NASCAR Aero Warriors!
If Honda Accords ruled the world, there would be no need for automotive hyperbole. We’d drive our grey metallic appliances to work and play, and not a drop of ink would be wasted on writing of their merits. There just isn’t very much about these workaday cars to elicit much emotion. “It starts every morning” or “it gets 39 MPG” are not the attributes that cause grown men to lose their composure and well, get all goofy.
We recently had the incredible fortune to sample two cars for which hyperbole is not only essential but perhaps invented in the first place. These cars defy our ability to describe them in purely rational and sanguine terms.
Stuart Weeman is a noted MoPar collector and a fine customer of Gyrhead & Sons. Today, we would have the opportunity to visit his home and see his collection in person. We’d chatted a few times before, and the collection sure sounded impressive on the phone. The reality far outstripped my expectation.
Stepping into his garage, the 29,000 mile `70 LS-6 Chevelle initially caught my eye – but not for long. There in the shop were two of the rarest, cleanest and most sought after aero warriors to ever roll from the factory. A `70 426 Hemi Plymouth Superbird and drum roll please – one of the three Holman Moody built `70 Torino King Cobras. One of three, and I was gazing upon 33.3% of total production. In terms of rarity, there is no compare. Ferrari 250 SWB GTO? Not even close. L-88 Corvette? Please. Boss 429? Spare me.
A meteor could have landed on my head at that moment and I would have died happy – but then it gets much better. “Got some time?” asked Stuart – “wanna go for a cruise?”
So, here I am buckling into a pristine 42,000 mile Hemi Superbird. Stuart twists the key and the Hemi comes to life immediately. A brief moment of valvetrain clatter followed by a steady big cam idle. I try acting cool, but this car is flat freaking me out. “Lookitmelookitme I’m in a Hemi, I’m in a Hemi” Stuart must think I’m mentally unbalanced. It isn’t me – it’s the dammed car and those 3 little numbers: 4-2-6. Four hundred and twenty six cubic reasons why this is the coolest conveyance ever. This isn’t a “limited edition” stripe package dreamed up by jaded marketers to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Gutenberg printing press. This is a no holds barred expression of engineering might and corporate resolve. It is the four- wheeled .30-06 that Chrysler brought to the 1969 Torino Talladega knife fight. Practically every rule in NASCAR racing since 1970 can be tied somehow to this car and I’m going for a ride!!
Immediately I’m struck by how civilized this MoPar Supercar feels over the road. Aside from park bench seating, high stall converter, undeniable exhaust note and a slight loading up of the dual quads at stoplights – the Superbird moves down the road in modern fashion. Even light throttle 1-2 upshifts bark the tires. With tall gearing and very well developed aero package 60 MPH cruising is remarkably quiet – even with the windows down. Then Stuart legs the throttle. There’s a small hole in the fuel delivery as eight venturis of Carter AFB transition to WOT. The 727 Torqueflite immediately kicks down to second and the tires spin. This thing broke traction at 50 miles per hour! I watch the speedo needle and it’s spinning like a bathroom scale. We’re nearly at triple digits before Stuart backs out. At speed, I notice how stable and composed the chassis feels. Credit the radial tires, Mopar’s innovative torsion bar suspension and that big ginsu knife wing out back. With the 426 and 3.23 gears I no longer dismiss the 150 MPH speedometer as pure marketing fluff. Incredibly, Stuart pulls over and asks if I want to drive. Like most gearheads – driving a Hemi car is on my short list of things to do before I die – but a voice in my head interferes with the dream. “This car is worth more than your house Tom - what if you ball it up?” Amazingly, I hear myself decline the offer. No big, because a ride is already more than I could have asked for!
We return to the garage for a photo shoot. I’m dying to see the Calypso Coral King Cobra in the fall sunlight, although I’m not hopeful that Stuart will want to expose it to the elements. Wrong. “Wanna take a ride in the Boss?” He asks. Why yes, yes I do and thank you for asking.
As soon as he fires up the 494 inch Boss motor I know we’re in for trouble. This is a serious weapon – developed by Holman-Moody to combat Chevrolet’s Mark IV rat motor on the Can-Am circuits. As a race motor it was only marginally successful, but on the street this blue crescent wonder promises to be lethal. With a big Holley 4150, manual choke and 735 lbs of cold cast iron – this engine is reluctant to idle and balky until the temperature rises. The exhaust note is evil. Deep and purposeful, with a hard metallic edge not unlike a Pantera.
The styling is purposeful, but not classically beautiful. The fiberglass nose takes some time to warm up to – but the concealed headlamps look much nicer than the exposed lamps on the other 2 King Cobras. The Calypso Coral paint is sensational, an absolutely perfect complement to the sharp lines of the Torino. I suddenly want to paint everything I own in this color.
Aside from a lonely COBRA emblem on the dash and Ford’s sexy 3 spoke rim-blow wheel the interior of the King is plain and unremarkable. 120 MPH sweep speedo, fuel / temp gauges and an AM radio. The interior of the car is exactly like the one in my mom’s ’70 Torino wagon and brings back great memories.
However, no Torino EVER drove like this! At 30 MPH in second gear Stuart feathers into the throttle. The Cobra immediately lifts up on the leaf springs, the 60 series Polyglas tires begin to howl, and the bench seat slams backwards so hard I’m afraid it’ll tear off its mounts. I’m laughing like a fool and Stuart calmly says, “that was nothing, I was barely on it” Stuart claims over 700 horsepower from the Holman-Moody powerplant, and I believe it. On an empty stretch of highway, Stuart comes to a full stop and then hammers the throttle. First gear is 125 feet of positraction opposite lock and billowing tire smoke. Second gear is more of the same, and even with 3.50 gears is good for nearly 90 MPH. We’re hard into third and it’s still pulling past triple digits. I cannot comprehend how anything this large can accelerate this strongly. My educated seat of the pants says 4.5 seconds to sixty, and mid 12’s in the quarter on bia ply tires.
What’s surprising about the Boss is the way it piles on the revs. I expected this long arm stroker motor to be a lazy revver – but it twists like a Boss 302 with a howling exhaust note that is pure 1970 NASCAR. Throttle response is right here, right NOW and there simply isn’t a hole anywhere in the power delivery. This car is a Calypso Coral avalanche with a bench seat and it makes the Hemi seem positively tame.
The handling is unremarkable, with a good bit of body roll, dartiness and steering correction over rough pavement. Part of the blame surely goes to the Polyglas bias ply tires, but in abrupt lane change maneuvers you are well aware of the weight extending far past both axles. It gives the car a slightly unsettled pendulum feeling – but this is not felt in normal driving. With such power and torque multiplication from the 2.78 toploader, there is a bit of leaf spring windup and resulting shudder in street starts – but wood the throttle and the tires surrender faster than France. I suspect there isn’t a gumball on the planet that can withstand the torque wallop delivered by this heroically powerful Boss 494.
Perhaps the most amusing aspect of these aero cars is their effect on other drivers. Despite the bright paint, extroverted graphics and eye-popping sheetmetal some drivers motor past without reaction. Those in the know stare in jaw drop wonder, while others point and silently mouth something that looks like “WTF?” or “Holy crap!” And I notice a socio-economic pattern too. The suburban Range Rover/BMW/Mercedes crowd could care less. To them, we’re just greasy nailed punks in loud cars. But the working guys go bananas. These cars are automotive royalty, and they respond accordingly. Tools get dropped, ball caps get placed reverently to the chest and work all but stops when these cars go by. I honestly don’t think that a parade of naked supermodels would have greater effect.
So the day ends. Perhaps one of the most unexpected and enjoyable days of my life. Sharing the gracious company of a true enthusiast like Stuart was refreshing. Here’s a guy that knows exactly why he collects musclecars. Not for double digit ROI, but because he loves these fine cars and most importantly loves driving them in the manner for which they were designed. The next morning I took the cover off of our CJ Cougar and drove it to breakfast with my 4 year old son. Hey, these cars were meant for driving!
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