Government Surplus Auctions Can Yield Amazing Treasures

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
government surplus auctions can yield amazing treasures

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.

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.

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.

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.

[Images: Barrett-Jackson]

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  • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Aug 22, 2016

    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.

  • GS 455 GS 455 on Aug 23, 2016

    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.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂