Father Weeps After Seeing Son’s Restored Superbird

’66 Hemi Satellite is all in the family

The Satellite is still powered by its original Hemi, though oil starvation issues early in its life meant rebuilding the bottom end several times.

Janice and her then-husband, Les, bought the Satellite new—a move that turned out to be a prescient one in that first year of street Hemi production. It was initially used for both street and track fights (including some memorable runs against Sutherland’s Limelight Green Superbird we featured previously). Yet it also served as a grocery getter.

Why race a daily driver? Or drive a race car daily? “Because we couldn’t afford another car,” Janice explains. “Les would bring it home broken every week.” Part of the problem (aside from running in the 10s at triple-digit speeds on a regular basis) was the Hemi-powered Satellite’s oil capacity, or lack thereof. When running more than a quarter-mile, the oil would suck up, requiring replacement of the main bearings (three times, in this particular case).

The oil-starvation issue was addressed by fabricating a larger oil pan with at least three times the volume—a setup that required welding a piece of exhaust pipe in the pan to allow the tie rod to pass through. Clever, eh?

Other custom touches included a dark green paint job with yellow and black lace graphics, typical for the era. While Les and Janice eventually parted ways (but remain friendly), she and her companion, Larry Snow, now share a dedication to preserving the cars in pristine shape. To that end, about 10 years ago the Satellite was repainted to its original Sunfire Yellow. While it was a decent job for a daily driver, the car is now undergoing a concours-quality restoration by Dan Laughlin Customs and his painter Eric Sanderson.

Janice doesn’t drive the Satellite much on the street (or track) anymore now that it’s become popular on the show circuit, and when she does she usually takes it easy given its lack of power steering and power brakes. Case in point: One night she was following Les home in her Superbird when he ran over a gravely section of an S-turn and the tires on the Satellite suddenly broke loose. He ended up doing a 180, his headlights facing her in a cloud of dust. No harm done, but most early muscle car owners can relate to those sorts of dodgy moments.

Larry had his own run in with the feisty Plymouth, having almost hit a guardrail once when gunning the Satellite while pulling out of a gas station. “It’s got a touchy throttle,” he says with a laugh. “It can be a real handful.”

440 Plymouth Superbird joins the family

By comparison, the Lemon Twist Yellow, 440-powered Superbird is relatively docile, given that the Hemi Satellite has at least 150 more ponies on tap. “It’s still pretty fast,” Janice notes. “And there’s not a big difference in the handling.”

As a point of history, out of the 1,920 Superbirds built (though we’ve seen numbers as high as 2,783 claimed), only a small percentage of them were fitted with the 426 Hemi. (Sources vary on the exact number, ranging from 93 to 135 units.) Since the 440 was less expensive to produce, most of the street Superbirds got 440 Super Commandos or 440 Six-Barrels, while the race versions got the race-prepped Hemi engines.

Janice didn’t buy this particular Superbird new, acquiring it after it passed through the hands of a few owners and dealers. The details are a bit sketchy, but Larry indicates that it was purchased new in Greenville, South Carolina, by Rufus O. Spearman Jr. on August 13, 1970, for $4,858.42. Later on, it passed through several different car dealers.

How it ended up on used-car lots is likely due to the fact that the Superbird’s styling proved pretty extreme for 1970s tastes. Most customers preferred the regular Road Runner. In fact, many sat unsold at dealerships and were later converted into 1970 Road Runners in an effort to move them off the sales lot!

Eventually, this particular Superbird was purchased by Stan Fuller in July 1984 for $6,000. He later drove it across country, not Cannonball Run style, but taking about a week to get to California, with no reports of any speeding tickets along the way.

Superbirds were available with three engine choices: the standard single-four-barrel 440 Commando (as this car has), a 440 Six-Barrel (with triple Holley carbs), and the 426-inch Hemi, underrated by the factory at 425 hp.

After a decade of enjoying the car, Fuller died unexpectedly in 1994. His father, Bud, kept the car in storage for 20 years. Several buyers approached him with offers, but he wanted to make sure the car would go to a good home and wasn’t just flipped. After seeing Larry and Janice’s comprehensive notebook documenting their other Mopar preservation efforts, he finally agreed to part with his son’s Superbird. He had finally found the right buyer.

The condition of the car was still fairly good, and driveable, too. Evidently Stan had been kind to the car during his ownership, as evidenced by the lack of wear on the rear shock mounts (when Superbirds were raced hard they usually showed damage there, Larry says). The only significant modification was a cutout in the hood for a scoop.

To convert the car back to its factory appearance, an original hood from a 1970 Coronet was located, then disassembled and trimmed before reinstalling it on the Superbird.

Janice and Larry were puzzled by the lack of a tach on a four-speed muscle car, but that was the way it came from the factory, so they left well enough alone. Otherwise, the 440-powered Superbird just needed a thorough cleaning and refreshing.

Larry asked Bud if any documents went with the car, but Bud remained strangely silent about this important detail. A few years later, however, when Larry and Janice were displaying their newly restored Superbird at a show in Alameda, California, Bud and his family members showed up, and his heartfelt reaction over his son’s car was obvious.

“He didn’t cry too much,” Larry related. As a thank-you gesture for doing good by his son’s prized Superbird, Bud later presented them with a stack of paperwork providing a comprehensive history of the car. Larry and Janice also eventually acquired some spare Superbird wings from the Fullers.

So where does Janice put the Satellite and Superbird in her garage’s pecking order? Though her green Hemi Superbird is still her favorite “forever” car, the yellow Superbird would be nearly impossible to part with as well. And she holds the same attachment to her Hemi Satellite too, since it’s “family.”

Janice would love to add more Hemis to her stable. A Hemi ‘Cuda would be nice to have, but no matter what, she wants the car to be numbers-matching.

“If I can find some,” she admits with a wince. “I’m always looking.”