The Superbird in the Bushes

Superbird-in-the-bushes

We are excited to announce that we have teamed up with Tom Cotter and Motorbooks to bring you a story from one of Tom’s books every Sunday through the rest of the year! This one is from The Hemi in the Barn and we know that you are going to enjoy it. Be sure to send in your stories because the best one submitted this year is going to be published in Tom’s upcoming book! Also, signup for updates because we are giving a book away to one of our subscribers every week too! So, without further ado, here’s the tale of The Superbird in the Bushes:

Barry Lee first heard about the Superbird from an unreliable source. After all, the guy had already snookered Lee out of two Plymouth ’Cudas that he had pursued on eBay. “This guy would deal in muscle cars,” said Lee, a motorcycle dealer near Jacksonville, Florida. “But he sold the two ’Cudas from under me after I had committed to them.”

Lee’s business was booming, and this allowed him to pursue the Mopar muscle cars he had loved since he was a kid. He was into Chrysler’s big-block ’Cudas, Super Bees, and Challengers. But his dream was to someday own either a long-snouted, big-winged Plymouth Superbird or its similarly styled cousin, the Dodge Daytona.

These cars were built with one purpose in mind: to win NASCAR races. The slippery nose and tall tail helped these cars go fast and stay planted, earning wins for drivers such as Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, and Bobby Allison. But the street versions were never winners in the showroom. The odd-looking vehicles were sold to the public for homologation purposes only; NASCAR rules required that a certain number of street versions be built for any model a manufacturer wanted to race on the stock car circuit.

Lee’s not-so-dependable contact must have had a change of heart, because he phoned Lee to tell him about a Superbird he heard about in Alabama. “He told me something about the car having been owned by a guy who was missing in action in Vietnam, and it had been sitting since 1975,” said Lee. “He gave me an address and only asked for a finder’s fee if I purchased the car.” Fair enough, Lee thought, and he made plans to see the winged Plymouth.

“Alabama was more than four hours from my home, and my wife wasn’t in the mood to take a long drive,” he said. “But I told her I’d take her to Biloxi, Mississippi, for some gambling over Christmas if we could stop in Alabama on the way. She was all for it.”

When Lee pulled up to the house, he thought the wheeler-dealer Mopar salesman had pulled another fast one on him. The property was overgrown, the house was abandoned, and the roof had collapsed. Lee walked around the yard and looked at a couple of old trucks and cars that were lying about, but there was nothing exciting. Then his wife noticed a small piece of bright orange inside the hedge. Lee pushed away the branches and discovered the car of his dreams: a 1970 Plymouth Superbird that had actually become part of the hedge!

Superbird-uncovered

Lee found out who owned the house and called the phone number. “When I called and asked about the car, they hung up the phone on me,” he said. The elderly owner, Frank Moran, whose wife was in a nursing home, lived nearby with his daughter. “So then I had my wife call, and she and Frank were having a nice conversation until she mentioned the Plymouth. Then he hung up on her too.” The Lees went on to Biloxi and had an enjoyable holiday, and decided to pursue the Superbird later.

Lee gives his wife full credit for coming up with a plan on acquiring the Plymouth. Call it woman’s intuition, but she suggested that they simply write a letter that expressed their desire to buy the car. What did he have to lose?

It was several weeks after their Alabama trip that Lee wrote the letter to both the elderly Frank Moran and his daughter. In it, he said he’d like to restore the car—to remove it from the elements that were destroying it—and that Moran could keep the title. It was quite a charitable offer, but it went unanswered.

“It was out of my hands,” Lee said. And at least a year went by before he received a surprise phone call. “Hello, Barry? This is George Proux, Frank Moran’s son-inlaw,” the caller announced. Lee’s heart began racing. “Frank fell and is in the hospital. I have power-of-attorney, and I had all the cars hauled off before I found your letter. I figured I should give you a call and let you know that the Plymouth you are interested in is sitting at my house in Jacksonville, Florida.” Only about fifteen minutes from Lee’s house!

Proux was a muscle car enthusiast. In fact, when he first married Moran’s daughter, he had tried to purchase the Superbird from Moran, but he was denied. With Moran’s declining health, Proux and his son hauled the car to their Florida home in the hopes of restoring it. But Lee hoped they would consider selling it, because the Superbird’s restoration was more than an average hobby restorer could handle.

Proux said that a museum in Alabama had been calling about acquiring the car, but he wanted to give Lee the first opportunity because the letter he had written was so sincere. “I went over and looked at the car and we talked,” Lee said. “At the time I was driving a very nice, 1970 factory big-block lime green Road Runner.”

Lee and Proux traded.

“He got what he wanted and I got what I wanted,” said Lee, very pleased with the transaction. Lee’s barn find is equipped with a numbers-matching 440- cubic-inch engine, column-mounted automatic transmission, and bench seat. It still has its original bias-ply Goodyear Wide Oval tires mounted on rally wheels. It was one of 1,920 Superbirds manufactured.

It was only after he acquired the car that Lee was finally able to meet Frank Moran and learn of the car’s history. “Frank was a super-nice guy; he was in a walker when I met him,” Lee said. Moran had traded a boat for the Superbird in 1974. He drove it, but didn’t enjoy being followed by people who wanted to talk to him about the car. Apparently, Moran once ran off someone inquiring about the car with a shotgun. “He was kind of a private guy,” Lee said. Finally, having driven it less than one thousand miles and fed up with the notoriety the car was bringing him, he pulled the car out of sight and parked it behind his house. Eventually the hedge slowly engulfed the orange car so that it wasn’t visible even to someone standing next to it.

Superbird-awaiting-restoration

That’s where Lee first spotted the car. Unfortunately, the time since he first saw the car had taken its toll on the Superbird’s condition. A hurricane that took landfall in Pensacola in 2004 blew down a tree, which broke out the back window and dented the roof and rear quarter panel. Then thieves had made off with many of the car’s unique parts, such as the rear wing, hood, radio, front fender scoops, and radiator. “I was surprised at the car’s poor condition when I saw it in Jacksonville,” he said.

Luckily, Lee came across a “clone” Superbird, from which he was able to buy replacements for many of the stolen metal and fiberglass pieces. However, he still needed the rear window—which is unique to the Superbird and extremely rare. Incredibly, Lee was able to locate a parts vendor in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who had a brand new rear window for the car still in the original carton.

“I finally have my dream car,” Lee said. “This car is a keeper. It will get a full rotisserie restoration and be the most serious restoration I’ve ever done. Because of the moist, salty, and humid environment the car had lived in for so many years, the floors, trunk, frame rails, and some of the firewall need to be replaced.” But first, Lee is completing the restoration of a 1969 Super Bee. Then a 1969 Camaro Convertible. Then a 1971 ’Cuda. Then comes the Superbird.

“I owe it to my wife, whose idea of a letter worked,” he said. “Persistence paid off. When it’s restored, I think it will be the lowest-mileage Superbird in the world.”

Image Captions:
#1: Find the hidden Superbird! At first, Barry Lee didn’t see the Superbird he had heard about in an Alabama yard. It had been parked behind a house for nearly thirty years, and eventually the hedge grew up around it.
#2: Even though the car had only thirty-five hundred miles on it, all those years parked in the salty, humid air near the Alabama coast certainly took its toll on the rare Plymouth. According to Lee, nearly every metal panel needs repair or replacement.
#3: Parked in a barn near Lee’s house in Jacksonville, Florida, the car reveals its rough condition. Even the firewall has cancer. Yet Lee looks forward to the ultimate restoration, which he will begin immediately after his two other projects.

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Comments

  1. Josh H.

    Love those works of art.

  2. Brian Collins

    I owned a Superbird very briefly. I found it in Dallas back in the late 80s. It was a solid rust-free, running and driving car. Paid $13,000 for it. When a friend of mine offered me $13,500 for it a few days later,……I let it go. If only I had had a crystal ball to know what that car would eventually be worth.

    Brian in Austin

  3. rancho bella

    Although these cars doing for me………..what a great story.
    Now, if that was me and it was a Lotus Elan…………..I’d be a wreck…………….

    • rancho bella

      “do nothing for me”……….gawd, what is wrong with me lately?

      • paul

        Yes pancho ahem rancho ahem TC we know all about your Elan lust.

  4. Brian Collins

    What a great recovery story. Love the picture of the car in the hedge.
    Brian

  5. Keith C.

    Nice story. Only question I have is he said the rear wing was missing. The third picture shows a wing on it. Did he buy the replacement wing and put it on the car? Will be very expensive build.

  6. Mark E

    I had a chance to buy one in 1976 when I was in college. It was in REAL tough shape, the owner had put it in primer but the mechanism for the headlights didn’t work – he had two wedge-style door stops he used to prop the headlights open when he drove it at night. The original hemi had been blown and was long gone, in its place was a very nice 383 six-pack. Not bad for $2500, huh?

  7. AMCFAN

    Fantastic story. I have story involving a 1970 AMX. Years ago I was visiting my grandmother and was talking to a cousin and was told of an AMX sitting in a yard. He said it had been there for years and that don’t bother it was not for sale. Before the trip home I went to check out the car and as I pulled in the driveway the guy was putting on a for sale sign on the car! I bought it at once. It was a Black with Red stripe w/Red interior. 360 Automatic. It in no way would compare to finding a Superbird but as thrilling to me.

  8. geomechs geomechs Member

    You hear about these finds but seldom ever see them, making most of them nothing other than Urban Legends. It’s good to hear that some of them are actually true. I wish the owner luck with the restoration.

  9. scot

    ~ my hat is off to Mrs.Barry Lee for her diplomacy. without it the Superbird might have vanished. while it may be a very expensive restoration my bet is it will be done right.

  10. Richard L Gugenberger

    I remember Sherwood Motors in Johnstown NY had a white superbird and we laughed at it every time we drove by. He ended up giving it to his daughter and son in law , who used to live up the street from me ,so I got to laugh at it even more . The son in law was kinda of a geek and wasnt a really good fit for a superbird . One day it was gone dont know what happened to it . Proubly could have bought it for 2000. 00 back then who knew !

    • John Moyer

      I know that alpine white Superbird fairly well. I lived in Canajoharie and bought my Tor-Red Bird brand new and still have it today. The one in Johnstown was somewhat unique in that it had an original Edelbrock 6 pack intake manifold which I believe was aluminum. My 6 pack is the usual cast iron Mopar. If I remember correctly it was a 4 speed w/black bench interior.

      Your comment re the car/son-in-law fit was a common opinion 40+ yrs ago.

      Small world sometimes. My car and I are now in San Diego after stays in York, Pa. and Phoenix, Az. It will be my son’s someday.

      Remember the Daytona the announcer/owner(?) of Lebanon valley Speedway had? Every once in a while he made a trip to Fonda Speedway w/it.

      • Michael McCullough

        John Moyer, are you the person who was in a local York newspaper article, approximately 1990, mentioned as having the first Superbird made? I went to that car show referenced in the article and vaguely recall speaking with you. I have owned my Superbird since 1976 and am doing some restoration work on the body now. Mine is nothing special, 440-4V, column automatic, bench seat, Lemon Twist yellow, 72K miles, but it is pretty original.

    • Norman Reyome

      WOW I remember that car… My dad used to own Taylor Rental in Gloversville, and I know a family on Woodside Ave that had an orange one. I drove it when I was dating on of the girls…440, auto…. had a carb fire in Caroga Lake when the brother was driving it, he threw dirt on it. I coulda bought that thing for $1500. and said NO !!

  11. jim

    a story every sunday is a great addition to the site. loved the first one and can’t wait for the next.

  12. Phyl

    Loved the story, and the pictures, Patience pays off at times.

  13. D T

    I came across one of these myself, abandoned, on the side of the road. the hemi was gone but the rest of it was intact, white, fin, everything. I figured it was stolen, why else would a superbird be sitting on the side of the road? if I knew then, what I know now!

  14. Bobinott

    Love the new feature! As for this SuperBird, wow, there can’t have been much left after that kind of “storage”. Very ambitious resto, but sometimes it is about passion, not about practicality. Luckily this one will be worth whatever winds up being spent.

  15. Rene

    There was a Superbird here in Denmark once. Owned by a dane. Don’t know if it’s still here. Anyway it had the 426-Hemi in it. Wouldn’t surprice me if it has been sold to an international collector, given it’s value in money.

  16. rex

    I owned a Suprbird, and it is now owned by a lady in Albuquerque, NM. it is Blk, orginal color was blue, then change to all Red and White (Dodge colors), then Blk, it can be seen o youtube, Under The Calif. Highway Patrol Academy 1971.
    Take a look .
    It was quite a car.

  17. Blindmarc

    When my father worked a Lloyd McKee in Albuquerque in 1970, He drove a limelight with a black vinyl top bird home at lunch time one summer day. I have never forgotten being plastered in the seat when he took me for a ride back to pick up his car. The sound the gears, and the g-force will always be with me.

  18. bill graham

    In about 1974 or 1975, my brother asked me to ride with him to a small Plymouth dealer in Scottsdale, Az. (Ed Moses Chrysler Ply.) to look at a Hemi Daytona. I said ok, It was only a few miles away and an interesting car but not something I wanted. So we both got into our 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible that we had purchased about 2 years prior for $1700. and drove over there. When we arrived, It was parked in the front driveway of the dealership. It was totally complete and original and in pretty good shape except for the 2×6 board that had been bolted to the front nose as a bumper. I don’t remember too much more except that when my brother Bob said It is only $1300. and we really should buy it (he always thought about collectibility and the big picture), my response was “We can’t get rid of the one we have”, meaning our Hemi convertible. You see, we had been trying to sell our Hemi ‘Cuda for about 6 months for $3500., but the few interested people would say “I would buy it except it is a convertible”. Now I watch people all glassy eyed about these cars and think why didn’t you want them when they were new? True story.

    1
  19. Shuperman

    A young man in my hometown, who clearly wished his Aspen was a Super Bird attempted to add a bit of wing-car flavor to his otherwise boring car by painting ‘Super Bird’ on the rear side windows. Problem is, he spelled it with two ‘P’s.

    Supper Bird.

    • Dolphin Dolphin Member

      “Supper” bird, eh?.

      Maybe he really thought his boring car was a turkey.

      1
    • Danger Dan

      There is also a fellow
      In my hometown who has converted a cordoba into a daytona. Did a darn good job too. Enough to make 2 experienced carguy friends call
      Me & ask if it’s the real deal!

  20. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    Even tho I read this before in Tom Cotter’s book, it’s still a great story, and it’s fun to read it again.

    What’s even better is that Barnfinds.com has teamed up with Tom to further the barn find effort. This will be good, and I’m looking forward to more great barn finds on here, and also Tom’s next book.

    Congrats to Jesse and his team and to Tom for making all these great stories available to car nuts like us.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      Thanks Dolphin, we are excited too. Having these stories every week is just going to make the site more interesting for everyone. We hope you guys enjoy it.

  21. Winged70bbody

    I always love seeing stories about Superbirds and Daytonas. There are so many people that claim to have owned one, that, I find to be a bit ridiculous.. To those that have, more power to you. If you take the 1920 cars made and divide by 50 (states), you would get 38 per state. A stupidly low number of cars. Since there are only about 980 left that are documented, and 350+ of those are in different countries, that leaves 630 left in the US.. or 12 per state. I can’t tell you how many car shows I have been to with mine and had 4 or 5 people per say they owned one (or two).. And for the guy that laughed at them every day.. It’s pretty funny now hey? All I can say is pictures or it never happened. Video is better.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Xa0MpguiUM

  22. Charlie

    You found this BIRD the same way I found my 69 Road Runner while I was in the Air Force. This was June of 1974. I had parked my 68 Newport 2dr Hdtp when the 383 spun a bearing, and started to look for another set of wheels to get around while working on the Newport. While traipsing across the gravel parking lot of an old Chrysler/Plymouth dealership getting ready to shut its doors after 40 years, I spotted a square taillight poking out through the weeds and trees. The guy that owned the place said that I wouldn’t be interested it the car because it needed some work ( A new timing chain, clutch,brakes and carb rebuild). Well, there sat this Met. Olive or Military Green w/Black Vinyl roof Road Runner with only 23,000 miles on it and all for $800 ( and wound up only costing $400). The guy that owned the place said that since he was closing the doors, he might as well supply the parts to fix the car, plus we got to use the garage. This was a Saturday about 1pm. By Sunday at 3pm, she backed out of the garage, that 383 humming and backed up by the 4spd with the dual exhaust. I owned her for 10 years before I had to sell her. I know that I will never find another one the same way or color. By the way, both the Newport and Road Runner were that odd color of Met. Olive Green.

    • Doug Medeiros

      In 1977 I bought a 69 383/727/3:23 Charger SE for 500.00 it was that same green on green on green column shift bench seat it had a few small dents in it that I fixed….drove it for awhile sold it for 350.00 Thanks to that stupid gas crunch……

      • Charles G. Van De Sampel

        The best place to purchase cars back in the 70’s was the north. Many states outlawed the use of salt on their streets and highways. Back in 1974, I found my mint 69 Road Runner buried in the bushes of closing Chrysler dealership 30 miles from the airbase. 31k on the odo. 383/4spd/3.55:1 rear. Gave $400 for her. She just needed a new timing chain and clutch assy. Then two months later while driving past a Chevy dealer in town, saw a 70 Super Bee on their lot. Same color and trim as my 69 bird. It too came the same way. Had just 28,300 showing on the speedo. 383/4spd/3.55:1 rear. Gave $625 for her. Took a week of leave, an airplane ticket for between the car trips and drove them both home to store in the barn. But between 89 and 91, wound up selling both cars to help pay the legal fees from a nasty divorce.

  23. PaulieB

    I once worked with a woman whose husband’s Dad owned a Chrysler/Plymouth dealership in Central Mass. He ordered one back in the day and still had it in1980..not sure where it is now..

  24. Danger Dan

    A chum I call grumpy Troy has a tale of woe for the winged wonder set. Troy is actually a fearless dude & was a high school football standout. He also had a Bmx bike career and was known for his fiery competitiveness. This fellow is a certified Mopar nutcase & still has a gts 383/4spd & a gts 340/4spd. He can tell you where every significant Chrysler is/was or isn’t sitting in a 100 mile radius. This guy bleeds Mopar. Anyhow as a strapping young fella he got wind of a white superbird in San Rafael California by san Quentin prison. He made the trip across the 12 mile bridge from our hometown of Oakland. There it sat in all it’s glory for the paltry sum of $1800 big ones. He sat behind the wheel. He caressed the wing. He checked the underside. He lifted the hood & inspected the trunk…
    And then.. He chickened out. The big bird got the best of him. In all his 18 years he had been scared of no man or machine, this day however he had no desire to maneuver the monster back across that looooooong 12 mile bridge…..
    He still talks about it to this day, with a distant far away look in his eye…..

    • Doug Medeiros

      It’s a great place to buy a car,the East Bay is even better.

  25. nolan garrison

    anybody looking for original bird decals ive got Plymouth qpanel and super bird wing 2 of each these are oem the last ones available from the Chicago parts depot in 1994 they are in the original pkg and have out of the elements

  26. Joe T

    I remember seeing one of these under a tree in someone’s front yard on a back road between Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama back in the late 80s. I didn’t have the money to buy one so I never stopped but I always thought it strange because The Superbird was out in the elements while I could see what appeared to be a Camero SS (Yenko or clone) and a Nova SS were carefully stored away in the open garage. Don’t know if this may be the same car but how many could there have been in the Florida / Alabama area?

    • Doug Medeiros

      It is beyond me why people leave cars outside…….It’s tragic,includes motorcycles and Bicycles too…….All I can figure is they don’t have a garage……..Garage 1st house 2nd………..

  27. robert Garth

    Ok it was in Pensacola Florida not Alabama. I grew up 2 doors down from Mr. Moran. He got the car from his father when his father dies. At least thats we he told us, and my dad remembers when he got two cars from California. His daughter Nichole used to pick us up from school in it. it was an awesome car and he was a super nice guy. People used to just bang on his door trying to get the car and he was very annoyed by it. It was a shot gun he used but his service .45 that he got in the war.

    • Bob Frey

      Robert Garth, I would like to talk to you. I just bought this very same car from Mr. Lee and I would like to know all i can about its history.

      1
      • Robert garth

        Yeah sure, you can email me garths@ garthsauction.com. I still live in Pensacola and still live 2 doors down.

      • Robert garth

        Sure email me at garths@garthsauction.com. Still live 2 doors down from the old car.

  28. nolan garrison

    I have original qpanel and wing decals for a bird. in the pkg. 300 for the set

  29. Perry Hastings

    In September of 1969 I walked into the back end of Dodge Town in Rapid City, S.D. to look at a Sublime green 1970 Charger, which I purchased a few days later. Sitting alongside it was a 69 Charger Daytona with the droop nose and wing, brand new, in the olive green color. Thought it was ugly as sin!! Drove my Charger for 8 years and sold it to a kid for $275.00. Didn’t cry when he drove it away but did have some wistfulness as he turned the corner and went out of sight.

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