By on August 18, 2016

1970 Plymouth EPA Superbird Blue front quarter, Image: Barrett-Jackson

Indeed, car shoppers looking for a bargain can potentially find fleet gold at surplus auctions, where municipal, county, state, and federal agencies dispose of (usually) lightly used domestic cars and trucks. Knowing how those agencies use their vehicles can make or break the value of your find; buying an ex-Border Patrol Raptor in Texas may not be the best idea if you want a long-lived, trouble free truck.

A keen eye and a bit of luck, however, can yield a magnificent treasure. In 1979, a high-school shop teacher spotted this old Plymouth up for bid, and took it home for a measly $500. It’s no ordinary Plymouth, of course — it’s the legendary Superbird, with the NASCAR-ready homologation wing and aero nose.

It’s up for auction again in October, though it’ll cross the stage under bright lights and TV cameras at the glitzy Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas instead of a dreary government service facility. As these rare ‘Birds tend to trade for well over six figures, we’d have to say this is likely the best surplus find yet.

However, the story behind this example might make it worth even more: This particular Superbird was owned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

1970 Plymouth Superbird EPA Blue rear quarter, Image: Barrett-Jackson

As sage muscle car guru Steve Magnante tells it on Barrett-Jackson’s site, the EPA needed a way to test the emissions of jet airliners, and the method they determined was to load up a car with sensors and testing equipment, then drag race the airplanes as they hustled down the runway. However, no normal car would suffice, so the EPA contracted Nichels Engineering of NASCAR fame to butch up this already lean muscle car.

1970 Plymouth Superbird EPA 440 six-pack engine, Image: Barrett-Jackson

As the low nose and high wing of the Superbird was designed to improve downforce and stability around Daytona’s oval, the same features kept the car planted in the jetwash of the big airplanes. The tall wing also provided an ideal platform for air sampling away from the turbulence generated by the body of the car.

1970 Plymouth Superbird EPA interior, Image: Barrett-Jackson

Nearly 40 years after being saved from the scrap heap, this 440-powered 1970 Plymouth Superbird has been restored to look just as it did when taxiing with the jets, with all its EPA equipment included. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a truly unique piece of Mopar — and government — history.

1970 Plymouth Superbird EPA wing with sampling tube, Image: Barrett-Jackson

1970 Plymouth Superbird EPA testing equipment, Image: Barrett-Jackson

[Images: Barrett-Jackson]

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56 Comments on “Government Surplus Auctions Can Yield Amazing Treasures...”

  • avatar

    Would anyone here actually wish to be seen on the road in that Superbird today?

    I remember the first one seen locally around 1970-ish. Goofy from the get-go.

  • avatar

    This is VERY cool. I like that it’s been restored to original function. The full center console was an optional extra, wasn’t it?

    Also, for people who lived it – were these uncool junk by the ’80s, or were they always a collectors item?

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      They were always a cool collectors item if you were into the Mopar scene. Which means that they were probably uncool in the greater scheme of things.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      I can’t imagine this car ever being uncool.

      • 0 avatar

        I think that when it was new and they built one Superbird for every Plymouth dealer, 1,920 in total, there were more than there were people who wanted one and could afford to purchase and insure one. The oversupply surely made them seem less desirable. Once people got into the fake luxury of the brougham era, all bets were off. People’s tastes were as perverted by Monte Carlos, Cutlass Supremes, and Coupe DeVilles as they are today by Chinese-market-driven BMWs and Nissan-based Mercedes. Exactly the same kind of people too.

    • 0 avatar

      In the late seventies a man in town was using a Mopar wing car to haul plywood for his DIY home improvement project. The wing provided good support and tie-down point for the plywood.

    • 0 avatar

      Standard interior was bench seat. Buckets optional with or without console. All manuals were floor shift; floor shift auto req console.

      • 0 avatar

        So just choosing a manual got you floor shift, buckets, and console? Now you can get floor shift, buckets, and console, but often not manual. what the hurl happened?

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      They were very rare, even in the 1980’s. I mean, you could see 442’s, GNX’s or Shelby Mustangs in junky condition back then, and buy them in used car lots for peanuts, but never the Superbirds.

      I guess they featured the Superbird in the movie Joe Dirt for the outrageousness factor, but I never saw a Superbird in that condition. And I knew quite a few real-life Joe Dirt types.

      • 0 avatar

        They were worth around $10K by the mid/late ’80s. That’s what low mileage GT500s and other Muscle Cars at the top food chain were going for. I had the cash, but was lured away by new 5.0 Mustangs starting at that price.

        • 0 avatar

          By the late 80’s early 90’s they were the first muscle car to auction in the 6 figures if I remember correctly. But yeah they were tough sells in the 70’s

          • 0 avatar

            They were prized by enthusiast collectors, not by “investors” even as late as the late ’80s. Hemi ‘Cudas/Chargers/etc, were still scrapped for the engines. Most everything after the early ’70s sucked, as far as “Muscle Cars” went. Late ’60s muscle cars were loved and respected, but that’s all their ’80s prices reflected.

    • 0 avatar

      In Ann Arbor, circa 1982, my older brothers and I befriended a guy that lived right nearby, who owned two 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner Superbirds. One was a Hemi car in orange, the other a 440 car in yellow – both had the pistol grip 4-speed IIRC. The guy said he would sell my oldest brother the 440 car for $10,000. We thought it was just too steep and passed on the deal. I wish we had bought it, but my brother has no regrets – he went and out found a 1971 Dodge Demon GSS (Grand Spaulding) 340 6-Pack car for a steal, and he still owns it to this day.

  • avatar

    EPA provenance or not, I’m astonished that the Mopar wing cars now ‘tend to trade for well over six figures’. When I was a boy a Plymouth dealer near my aunt’s house had a row of Superbirds displayed in front of the showroom. It was a spellbinding sight for my 7 year old self. Many years later I met the son of the man who owned that dealership. I immediately mentioned the Superbirds. The man rolled his eyes and stated to me that his father cursed the day he ordered those cars. He went on to tell me that it took over a year to sell the cars and the dealership lost money on every one.

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the early 90’s as a kid in elementary school I was obsessed with these. At the time they listed just under 6 figures in Hemmings and the Hemi ones over 6 figures. I remember seeing a junk one in a car corral (like joe dirt beat) when I was around 12 that had a 35k asking price on it.

  • avatar

    These were hard to move when new. I remember one Chrysler/Plymouth dealer in my home town that had a couple sitting on a remote, unguarded lot well into 1971. Even back in the day I rarely saw one of these or a Daytona version being driven in every day use.

    They have become a curiosity item over time and, of course, have seen significantly enhanced value as they are unique and rare.

    • 0 avatar

      As I recall, the insurance was astronomical. In ’72, I had a ’68 Mercury Montego MX with a mechanic-installed 351 4bbl, but it was a 4-door sedan. My cousin owned a ’70 Charger with the 383 and 4-speed, and he paid more than twice the insurance I did. Imagine a Superbee with the 440 engine and the wing. Not to mention you could get tickets for every little infraction because cops followed you everywhere. That wing really stuck out in traffic.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Best government auction I heard of was a handful of Polo TDIs that were declared surplus in Thule and shipped to the US for disposal.

  • avatar

    I would totally buy a surplus Border Patrol Raptor.

  • avatar

    Every time I see the sport instrument console from a 68-70 B-body I cringe. I get a visceral reaction as I fought like hell with the one on my first car, a ’69 charger. I never got it to work properly. I particularly hated the ammeter which wasn’t a shunt type meaning that it was the conduit for all the electrons passing through the car. Then there’s the headlight switch. The headlight doors tended to push the wires against a sheet metal edge which caused a short that damaged the headlight switch which was an engineering abomination, being both electrical and vacuum to power the headlight-door motors. Don’t get me wrong, I love those old Mopars but, wow, were the electrical systems a nightmare. Everyone who owned one kept a spare voltage regulator and ballast resistor in the glove box because they were likely to fail at any moment.

    As such it’s really comical to see the astronomical prices that rare Mopars command.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought these old classics were the “good ole days” when there weren’t electrical faults to worry about!

      • 0 avatar

        Well Ballast resistors were an issue on Mopars for 30 years or more. Just keep a few in the glovebox less then 1 minute repair.

        • 0 avatar

          When I worked at an auto parts store in the ’80s, we sold quite a few ballast resistors. I didn’t even know what they were before I started working there. The customers were pretty ticked off when they finally figured out that their cars wouldn’t run because of that little coil of wire.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a ’70 Charger, and never did get the headlight doors to work properly. They’d go up OK, but to get them down I’d have to unplug the motor and twist the knob at the bottom to get them down. Of course, the car was 30 years old at the time.

  • avatar

    This is the character “Strip The King Weathers” in Pixar’s movie Cars.

  • avatar

    I’d bid on a GI Raptor, La Migra edition. How “unreliable” can they get? And who cares? It’s just an F-150. They’re maintained by the “book” too. Plenty of old ’80s Border Patrol Broncos still running around.

    I bought an ex-US Forestry F-350 4X4 crew cab (srw) at a gov auction, and although every body panel had minor to moderate damage, the truck was rock solid reliable. They’re not going to have them break down in the middle of the forest. Same with Raptors in the desert.

  • avatar

    You know, I really felt sorry for whomever bought that two-year-old F-150 Crew Cab my Air Force squadron had to give up. If you know how the military buys their vehicles, they budget a very exact amount of money for maintenance and once that vehicle uses that amount up, it’s sent out for surplus and replaced. The F-150 was very low mileage 4×4 while we still had a 20-year-old Chevy step van 4×4 still going strong. When it snowed at our field, the step van was always the one we called for as the F-150 got stuck more often than not.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I’m with Danny (The Count) on this one. A Superbird would be a prized member of my fictional, ‘hey I won the lottery” dream garage. The ultimate pre-oil crises, pre-pollution control, Detroit muscle car.

  • avatar

    Surprisingly I saw one of these winged warriors on my way home last night. I was coming up to a 4 way stop not too far from home and what do I see up ahead at the cross street but a Hemi Orange aero nose. I was still a fair bit back from the stop so by the time I got close he was making his turn and showing me his tail feathers. Now it certainly is possible it was a tribute car. One thing it was getting dark and every other car on the road had his lights on but this didn’t have the lights up. So I don’t know if that translates to a repo nose that isn’t set up to open, a survivor that is broken, or someone who just didn’t turn on his lights yet because the tail lights were not on either.

    Either way it was not what I was expecting to see running down the road.

    In HS there was a guy that lived down the street just across from the school and I’d occasionally see it on the road. It had the full livery package that by the early 80’s had almost been washed off, and of course today would be highly prized by some for its patina of being daily driven and frequently washed.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    When I was in university (over 30 years ago) I could have bought a Superbird for the princely sum of $25,000. At the time I couldn’t afford it but just a few years later I spent almost as much for a 3 series BMW. If I had the funds that ‘bird would still be in my garage today.

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