WRITTEN BY STEVEN RUPP FOR HOT ROD MAGAZINE ON APRIL 2nd, 2023.
The 2023 Mecum auction in Indy is featuring two Mopars that were designed but never produced.
Let's take a trip back in time. In 1970, the Mopar winged aero-cars were kicking ass in NASCAR, so Chrysler funded testing of the new 1971 designs at Wichita State University's wind tunnel. The team used ⅜-scale models of Chargers and Road Runners and fitted them with an array of wings, nose cones, and other aero bits. Sadly, it all became a wasted effort when NASCAR banned the winged cars from competition. The 406-page report titled "Results of the Wind Tunnel Tests of the 'G' Series Dodge and Plymouth B-Bodies for the Development of Grand National Race Cars" (whew, that's a mouthful!) was relegated to the dustbin of history, and we were never treated to the 1971 wing cars that could have been.
But hot-rodders never let "what might have been" stop them from creating what the car manufacturers failed to give us. One copy of that report, along with its 350 photographs, survived in the collection of Greg Kwiatkowski, and it was all Gary and Pam Beineke needed to build the 1971 Charger Daytona that was never produced, and do it the way the factory would have most likely done it. The wind tunnel testing book has several variations, so the couple picked the one that seemed most likely to be chosen based on the earlier production cars from 1969 and 1970. Their 1971 Dodge Daytona, built with the assistance of Mike Goyette, was a hit when it debuted in 2002 at the All Chrysler Nationals. This custom one-of-one "what-if" Charger will be sold at the 2023 Mecum show in Indy Lot number R109. These cars were also featured in the August 2005 issue of HOT ROD magazine—check out the archives using the MotorTrend App!
Given the positive reaction the Daytona received, the trio decided to tackle the other car involved in the wind tunnel study: the 1971 Plymouth Superbird. That same 406-page report gave them a clear idea of what the '71 Superbird would have looked like if NASCAR hadn't been such a buzzkill. Just as with the what-if 1971 Daytona, the team set out to fabricate the car that Plymouth should have given us but didn't.
Gary found a partially restored, mostly rust-free '71 B-body project car and in 2002 hauled it to their home garage so the three builders could start the difficult fabrication process. You see, this wasn't just a matter of bolting the nose and wing from a 1970 onto the 1971 car; due to the new body style, nothing was even close to fitting, so that meant all the new aero bits would have to be fabricated from scratch! The task would be even more difficult than their previous what-if 1971 Daytona Challenger.
The team would fabricate a part, compare it to the photos and sketches in the book, and then either tweak the part or throw it in the dumpster and start over. For the nose, Gary and Mike used tubular steel to fabricate a skeleton of what the nose should look like. Once it was "right" they laid out the fiberglass mat and made a mold for the 1971 Superbird nose. Coming up with the nose took four full 16-hour days to pull off, but the result looks like it came straight out of the factory—except this one fits even better.
The headlight buckets were a challenge since the wind tunnel testing didn't mention them, so the team had to get a bit creative. The first try was a riff on the rotating headlights found on 1960s Corvettes. It looked awful, so they came up with doors, actuated by Pontiac Fiero headlight motors, that opened upwards. This sort of out-of-the-box thinking is impressive from such a small team working out of their home garage.
The hood was easier, since it's a stock 1971 Air Grabber piece, but the fender scoops had to be hand-fabricated to fit the contour of the narrow Charger fenders. Another big challenge was the rear wing. The wing from a 1970 Superbird wasn't even close to fitting, so Greg and Mike fabricated one out of steel. It has the same swept-back angle of the 1970 wing, but works with the angles of the 1971 Charger's quarter-panels. It's even tied into the car the same way a factory wing would have been. Wind tunnel testing found zero need for rear window mods, so the team opted to dress things up a bit with reproduction window louvers. They also wanted their what-if Superbird to be fully optioned, so an electric sunroof was grafted in—so cleanly that the car didn't even require a vinyl top to hide imperfections.
Another what-if aspect of this 1971 Superbird is the six-barrel 472-inch Hemi under the hood. Chrysler never offered a triple-deuce Hemi option, but they did toy with the idea, and even produced a prototype. The custom-fabricated aluminum intake mounts stock Holley two-barrel carbs, and the fully-rebuilt Hemi crate engine is backed by a five-speed Tremec TKO manual transmission.
The interior was worked over to look "right" as well, with a reproduced radio-delete dash and a period-correct, and rare, pedestal-mounted non-console factory cassette player just ahead of the shifter. The guts of the cassette player are gone and replaced with a modern AM/FM CD unit with the antenna hidden under the dash.
This prototype 1971 Plymouth Superbird was shot in two-stage Tor-Red (Hemi Orange) and Sign Design in Brockton, Massachusetts, helped come up with the proper graphics, including the never-was Hemi Six Barrel air-cleaner decal. What's more amazing is that this build, from start to finished and on the road, took the trio only eight months to accomplish! If you want to find out more about this 1971 Superbird that never officially existed, or maybe even bid on it, then check out lot R108 at the 2023 Mecum show in Indy. Hey, you can be sure another one won't park next to you at the local car cruise!
1971 Plymouth Charger Superbird Mecum Highlights
- Built using the sole Chrysler aero study, with engineering blueprints for NASCAR Racing, from January-March 1970, where ⅜-scale models of the new G-series/1971 body styles were secretly being wind tunnel tested
- Represents the 1971 Plymouth Superbird that never was
- Unique nose cone and rear wing designated as the optimum design
- Electrically operated headlight doors
- Custom Hemi +6 callouts
- 472/570-HP Mopar Performance Hemi V-8 engine with Tom Hoover-inspired Six Barrel setup
- Mopar Performance test camshaft
- American Powertrain five-speed manual transmission with overdrive
- Blackout rear valance has been customized to accommodate rear quad Bazooka exhaust, which appears on Chrysler's factory concept cars for 1971
- 96 front torsion bars
- Mopar Performance rear leaf springs
- HD front and rear anti-sway bars
- 54 Dana 60 rearend
- Power steering
- Four-wheel power disc brakes
- Legendary factory Black and Orange vinyl interior
- Factory cassette unit fitted with AM/FM/CD
- Astrotone Rallye dash
- Pistol Grip shifter
- Factory electric sunroof
- Air Grabber hood
- Rear window louvers
- 15x8 Rallye wheels
- Goodyear Eagle 255 60x15 front and 275 60x15 rear tires
- Featured in HOT ROD, Mopar Collector's Guide, and Mopar Action magazines