JUDSON AND PAM VOS'S UGLY DUCKLING TRANSFORMED INTO A BEAUTIFUL SUPERBIRD
This car has been in the club almost since day one, but hadn't seen the road for decades until late fall of 2008. This is truly a Bird gone from rags to riches. The story begins with second owner David Patik. Iowa members Judson and Pam Vos purchased the Superbird from David's friend, Carol, and had it lovingly restored by Curt and Janet Lawson in Minnesota. (Text and photos this section by David Patik):
DAVID'S HISTORY WITH THE BIRD: I don't know where Superbird #RM23V0A157164 was sold new. It is the 774th Superbird built, according to "known-built" cars (occasionally a straggler shows up to disrupt this list). It was order #J98046, 440+6, manual transmission, black bench seat interior, Tor-Red body.
One hot Saturday about noon-time in the early summer of 1976, this car drove by my parents' driveway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It had a 1970 Satellite front end, a Superbird rear window and wing, but no decals. Driving it was owner Mike Hubbell. My friend Tim Levasseur was in the passenger seat. Tim introduced me to Mike, who said he had just bought the car as-is from Van Dyke Auto Salvage in Cedar Rapids. Van Dyke was a mile away, but I had never seen this car there before.
Was this really a Superbird, they wanted to know. "Yes, it was," I said, having learned some fender tag codes by then, and knowing what to look for body-wise.
The Bird had a bad Tor-Red paint job, a Satellite front end, but very little rumpling of any area of the front end. One quarter panel, as I remember, had filler under its bad paint.
The car had no rust, a nice interior, and was a running and driving car. It was like untouched from new under the hood.
Mike said he bought it from the junk yard's "used car row" for $1,100 or so, just a day or two before. He was afraid he paid way too much for it, if it was a fraud. Mike said he wanted to restore it and keep it for a long time. It had 18,000 miles on it at that time.
In early August of 1976, the car appeared in my driveway again. Mike was being divorced by his wife. Both were in their early twenties. If he didn't sell the car, his wife would get it and sell it for nothing. Mike asked if I wanted the car--right now! I said I was working three part-time jobs and was doing my own business then, making Daytona stripes and nose spoilers, etc. I didn't plan on buying yet another car.
Mike said his Superbird was the "King of the streets" in Cedar Rapids. One night during the week before a guy had beat Mike when he was driving his regular RoadRunner. "I'm going home right now and getting my Superbird. You meet me here, and we'll race on First Avenue and Nineteenth Street in one hour". Mike won that race. From then on, this car was remembered locally because of that race.
Mike insisted I go for a ride with him on I-380 so I could see for myself just how strong this car ran. I told him I couldn't care less how strong it ran. But he insisted. The I-380 entrance ramp was one-half block from my parents' house. By its merging with the flow of traffic going south, we were up to about 75 mph. By the time we went under the overpass, one-half mile south, we were up to 130 mph. Mike said he could "take it some more" but he was low on gas.
I said, "Let's get off on 33rd Avenue and get gas at the Amoco. We had only one block to slow down. The car was INTENSELY vibrating from the braking. We just stopped in time for the exit red light.
I decided to buy the car, just to save its life! I wrote Mike a note saying I would get the money to him in a few days, and gave him a ride home. He asked me to keep the car in the meantime so his wife couldn't find it.
I asked Mike how the car had lost its Superbird front end, and he couldn't remember what the junkyard had told him, nor could he remember them saying if they had the original front end or not.
Mike said he had to have $1,200 for the car, which he knew was high, because that's what his divorce lawyer wanted; the agreement for that was made with me. A few days later, I drove up to Mike's house on F Avenue Northwest, on the edge of town. There were several other muscle cars, but the only one I remember was an original-paint 1968 SuperBee. It was white with a red stripe and was a 383 car.
Mike asked me, after I gave him the $1,200 check, if I was going to race the car, or just part it out. I said I probably would do nothing with it, except study it so I could learn how it was made. It now had 19,500 miles on it. I remember Mike saying, "I hope you don't think you paid too much for it, if that's all you're going to do with it."
Within a few months, I had rescued several more Mopars from being parted-out or crushed. My parents' driveway was attracting unwanted attention, day and night. Noses, wings, shaker hoods, bright colors, and smashed cars had unwelcomed offers of all sorts of cheap dollars. Several cars were then moved to a farm by the airport in southern Cedar Rapids, owned by Dan Bizek. He collected antique cars, and kept them in his sheds. Dan had incredibly rare stuff, like a Pierce Arrow. Dan didn't have room in any of his sheds for my cars. so they stayed outside for several months, in a horse pasture. I remember once seeing one of the horses scratching his head on the wing of this Superbird!
Dan's health was failing so he was selling the farm, and all of the cars had to be moved. Two of them, including this Superbird, were taken to a ramshackle, long garage on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids. It was not a good neighborhood. Self-storage units did not exist at that time.
Someone saw something in the fall of 1977 and the garage was broken into. The owner called and said other cars in the garage were tampered with, so I'd better take a look. This was on October 31, 1977.
I went there and found the Superbird's air cleaner assembly was missing, but nothing else. The same evening, I got a call from my friend, Dean Meyer, who said a young guy at a factory they both worked in, had told him something suspicious. he had found a car with an orange wing, and it had a 440 engine with a big air cleaner. He had taken the air cleaner the night before and was going back there the next night to take the car!
I called the police, who knew this crook's name quite well by then, from before. They wanted me to help them with a stake-out, becuase they wanted to send him off to prison for a long time, instead of repeated stays in the jail for burglary. The undercover police were in two vehicles in the alley where the Superbird was, and I was in my car. We waited until about 3:00 am, but no one showed up. The stake-out was called off for the night.
The next morning, Dean Meyer called me and said the idiot who he worked with had been arrested for burglary--caught in the act! Apparently, he had intended to take my Superbird, as planned, but took advantage of another target before me.
He pled guilty in court and testified that, yes, that indeed was my air cleaner assembly that the judge was looking at. There was no jury. The low-life got probation. The police kept the air cleaner for six months, then called me one day and said the crook was again in jail for another crime, and I could now have the air cleaner back from the evidence files.
I moved the Superbird right after the stake-out, to a little old lady's free-standing garage in a better neighborhood, but not far away. I put it back on blocks and went there every few weeks to start it and run it while it was on blocks. In the meantime, I found a horribly wrinkled nose assembly at the Dynamic Balancing Machine Shop in Cedar Rapids. It was directly across the street from Van Dykes Auto Salvage, and just to the north of Hawkeye Downs Speedway. I bought the nose assembly for $50. it was from the old Bub Kohl yellow Superbird I had seen on G or H Avenue NW in Cedar Rapids several years before. He had been driving while drunk and wrecked the nose.
Bub Kohl decided to be a half-mile dirt track racer with Irv Janey's old #7 USAC 1973 Charger, but that is another (short) story!
I took the yellow smashed nose assembly all apart and put all the internal pieces in boxes in my parents' old barn. I had intended to take them to the garage in a few days and put them in the trunk of this Superbird.
Trash pick-up day meant that my father looked everywhere for anything that he thought he ought to add to the curbside pile he always built the day before pick-up. Late that afternoon, i came to my parents' house and found that all my boxes of nose parts were gone! Twenty minutes later, my father and I were in the county landfill!
One box was found by us there, with the help of the bulldozer driver, who remembered where the day's loads were unloaded from the garbage trucks. We looked for an hour, but could only find the one box, now about six inches tall instead of its original size. So I took the smashed box, right then, to the Superbird and put it in the trunk. My father said I ought to have known better than to have left junk like that around the place, and I had no one to blame but myself!
Superbird #167164 was kept in the little old lady's garage, without ever leaving once, for about a year. By then, I had met a man in Marion, Iowa who owned a nice complete Superbird. I went to visit him one Sunday afternoon, driving my Superbird for its first time in a long time. ON the way home to my apartment, just a few blocks from my visit, a young man driving a car was intently looking at my Superbird. He almost went completely through a four-way stop sign there in Marion, almost hit two cars and almost hit a light pole. I got the hell out of there, and put the Superbird back in the little old lady's garage.
One sunny Sunday afternoon, maybe a year later, there was a raging fire in a large apartment building across the street from my large apartment building on 20th Avenue. It occurred to me that people may be in that building, in other apartments. No one had called the fire department yet nor was anyone seemingly aware of what I was seeing. I went over to that building, banging on doors, and one of the people totally surprised with my fire news was a mid-twenties-year-old woman named Carol Schutte. I had never seen her before.
As we watched the action, she talked with me. I told her that the blue Daytona in my parking lot was mine. She said she wondered who owned such a wild car. I told her I had several of those, another of which was drivable.
Not long after, I brought the Superbird over to show Carol, who said she would like someday to have a car like that, but was concerned with finding a correct front end for it. Carol was a brilliant teacher of foreign languages at McKinley High School in Cedar Rapids. That was just a few blocks from the little old lady's garage where I kept the Superbird.
One Sunday afternoon, I brought it over to my apartment house, and Carol and her sister came across the street from their building. They had been laying out in the sun and saw two wings sticking up in the parking lot. The sisters thought it would be really fun to climb up on the wing of the Superbird and pose there while in their swimsuits. I had a camera and took several picture of this. One picture survives as a print, but all the negatives are quite lost in a pile (one day I will have time?!)
When I decided to finish college in Florida, then go on to graduate school after that, Carol Schutte and I kept our friendship alive via mail. Once she even visited Florida, having never been there.
I told Carol that I would sell #167164 to her if she wanted to make an investment, but that I didn't know if it would ever be possible for a restoration to be financially sound. Carol bought the Superbird from me for something like $3,200 and that included an NOS nose shell, NOS fender and the smashed box of nose internal parts.
The nose shell and fenders were agreed to be kept in the attic of my parents' house for as long as she wished. Below is an old photo of the Superbird as it appeared when I owned it.
Someone heard something or saw something in the little old lady's garage. It was just a block from McKinley High School. That night, several kids broke into the garage, hot-wired the Superbird, pushed it off its blocks and out of the garage door. On its way off the blocks, it's entire right side was badly creased when it made contact with the garage door pillar.
The police called Carol after tracing the license plate. The kids had run the car out of gas on the north side of Cedar Rapids and abandoned it. Several kids were involved.
Carol decided to sell the car, now worth less than it was when she bought it. A young couple bought it in about 1984, as a long-term investment. When they realized that not only did a front end have to be assembled, involving a hood which was not included with the car, they became afraid of putting more money into a car that likely was never going to be financially wise to keep at all. By then, the young couple had the nose and the fenders in their possession, and had thrown out the "junk parts" in the trunk. That included all of the other pieces I had given to Carol before I moved to Florida. Shown below is the cost estimate to restore the Superbird, done on August 9, 1976. Hard to believe it could've been done that cheaply! The second photo below is the original newspaper ad for the Superbird when Judson bought it.
I never saw the car again. Carol got married and had a son and she called once years and years ago. She was doing well, and said she always regretted not keeping the Superbird more secure. Fare thee well, brave winged warrior 167164! You have earned the right to be safe, secure and cherished!
CURT LAWSON'S STORY (Text and photos this section by Curt and Janet Lawson): Janet and I got involved with Judson's Superbird after Sue told us about a fellow WW/NBOA member who wanted his Bird painted. Judson and I talked, then Janet and I made arrangements for a weekend getaway to meet Judson and look at the car at his house. This car had been crashed early in its life and the Superbird nose was replaced with a Satellite front end. The car had not been licensed since 1976. When Judson bought the car, it came with an NOS nosecone and fenders as well as an aftermarket hood. Judson also had a few boxes of parts that were apparently from the crashed front end.
Judson and Pam owned the car for over twenty years, but they had never driven the car since it hadn't been licensed since '76. There were two owners between David Patik and Judson and Pam. David said he used it as a parts runner. The tires and wheels were stolen and the body was damaged when a previous owner had it in storage.
After examining the car, we returned home and prepared an estimate, which basically involved disassembling the entire car, repairing the right door and quarter, replacing the front end, painting and re-assembly.
Judson delivered the car to us the Friday before our Mopars in the Park show (2006). We always have a get-together at our house the night before the show with our Mopar friends. After the party, we unloaded the Bird from Judson's trailer with the help of some of our guests. The Bird had not run for quite some time so we did not want to take any chances on damaging anything by trying to start it.
We started sorting parts and disassembly after our Mopar show. We also made a spread sheet listing all the parts on the car with a column for their condition. During the years of storage, the mice found this to be a perfect place to make a home and a family so along with disassembly, we had to clean out all the "mice stuff" from the car. Unfortunately, the mice took their toll on the interior of the car and many hours were spent cleaning and disinfecting.
After the car was disassembled and all parts were categorized on the spread sheet, we made a list of the parts we needed to replace and sent it to Judson along with the approximate cost. This generated an immediate response from Judson, as there were many parts missing for the Superbird front end as well as many of the interior parts that were damaged by mice. Some of the suspension parts needed replacing due to the impact of the accident, even though the odometer showed only 20,000 miles.
We gathered up all the Satellite parts from the front end and took pictures so they could be sold. As it turned out, fellow WW/NBOA member Roger Wilson had many of the interior parts we needed, and Judson worked out a trade: Satellite front end parts for some of the parts needed for the Bird.
Evaluating the car after we disassembled it showed it to be in amazing condition with many of the factory markings intact and a very solid body. The left rear quarter had been replaced, we think because of the accident that took out the front end, but all else looked great. The replacement quarter needed a little work as it was not attached and sealed properly around the tail light area.
We then pulled the drivetrain and Judson came up to get the stripped-down engine (little more than a long block) and brought it to a friend of his who builds racing engines. The mice had even made a home in the flywheel housing as it was packed full of nesting material.
The car had been repainted so we stripped all the old paint off, cleaned the interior, trunk and engine compartment, then repaired the right door and quarter. The brackets in the trunk for the wing support were poorly welded to the trunk floor from the factory and one had broken off, so they were repaired.
Now we were getting into unchartered waters, as we had never worked on a Superbird before. With no experience and many of the Superbird parts missing, we spent many hours looking at catalogs, cars on the web as well as tapping into Sue and Ed George's vast knowledge of Daytonas and Superbirds.
The big break came when fellow WW/NBOA member Wayne Perkins wanted us to work on his Superbird and brought it up so we could see how things went together. Now this all sounds good, but the big catch-22 here is Wayne's Bird was built as a custom back in the '70s (see WW/NBOA newsletter June 2006) and the people who did this actually welded the fenders to the body and welded the nosecone to the fenders! This car is another story for another time.
After cutting the nose and fenders loose, we were able to disassemble the rest of the front end and use the parts for templates so we could fabricate up the parts that we were missing. We had to make up many of the steel parts for the nose as well as the wing supports. There were also a few parts missing from Wayne's car that were part of Judson's parts package so we were able to make the parts that were missing for Wayne as well.
Next many hours were spent working with the bent-up (from the accident) Z-brackets in order to get the nose to line up properly with the fenders.
Then it was on to the fitting of the hood. When we installed the hood, we found the front to be wider than the rear. This was a hood that someone made by taking a Coronet and reworking it to accept the Superbird extension. They did a fairly good job on most of it, but did not watch the width at the point where they added the extension. I had to cut and re-weld at that point and finally got it to fit between the fenders properly.
Next much time was spent re-shaping the front of the hood and the nose (one of the nose brackets missing was the one that defines the shape of the nose at the point it aligns with the hood) so they would match up and would have the proper gaps. As it turned out, the core support had been pushed back, probably in the accident, so we had to move that back in place.
Now everything lines up, so we pulled it apart and finished the body work and painted everything. We rounded up and/or ordered all the correct hardware for the final assembly. One of the things we found while looking for the bolts that hold the headlight buckets to the nose was that they are the same hardware used as leg levelers on appliances!
Judson brought the rebuilt engine back to our place and we started detailing it. The oil pan was bent up so that required some body work; otherwise it was mostly cleaning blasting and painting. We had sent the sixpack carbs to Sue and she rebuilt them (yes, Sue is a master at carb rebuilding).
About this time we spent quite a few hours on the computer and phone trying to find the rest of the parts we needed to complete the Bird. We again lucked out as Sue had David Patik restore all the dash parts and a shift handle for a Superbird project she was working on. Seems a Daytona came along and displaced the Bird, so she was willing to part with them at a reasonable price. We also sent the seat out for repair but our upholsterer felt that even though the seats looked fairly good, they would not hold up very long if sat in much, so new upholstery was installed. The headrests were in need of some work, so they were sent out for refurbishing.
The body then went on the rotisserie and the undercarriage was cleaned and painted. Actually, the undercarriage cleaned up so good, I was able to use the factory primer on the floor pan to get the correct shade of primer for the repaint. It only required a small amount of sandblasting around the spring mounting areas and behind the front wheels as the rest of the undercarriage looked almost as good as when it left the factory.
After priming and painting the engine compartment, rear wheel wells, lower body, door jambs and trunk Tor-Red, we then added the factory paint markings similar to the ones we found when we were cleaning the body. Next we applied the undercoating similar to the way the factory had applied it.
Upon inspection of the fuel tank (shown below), which was full of the foulest smelling gas I have ever run across, we found the fuel sender and in-tank filter disintegrated and the inside of the tank full of garbage. We procured a new tank and sending unit as well as in-tank filter and installed it in the car.
Then the new brake and fuel lines were installed along with all the undercarriage brackets. We then painted inside of the doors, trunk lid and hood as well as the door and hood hinges and miscellaneous brackets. We then hung the doors, trunk, fenders and hood. After a long talk with David Patik, we learned how the factory assembled the nosecone and painted it.
We tried to duplicate it as much as possible so the headlight buckets were painted and assembled, then the painted Z-brackets were attached to the nosecone with the headlight buckets. Next the body work was completed and the paint was applied to the body and the nosecone.
Our son-in-law, Mike went through the transmission and rear end as well as some of the front end parts and they were now detailed. As he was working on the lower control arms, he noticed that one was bent, apparently another victim of the crash from its younger days. This caused a mad rush as we were now getting down to the wire as we wanted the car done for our Mopars in the Park show as well as the WW/NBOA National Meet (2008) which were a little over a month away. We located the part and all the suspension parts were detailed and assembled to the K-frame, and the K-frame was set on the cart. Then the engine and transmission were assembled and installed on the K-frame. Mike and our son, Kevin, our daughter, Cindy, as well as Kevin's better-half Justine, stepped up to the plate and all pitched in and helped with sandblasting, painting and assembling. There were a lot of last minute details that needed attending to.
The UPS man was now making deliveries almost daily. He would always come in to check the progress. It was the highlight of his day and sometimes he would stop just to see how it was coming along. Also during this time, we were getting city sewer and water as well as new streets, so there were a lot of construction workers around and many made regular visits to see the Bird's progress. The car was then assembled, installing all the rear end, brake and other components under the body and the K-frame along with the engine/transmission were assembled on our cart ready to be rolled into place as soon as the body was ready.
We then assembled the body complete with the nosecone and interior. We hooked up the wiring and vacuum lines, brakes, etc., and rolled the K-frame/engine in place and lowered the body down. Next it was final assembly of the engine compartment, hooking up fuel lines, brake lines driveshaft, etc.
Then we installed the decals. For the most part, things were going well as I started with the small ones first, then disaster. While installing the second "PLYMOUTH" on the rear quarter, I could not get it to release from the backer. By the time I got it installed, we had a mess. A call to David Patik, who supplied the decal kit, and he explained the problem and a new "PLYMOUTH" decal was on the way--no charge. Seems this has been a problem every once in a while. Dave has been a big help all through this project and everything he has touched is first class. I was a little gun shy after that experience so I called on a neighbor who makes his living installing decals, pin striping, lettering and other graphic tasks. He came over and helped (actually did most of the work) install the "PLYMOUTH" as well as the decals on the nose. This was a wise decision as the nose decals are a lot trickier than they look. All went well and the results look great.
Now was the big moment. We installed the battery, checked the function of the electrical components, did a little trouble shooting and were good to go. Next we added fuel and prepared to fire the engine. We pumped up the oil pressure with a drill, installed the distributor hole, then installed the distributor and hit the starter. We cranked, then cranked some more with no results. We then discovered there was no spark. Judson wanted to use the original distributor but wanted electronic ignition, so we installed a Protronic ignition module and coil. I had written to them and got their recommendation in the module to use as well as proper ballast resistor and coil and that is what we used. After triple checking the wiring, all looked good but still no spark.
Well now it was show time and time for our Moparty. The Bird is sitting in the garage silent, but now we many experienced eyes troubleshooting as well as checking the way it was wired. Needless to say, the Bird was a no-show at the Mopars in the Park.
After the show, it was back to the Bird. We had a week before the WW/NBOA National Meet in Duluth. We had purchased a Mopar Performance electronic ignition kit on our first trip to the Nats and that was sitting on the shelf, so we installed it and what do you know, the big 440 sixpack fired right up! With just days to go, we had the engine running and the car was 99% done, but there was still a gremlin on the loose. Seems as though the big 440 would not idle (actually would not run below 2,000 rpm) and within minutes of running, the garage would fill up with so much exhaust gas you could not see the far end of the shop even with the exhaust fan running!
We were again out of time, as Janet and I were hosting the National Meet in Duluth, and we had to get up there and get things ready for the participants.
Upon returning home and with much discussion with many people, we narrowed it down to a faulty power valve. We replaced the power valve (on the center carb, which is no easy task) and the 440 fired right up and purred like a kitten. Judson had been up many times during the rebuild and his goal was to have a nice driver that he could enjoy. That is the kind of work we enjoy as we drive our Coronets everywhere and have a blast, especially with the WW/NBOA club!
I would like to thank Judson and Pam for allowing us to do the car. They did allow us to purchase many parts that made this car so much better than it started out to be and we think they are pleased with the results. We get the feeling they will be babying this car more than intended because when they delivered the car, it was on a well-used open trailer towed behind Judson's Ram truck, but when they came to pick it up, what was in tow behind the Ram truck was a 2002 enclosed car trailer that they saw while visiting their daughter at college, and thought it was very reasonable so they purchased it.
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