do not.
This syncs with how I remember it, the SuperBee being the Roadrunner equivalent, and the R/T like the GTX. Badge engineering and badge marketing.
I wasn’t referring to the different equipment or pricing, but more the ‘add a badge and it is a completely different model’.
I don’t think I have a proper understanding of how they fit together, but thinking about things more I can come up with some situations in Australia that are vaguely comparable but not really. Local model ranges usually had different names for trim levels as per the traditional US cars, but one that was slightly different was when Holden applied the Monaro name to a sedan in addition to the coupe it had been.
Well they weren’t ever sold as totally different models, they were all Coronets and marketed as such. In fact the “Bee” in Buperbee was a play on the B-body platform the Coronet range was based.
Getting aside from R/T and Superbee for a sec, there were three model ranges for the Coronet model line in 1970 – Deluxe, which was the low end Police/Taxi spec line, Coronet 440(nothing to do with the engine) which was mid-line, and Coronet 500 is the range topper.
In essence “Superbee” is simply short for “Dodge Coronet Deluxe/440 Superbee”, and “Coronet R/T” is short for “Dodge Coronet 500 R/T”.
Aha, thanks Matt.
There were lots of those sort of model numbers here too, a 770 version of the Valiant Charger, Hunter 660, Cortina 240 & 440 just to mention a few.
Something worth mentioning about the whole Super Bee/Coronet R/T and Road Runner/GTX thing is how the bargain-basement cars never got a 440-4v installed at the factory. Chrysler was one of the companies that had a rather liberal policy on unofficial model variations that could be special ordered but the 1968-70 440-4v in a Road Runner or Super Bee is a myth. Not ‘one’ authentic version has ever been documented. It makes sense, too, as it was one place Chrysler definitely didn’t want to cannibalize sales. If you wanted a 440-4v powered Mopar musclecar from the factory, your choices were limited to a Charger R/T, Coronet R/T, or a GTX, and that’s it.
Although it is still a confusing area. For starters, there’s the 440-6v engine that became available in 1969 in the Road Runner and Super Bee. Undoubtedly, a few of them were converted to a single 4v carburetor to make adjustments easier and driveability better.
Then there’s the Maryland Superbirds. The state of Maryland didn’t recognize the NASCAR nosecone as a legitimate bumper (which it wasn’t) so a few of the Maryland Plymouth dealers actually converted their Superbirds to regular Road Runners to make them legal, and the vast majority of Superbirds came standard with that 440-4v engine.
Then, in 1971, the Charger R/T and Super Bee were based off of the same new coupe and a 440-4v was available in either.
Finally, in 1972, the 440-4v ‘did’ become available in the Road Runner, although it was technically a Road Runner/GTX with GTX stickers added.
I knew some dealers converted the cars because they wouldn’t sell, but hadn’t heard of the Maryland issue, thanks.
The Buick Gran Sport looks pretty well equipped for it’s day.
That would have cost a pretty penny here. I’d wonder what it would have cost there with shipping and right hand drive conversion.
The original owner must have loved it a lot to put that kind of money out in 1969.
Yes, it would be interesting to know the cost. At least back then there were de-restriction signs (for speed) at the edge of towns/cities so you could use a car like that. Good luck with it now…
Luv the old Munro, I see fewer of those these days than the other cars featured, some of the tsunami of old American cars seem to end up here and are becoming common sights,
I wouldn’t say the same is true in Australia. Chevrolet/Pontiac/Dodge/Plymouth/Fords are pretty common, not so much Olds/Buick/Mercury muscle cars like these, usually 1950s cars for those makes.
That first shot with the lineup of perfect cars on the polished wood floor almost looks like a group of models on a desktop.
Haha, yes I hadn’t looked at it like that, but the lighting & phone camera definitely give it that look.
If I only had to pick one I think I’d do the GS as a car to actually drive. Though the TA wouldn’t be bad. The Ford, Superbird, ‘Cuda and Merc are in that too rare (expensive) to drive and really enjoy. But if I won the lottery for a couple hundred million… Oh and better through that GTX in there too.
At that point, you may as well throw the rest in too?
Speaking of six cylinder Monaros, here is one I shot at a local car show last week.
Its a low miles original with gorgeous period correct Australian made Tasman wheels.
Nice one jonco, I like the VE pano in the background too.