BOB KROPP'S HEMI SUPERBIRD
As a young man of sixteen, I was well on my way to be a gearhead. My two best friends each had an older brother (this was well before video games, the internet or DVDs). Pete's brother had a 1964-1/2 R-code 427 Galaxy and Doug's brother had a 1966 Hemi Charger. They would take us to the cruise strip and race every Friday and Saturday night. The Charger must have had a better gear selection because he would win about 90% of the time. Needless to say, this made me a Mopar fan.
In 1968, the RoadRunner made its debut and the first time I heard the Beep-Beep horn, I was hooked. I had worked mowing lawns and painting houses since I was thirteen years old. I had just graduated in 1969 and was waiting to see the new 1971 RoadRunners. After seeing a couple on the street, I decided that I liked the 1970 body style better and of course, they were discounting the '70 models. I took my $3,500 and went to the local Plymouth dealer to see what he had. I entered the showroom only to see a Vitamin C Superbird. IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT! I think that the janitor is still mopping up the drool today. The salesman informed me that I did not have enough money for the Superbird, but I was lucky enough to leave that day with a Vitamin C, 383 4-speed car. I vowed that someday I would have a Superbird. Never give up on your dreams! This is the story of how I found my Hemi, four-speed Superbird.
In May of 1982, I was driving my 1970 Charger R/T and stopped at the Unocal gas station in Bothell, Washington. I really did not need gas, but it was something to do. After filling up, the attendant asked if I really like those old Mopars and I said, "You bet!" That is when he told me that there was a Superbird for sale just down the street, followed by him saying, "I think it is a Hemi." I stopped dead in my tracks and asked where. He said at Knoll Lumber in Kenmore. Now, at that time I was a painting contractor and was a customer at Bothell Paint just across the street from the Unocal station.
I went into the paint store and asked the manager if he would do me a favor. I knew that both he and the lumber yard stocked Olympic Stain and that they traded stock back and forth. I asked him to call Knoll and ask if there was a Superbird there, which he did with a puzzled look on his face.
Craig Knoll said sure enough, and to send me down to take a look at the car. The Bird sat under a carport with the nose unprotected and the headlights filled with water....what a GREAT SIGHT! Craig said that the car belonged to his brother who had just passed away and that he was handling the estate. The car was in storage and would be the last thing that he would deal with. I asked if it was okay to bring a friend down to look at the car. Craig said it would be okay.
I had never even rode in a Hemi car, let alone driven one and knew very little about them, so I went home and called the local expert, Brian Boyett. The next day, we went to look at the car. Brian said it was a real Hemi car, but that the motor had been changed. We spent about four hours trying to get her fired off for she had been sitting for a couple of years, and finally success.
The car had front-end damage and a loaded gravel truck had hit the rear passenger side quarter panel. There was a black '67 Coronet R/T interior in her and the four-speed had been replaced with a 727 Torqueflite.
After scraping up as much money as I could, I went and made an offer on the car. By this time, two other people had found out about the car and Craig said that he would give them 72 hours to beat my offer. This was on a Thursday morning, now just to wait (chewing off fingernails left and right). But Friday evening, Craig called and said to have a tow truck and a pickup truck there Monday morning at 6:00 AM before the store opened. When we arrived the tow truck started to hook the car and Craig took us upstairs where there was a complete nosecone, fenders, hood and a spare wing in storage.
Craig said that his brother had three of these cars and that a dealer in Seattle could not sell his Bird, so he made it into a regular RoadRunner and was tired of counting these parts in inventory, for Charles to come and please take them off his hands. Charles said okay and gave them $100 and two six packs of beer for the parts.
While finishing the money transaction, Craig told me that I was getting the car because he could see how much I loved the car and that the other two buyers were just looking at the car as an investment. Then he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a painting contractor. He asked if I had ever done painting for a certain contractor. I said I had done a very nice house for him down in the O.O. Denny Park area. Craig said he thought he remembered seeing me and that it was his house. He had liked my work so much that he said he was building a new house out in the Monroe area and asked if I would give him a labor bid. We got another job out of this deal!
Many people say, you lucky guy! But for twelve years, ever since the dealer told me I could not afford a Superbird, I had been making trips to Eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho looking at cars that were too expensive or that were in such a terrible condition that they were not worth the effort, so if you really want something, take aim and move your feet!
As many of you know, I have total fun with my car. Sometimes I get grief about driving the car as much as I do, but the real fun is DRIVING it--not looking at it on a trailer or in the garage. Besides, I want my tombstone to read, "HE DROVE HIS HEMI CAR EVERYWHERE. Here is to your dreams and Mopar to ya!"
Fast forward to phase II, October 2007. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride in my Superbird. I got the car home and with the help of Steve Blackwell, we changed the fluids, did a tune-up and put fresh gas in the tank. Now it was time for the first test drive. Neither Steve or myself had ever driven a Hemi car. Once we enjoyed the smell of Hemi exhaust at an All-Mopar Spring Round-up at Lake Sammish. We fired her off and went for a ride. After about a half hour, Steve took over driving. He said, "Let's see what she will do," and with that, into first gear we went, he banged second gear and all Hell broke loose. The fan clutch was rusty and snapped off the end of the shaft and went through the radiator! This was the start of the many things that needed to be done to the car.
I always tried to do at least one improvement to the car each year. The first couple of years were dedicated to finding parts. I found the four-speed, bellhousing and clutch. Then I came across a Hemi K-frame out of a '67 Coronet rollover. I spent a couple of years looking for a good quarter panel. I installed the front-end clip that came with the car (selling all the dented parts to a gentleman whose car had been hit and the nose clip was replaced with a standard front end--putting another Superbird back on the road again). I put the four-speed in and took out the wood paneling on the doors and installed the white interior.
Then the car went to Dwayne Tanni's brother to have the quarter installed. When working on the car, he found an unopened small canned ham (someone's lunch on the line, I am sure) under the quarter glass. The car was now white in the front, gray on the doors, and blue in the rear. Everyone called it the "rainbow Bird".
In the last 1980s, the car was sent to Maaco and painted. When I picked up the car, it was pretty close to B5 blue, but with the aging process, it started to turn turquoise in color. Ray Guardiano applied the graphics and buffed the car out. Again, i drove it everywhere.
In 1999, myself, along with five other aero car owners, took our cars to the 25th year winged car reunion in Talladega, Alabama. Two weeks of driving the car you LOVE everyday! We traveled over 7,500 miles in those two weeks. At the reunion I was chastised for driving my car. Everyone thought it should have been trailered. But like I have already stated--I DRIVE IT!
In the early 2000s, I had Steve rebuild the '70 Hemi block I had found at a garage sale. We installed a '70 K-frame, upgraded the torsion and sway bars, installed stainless brake lines, and welded a crack in the shock tower. Bill Dunn then sprayed a coat of B5 blue to the engine bay. We installed the engine and transmission as a complete unit from the bottom just as they did in the factory. The car was now very road-worthy.
In August of 2002, I met my wife, Sharon. We met online and soon were talking every night. I always ended each conversation talking about the Bird. One evening she said, " I am not jealous of the Bird." I told her that if she did not enjoy talking about the Bird, she might not like the lifestyle. Needless to say, she enjoys the Bird very much. She enjoys going to the shows, but was not happy that the car was overlooked because of the low Bling-factor. It was her insistence on making it shine and stand out in a crowd.
So in the fall of 2007, I asked Darren to start the repaint project. As with most restorations, the scope kept getting larger and larger, but in the end, the car looks fantastic. Another typical car story that ended up taking more time than originally planned. We were going to surprise everyone and debut the car in 2008, but best made plans of mice and men. The hard part was not being able to drive the car for two years, but I still make up for that very fast.
When it comes to Superbirds and Daytonas, most of the Chevy and Ford guys don't really understand what they are looking at when they see one. Most of them just do not have a clue about their NASCAR history. I refer to my favorite Don Rae saying, "Hamburger is a pretty good thing--until you have a taste of prime rib."
A big Thank You to all who were involved with the restoration:
My wife Sharon who prodded me to make it happen!
Engine builder extraordinaire--Steve Blackwell
The Picasso of body and paint--Darren Kleisath
Interior and soft trim--Wes Sponer
Electrical Wizard--Dave Peterson
Misc pieces and stainless buffing--Keith and Kyle Erxleben
Graphics and detailing--Ray Guardiano
Jack of all trades and master of most of them--Bill Dunn
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