Government Surplus Auctions Can Yield Amazing Treasures

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

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]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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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.

  • Carson D I hadn't seen a second-generation Courier with a Mazda engine before. I've seen a few with Ford engines. There was one at the Cox Driving Range that they used to collect golf balls. Golf would definitely be more entertaining to watch if they used moving targets.
  • Tassos ooops, Tim, you missed this one. Would make a lovely "Tim's used car of the day". It satisfies all the prerequisites except the wildly overpriced bit.
  • Tassos ASTON AND BOND BY A MILE. While Aston Martin sells a TINY FRACTION of what even the rarified Ferrari and Lambo sell, it is unbelievably well known. Credit the idiotic, but hugely successful and sometimes entertaining James Bond Movies.
  • Tassos 1988? Too young for me. It's all yours, Tim... BAHAHAHAHA!
  • Gray Awesome. Love these. But, if I had the money for a Fox-body, there is a clean '84 GT 350 here for little more than half the price.