Hurricane Ian-Damaged Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Where Are They Now?

Nature doesn’t mess around. As humans we like to think we’re pretty powerful, but compared to nature we’re like ants trying to swim in a blender. Hurricane Ian hit Florida hard in 2022, much harder than was initially expected, and like most hurricanes it was hard to judge how hard and where exactly it was going to hit before it was actually happening. In its wake were well over $60 billion in damage, more than a hundred lost lives, and millions of people struggling to rebuild. But we’re here to look at the loss of hot rods. Everywhere we looked online we saw examples of damaged or destroyed vintage and modern muscle cars, but two really caught our attention: a 1969 Dodge Daytona and a 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

How Did the Winged Mopars End Up Underwater in Florida?

Like many in Florida, Mike Walton heard that Ian was bearing down on, but it wasn’t his first hurricane and he was preparing as usual for the possibility of limited flooding and the usual damage that goes along with these storms. But as Ian got closer, the warnings became more dire. Moving cars is a challenge, and Walton had way too many to get out of the area, so he had to prioritize. He was able to evacuate the red and black Daytona he bought new, as well as his Hemi-powered Superbird, but there simply wasn’t time to get the other two out of the area, so they were raised up on lifts in hopes they would be higher than that storm surge. Well, nobody expected the surge to hit that area as hard as it did. As Christopher Spears of G&C Towing explained to us, “We been told for the last 60 years that this was going to happen, but it never did. It’s easy to look back with hindsight and play the what-if game, but by the time we knew how bad it was going to get, it was too late. We saved as many cars as possible, but the water rose so fast we barely got our trucks out in time.”

In any other storm the two Mopars most likely would have been fine, but Ian wasn’t any other storm, and the massive surge of water tore into the garage, washed the lift out from under the two Mopars, and dragged them outside. During the storm the Superbird was flipped, but the Daytona was impaled on a small palm, which is most likely why it didn’t suffer the same fate. Walton lost more than these, including a brand-new Ram TRX truck and several other newer cars.

Spears explained that after the storm his company alone recovered over 500 vehicles, more than a few of them collector cars. Some people on the internet were, as expected, jerks with their 20/20 hindsight. But Spears was there, and nobody expected what Ian turned out to be and how fast it went from a few inches to several feet of water. It’s like laughing at someone for not buying Bitcoin at $300. But logic rarely ever stops Monday-morning quarterbacks.

How Was the Hurricane Bird Flipped Back Onto Its Tires?

The challenge for Spears and his team at G&C Towing was how to flip the Superbird without causing more damage. Turns out that what they learned years before at a WreckMaster training course was going to be perfect for this recovery. “We calculated the weight and determined that we were going to use straps instead of chains to do the lifting and minimize any further damage. Once we were able to lift the Superbird level, straight up in the air, we put a second truck in place on the opposite side leaving enough room for the car to flip over between the two trucks,” recalled Spears.

Spears continued, “In order to do the actual flipping we took a Cruse loop and installed it across the top of the tires opposite of the way we wanted to pull. Then, by winching and booming up, we were able to pull the wheels out from under the car, rolling the Mopar in the air between the two trucks.” Once it was flipped, they were able to lower the ‘bird onto its tires. It was a technique they learned years ago but hadn’t used before, so as you can imagine they were pretty happy when it went off without a hitch.

Will the Hurricane-Damaged Daytona and Superbird Be Restored?

The Daytona was less damaged, but anyone who’s dealt with saltwater and cars can tell you that although it’s less dented than the Superbird, it’s still in need of a-full-rebuild category. If you want to see more images of classic muscle cars recovered after Ian, check out G&C Automotive & Towing’s Facebook page.

Both Mopars were moved into the garage so Walton could contact insurance and get that ball rolling. As you can imagine, the insurance companies in Florida were pretty busy.

Walton loves his Mopars and wanted to start work on cleaning them out as soon as possible since the longer the salt and sand were in the car the more damage would be done.

But as they tore into the cars, they found the damage was even worse than imagined. Nearly as bad as the salt was the fine sand that filled every crevice of the Mopars. It would be impossible to clean all of this out, and if even a tiny amount was left in the car, it would just continue to cause headaches.

The two Mopars were flushed as well as possible, and the interiors stripped of soft parts so they could at least dry out a bit. By this point, the Mopars were internet-famous with the Superbird getting the nickname “Hurricane ‘Bird.”

Fast-forward to the MCACN Show in Chicago, where we were shocked to see the Hurricane Bird on display! Turns out insurance did its thing and Walton, not having the time needed to fully restore the two wing cars, sold them to his friend Tony Scrimale. Scrimale knows the importance of these two rare Mopars and will be having them completely restored! Interestingly, Scrimale was trying to buy the Mopars from Walton even before hurricane Ian.

Here you can see how they stripped the interior of the Hurricane ‘Bird to slow the impending doom of rust. Work began on the Superbird the Tuesday after the show concluded.

How bad is saltwater for your classic car? Well, it comes down to one word: rust. Every part the water touched was starting to rust and corrode even though the car was thoroughly rinsed off after its time underwater. The Superbird as well as the Daytona would need complete and total rebuilds. The shop chosen for the Superbird was Magnum Auto Restoration in LaSalle, Illinois, which explains why this Florida Mopar was on display in freezing Chicago.

According to Mark Sekula, owner of Magnum Auto Restoration, they will be doing a full two-year rebuild of the Superbird with the goal of having it back on display at the 2024 MCACN event! First up was completely tearing apart the Superbird, down to the last nut and bolt.

Remember that fine sand? It’s insidious and is nearly impossible to get out of some areas of the body, so access holes were carefully cut so these crevices could be flushed clean and get a rust-prevention treatment. You can see how the unprotected inner panels were already victims of surface rust.

The numbers-matching 440 engine was pulled out along with the rest of the driveline for a full rebuild.