Even without the use of his legs, the late Charlie Woods liked performance cars and in 1970 that meant a Road Runner Superbird by Plymouth.
From Master Chrysler Plymouth in Clearfield, Pa., he ordered one of the rare Superbirds decked out with hand controls to accommodate his handicap.
These outrageous cars were an extension of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytonas. About 500 Daytonas had been hastily built in 1969, just enough to qualify as a production car to go racing. NASCAR didn’t like that and promptly upped the ante by tripling the number of cars manufactured to qualify as production cars in 1970.
Plymouth easily eclipsed the 1,500 figure by producing 1,920 Road Runner-based Superbirds. They were produced only one year and won 21 of 38 Grand National races in 1970. After that, NASCAR again changed the rules, effectively outlawing them.
Each Plymouth Road Runner Superbird carried a base price of $4,298 and could be optioned from a short list. The standard Superbird came equipped with:
Black vinyl roof.
Power disc brakes.
Hood hold-down pins.
Performance axle package.
The original owner also ordered accessories including:
Solid state AM radio……$61.55.
Rallye road wheels……….43.10.
The Goodyear F70x14-inch black sidewall white letter fiberglass belted tires were part of the package.
With a $59 destination charge tossed in, the Superbird appears to have proved costly at 95 cents under $4,500.
One more detail, not listed on the window sticker, makes number 1408 one of, if not THE, rarest Superbirds. That detail is the handicapped hand control that allows the driver to operate the brake and accelerator with his left hand.
The original owner spent the first decade accumulating almost 40,000 miles on the highways and byways of Pennsylvania. There was plenty of down time since the Superbird was reportedly repeatedly wrecked and needed repairing.
Accidents and road salt had taken their toll by 1979 when the car was parked.
Family members of the deceased original owner eventually moved the rusted Plymouth, with its right front fender in the back seat, to a storage yard in Alexandria.
Young Pete Petursson, barely out of his teens, saw the car in 1986 thanks to the 23 and 1/2-inch-tall spoiler in the lot and left a note on the car asking the owner to call.
He received no response and forgot about the car until two years later. While playing baseball in Alexandria he again saw the car in the same lot and again left a note.
About two weeks before Christmas 12 years ago, Mr. Petursson says, “I got a call.”
A relative of the original owner was ready to part with the car but cautioned Mr. Petursson that it was rare, and thus expensive.
Expensive in good condition, Mr. Petursson explained, but in basket-case condition something less. He offered about one-third of the asking price and eventually the offer was accepted.
He hauled the relic home where the rusty hulk sat until 1995 when Mr. Petursson trucked it to Allentown, Pa., to have it dipped, allowing chemicals to eat away all the rust, leaving whatever clean, healthy metal survived.
“The result was worse than I thought,” Mr. Petursson says. “The condition of the floor blew me away,” he recalls. It was beyond salvaging.
After hauling what was left of the car home, he pondered for six months whether to walk away or to continue on with the restoration project.
It was a close call.
“I had an unfair advantage,” Mr. Petursson says. He had recently become the owner of Precision Auto Body in Alexandria, Va., and had a shop full of technicians to work on his car.
About the only original parts left of the original car, he says, are the roof, firewall, surprisingly the rocker panels and the aluminum struts supporting the famous wing.
From Kansas came a parts car, a regular Plymouth Road Runner in virtually rust-free condition. From that donor car came innumerable parts including new door skins.
Now the race was on.
Every five years the Dodge and Plymouth “Winged Warriors” of 1969 and 1970 converge on the track at Talledega in their restored cars to relive the wonderment of those years.
Mr. Petursson, of course, wanted his car to take part in the 30th anniversary gathering on Oct. 15, 1999. Of all the Superbirds built only 155 restored cars migrated back to their original roost.
Returning the car to its original condition was a “down-to-the-wire” challenge.
Behind that aerodynamic nose with vacuum-operated headlight doors is the resleeved 440-cubic-inch V-8 engine producing an earth-shaking 375-horsepower.
The best part of the Talledega gathering, Mr. Petursson reports, is “we got to do a lap, even though it was a slow speed.”
While wrestling the steering wheel in the all black interior with charcoal trim, Mr. Petursson could only imagine what “real” stock car racing on 116-inch wheelbase cars must have been like.