The 1970 Plymouth Superbird that Helped the EPA Clear the Air Heads to Auction

Imagine you’re aboard a commercial jet as it waits in the queue for takeoff. You look out the window and see a car pull up behind a passenger jet that’s already on the runway. Not just any car, but a rare 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

The Superbird was a homologation special, built in limited numbers to qualify it as a “production” car with the sole purpose being to dominate NASCAR. It had an aerodynamic, wedge-shaped nose that allowed it to hit 200 mph around tracks like Daytona and Talladega. A ridiculously tall wing provided downforce and stability and kept the car from going airborne, which is exactly what the jet in front of it is about to do.

The pilot pushes the throttles forward, sending 14,000 pounds of thrust rearward from each Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofan engine. The driver of the Superbird grits his teeth, white knuckles clenching the wheel while the car shakes violently, and mashes the throttle pedal to the floor as the jet surges forward. The Plymouth gives chase, hanging close all the way to 100 mph. After about 20 seconds, the plane pulls away. Once it reaches 150 mph, the big 737 lifts off into the sky. The Superbird brakes, then turns around to do it all again.

As crazy as that scenario sounds—especially in the safety-at-all-costs context of today—it really did happen. Not as some daredevil movie stunt, but as an officially sanctioned government test program. The most incongruous part of the story is that this 440-cubic-inch-engined, hydrocarbon-spewing performance car was owned and operated by none other than the Environmental Protection Agency. It has been restored to its original government-service condition and will go up for auction this weekend. First, though, we take a look at the car’s history and where it has been for the last four decades.

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