Wednesday, August 16th, 20060816
I am up at 6:00 am. I feel better physically. Travel always messes up my already damaged gastro-intestinal tract. My system should be adjusting after this first week is completed. Today is the start of the second week of the trip. I have been awakening earlier and earlier as the trip progresses. I actually feel like getting up. A bit of life is beginning to creep back into my soul. My motor skills are lagging a bit. When returning from the breakfast area of the motel, I fell UP the stairs. That is a first for me. Fortunately my coffee was in a sealed travel mug. Coffee first, walking second, coffee first, walking second, coffee first…..OK got it.
Helena, Montana’s capital city, is a picturesque town. Like many of the foothill towns it has the nice views created by the rolling terrain without the switchback streets of mountain towns. People are very friendly. We run a few errands before heading out of town. I want to add some Lucas Oil additive to the engine in hopes of slowing the oil consumption. Also, I am wondering if a can of Sea Foam might help with the carburetor choke issues. I am out of lead substitute as well. These old cars are not only more maintenance intensive, they are more maintenance research intensive. Todd gave me a list of a dozen items that would have to be watched just having to do with the specifics of the fluids in the car. The engine still has a squeak on warm up. It quiets as the car warms up so I ignore it and we head north toward Glacier Park.
As we near the Kalispel area, the scenery becomes more and more picturesque. Cheryl dozes on and off as we meander past tree lined lakes. Tourists drive the locals crazy with their slow speed gawking and I am tailgated often despite doing 60 MPH on a winding, two-lane, forest road. The locals have seen all this a thousand times and are impatient with anyone not driving at or above the speed limit. I look for a speed limit sign but don’t see any. I find out later that the limit is 70 MPH. Passing is difficult as there are few straight and flat sections of the road. There is often oncoming traffic when a potential passing zone is found. The result: annoyed locals tailgating tourists. I make my first driving error under these conditions. Someone following far too closely at speeds near 70 MPH is pissed off when I brake suddenly and take a left into a campground. No real danger here but I probably should have given more warning. We are both at fault for the tension of the situation and I hear him yell something unintelligible as he accelerates back up to his previous speed. I am angry with myself and with the other driver for creating the situation. It bothers me more because of the high profile of the vehicle we are driving. It has a celebrity status and now one more person will think Superbird owners are inconsiderate jerks. Even though the other driver is equally at fault, I have a hard time letting this go. A few miles later, the same scenario begins anew. After being followed far too closely for far too long I have had enough. Since there appears to be no posted speed limit, I take it up to 120. My tailgater shrinks into a satisfying dot and then vanishes all-together. My tachometer says this is about 6000 RPM but my tachometer also moves around like one of those drinking birds from the souvenir shops. It is about as accurate an indicator of engine speed as a windsock in a tornado. Cheryl is still sleeping so I can get away with this. The car hugs the road great. The nose and wing don’t do much until about 80 MPH when I can feel the car begin to settle down. At this speed it feels good – too good. Since I would like to finish the trip with no mechanical issues, I back down on the Rs and the cacophony of clatters, rattles and vibrations diminishes. I really need to rework the heads and find some of the drivetrain vibrations if I am going to drive at today’s speeds or higher. Replacing those stock connecting rod bolts would be a good idea too. There is a lot going on at these speeds. This thing reminds me of the bedroom scene from Poltergeist with all the stuff that comes alive above 65 MPH. I expect to see individual slices of bread exiting the cooler and floating out the window laughing.
Further up the road, I pass a woodland residence with a couple of cars for sale. One is an old Chrysler so I turn around to see what it is. The owner is out of his house in a second. His car is a 66 Chrysler 300 but he mostly wants to talk about the Superbird. His name is Robin Stockton and he repairs stainless trim on the side. We talk cars for about a half hour before heading north again. Not far up the road, we see another cache of old Mopars and I go back for a look. This time the owner is Jeff Bailey. Jeff is a hardcore Mopar guy and recounts his story of how he bought a Superbird in the 70s for $1700, sold it for $2000 and thought he made out great. We all laugh at how things have changed.
We end our day in Columbia Falls, MT. For some reason motels are full everywhere so we are happy to get the last room at the Glacier Inn Motel.
Thursday, August 17th, 20060817
This morning is a time for clean up. We need to do laundry and clean the car. There are a number of clouds this morning so we should wait to drive Glacier Park anyway. We are both feeling a little weird and edgy still. There really is no obvious reason for it. It just is, so I do my best to ignore it and move on. Tonight we will get to a motel where we will stay for four nights. Being able to sit still for a couple days might help.
After a very good deli/bakery breakfast, we stopped at a laundry/car wash. Cheryl started on the clothes and I washed the car. Most of the bugs came off easily but the road tar does not. Oh well, it is not original paint and five minutes with some diesel fuel will take care of that when we get back. While vacuuming out the car, a visitor stopped by and told us that there was another winged car right here in Columbia falls. He thought it was a green Daytona and told us where it was stored. I am always skeptical of any Superbird/Superbee/Daytona/Road Runner story but decide to stop and look anyway. Sure enough, on the hoist with engine removed is a yellow, automatic Superbird. It is in comparable condition to mine six months ago – solid car with decent paint and some issues. Making a muscle car run today when it is 36 years old is considerably more work than it was when the car was 12 years old. In the early 80s, you bought a good solid but used musclecar for a couple of grand, fixed whatever engine/transmission/brake/clutch issue had sidelined it most recently and were doing donuts in the school parking lot a few weeks later. Today, however, everything has failed from age. If your car was outside, UV has destroyed everything it could. Wiring has become brittle and cracks. Mice ate everything else soft. That tiny surface rust in the trunk ate the whole trunk. The brakes are junk. The seals in everything have failed. It goes on and on and on. When we started this semi-restoration, I told Todd that RELIABILITY was the paramount issue. Nothing was more important. If this thing left me by the side of the road one more time, I was going to throw a match in it and walk away. To Todd’s credit, the car works and works well. Thankfully, my car was virtually rust free, mouse free and UV free. Otherwise this project would have taken a full year or more.
We started through Glacier Park from the West side. If you have not seen Glacier, you should. If you have seen Glacier, you know. It is stunning place. I wanted to see Glacier this year as it is one of the parks we always seem to miss. It is a little out-of-the-way compared to many other parks and the season is shorter up here. It was worth the extra miles. About half way through the park, we stop for a young hitchhiker named Mitch. He needs a ride back to his car at the pass where he and his friends started their hike. He doesn’t know what kind of car he’s in but he likes it.
Our motel is in East Glacier. When we pull in, the man in the adjacent room comes out and introduces himself. He is Dennis Mitchel and he tells us that he grew up just a few blocks from Creative Industries when the Daytonas were being built. This is a major flashback for him. Dennis believes that the owner of Creative Industries kept the first Daytona and the first Superbird and that he may still have them in storage. This makes some sense to anyone who has seen the Superbird serial number list. That first car was also the last one to be picked up.
Later that evening Cheryl and I relax with a bottle of Petite Syrah and all is good.
Friday, August 18th, 20060818
Breakfast, in my opinion, is the most important meal. We have been getting lucky all trip by finding great little places to eat. East Glacier is small and everything is within walking distance. Cheryl states, and I agree, that it is time for a vacation-for-us day that does not involve the car. The car has taken over our trip to an extent I had not anticipated. We both need some exercise so off to hike at Many Glacier we go. Before leaving, we answer a few questions from some very enthusiastic Canadian ex-drag racers. A fuel stop in St Mary is typical. We pull in and a crowd gathers. Ed, a cook in the restaurant next to the gas station comes out and says: “That is the single most beautiful thing I have seen today.” He tells us he was in the middle of a conversation with the head cook when he saw us pull in and all he said was: “I have to go.”
Anthony from Jamaica sees the car and actually sang a song in excitement. We took his picture with the car and told him he was in the photo album. Speaking of photo albums, there are going to be about 5000 2006 summer vacation photo albums with an orange Superbird in them. People are taking pictures of the car everywhere we stop.
At Many Glacier we see three mother bears each with two cubs. One set got a little too close for comfort but all was well. There were mountain sheep grazing right next to the Hotel. We saw numerous non-venomous snakes, a slew of chattering rodents and a continuous mountain vistas on our 7.5 mile hike. On the way out we saw cows and could not resist a taking a photo as though they were unusual wildlife.
The car is running well. It is still using about a quart of oil every 250 miles. The choke does not seem to work under these conditions. The deep squeak is still there. The exhaust leak is gradually getting worse. The valvetrain noise is the same except it becomes louder in the cool night air (who knows?). I am adding brake fluid every morning. Most of it seems to wick out from under the cap. The gauges are a joke. Another trim ring goes AWOL so I take all of them off. The vibrations and resonant shudders are all about the same. I am confident the car will hold its present personality for the duration of the trip as long as I don’t push it.
For those of you who keep up with the news, Glacier is just winding down from some very big forest fires. The crews are still here but thinning out. It smells like a gigantic garbage dump/camp fire in places. As we drive through a particularly charred region, we see a crew of about six firefighters being briefed. We give a double beep on the horn and wave. They all give a huge arm wave back. We want to offer a special Thanks to all the firefighters for the work they do. Their efforts saved a lot of ground and a number of buildings that would have been impossible to replace.
Saturday, August 19th, 20060819
We were going to take a day between hikes but we ate too big breakfast and decided we needed to work it off. This time a trip to Two Medicine Lake gave us a nice eight mile hike. It was all we could handle after being inert and suddenly getting active yesterday. We encountered all the same wildlife except the bears – fine with me. I am dragging butt as we come back in. I couldn’t outrun a three legged gummy bear if I had too.
We enjoyed a light supper at the historic East Glacier Lodge and returned to our room. When we arrived, we meet another motel guest Pat and two of this friends from Texas. They had to know about the car. We talked for several hours as though we had known each other forever. That is what this car does. It breaks down any resistance to interaction with others. It has its own energy and people want to be a part of it.
I checked my messages and found I had a call from Shawn Lince of Elgin. He thinks he knows someone who lived in Bowman when Homer owned the car. That person may have more information. Cell coverage is spotty out here and it is late so I opt to wait until a better time to return his call.
Sunday, August 20th, 20060820
We slept in to recover from the hiking of the past two days. Today we will drive through the park on the going to the sun road again. This time we will stop for photo opportunities. Another pristine day. The weather has been fantastic all trip.
We choose to drive back along the road that skirts the south end of the park just to see some new scenery. All is well until a situation develops. We are number 3 in a line of about 10 cars, trucks and RVs. This is a two lane mountain highway with limited opportunities to pass. Smart people just bide their time and enjoy the scenery. Traffic is moving acceptably fast at 55 to 60 MPH. Some not-so-smart person in a Black Pontiac SSEi at the end of the line just can’t take it anymore and decides to try and pass the entire line of cars on a far-too-short straight section of the two lane road. He must be doing 95 by the time he passes me. Oncoming traffic is pulling off to the shoulder to avoid a head-on. He hits his brakes hard enough so that I can smell them in my car and pulls in front of me. I left him room because I could see he was not going to make it. I should not let things like this bother me but they do. To make him look like an even bigger idiot, a passing lane opens about 10 seconds later where he could have completed his pass without putting anyone in peril. He decides to finish what he started by passing the last two cars in the line. For once I am in the right place, at the right time, with the right car. I drop to third gear and stand on it. He passes the last two cars with me on his rear bumper. He knows he doesn’t have a chance of outrunning me so he takes the slow lane and I blow his doors off in the passing lane. I can almost hear the cheers of everyone behind us who saw this idiot get what he deserved. For the next 20 miles he remains a respectable distance behind me because he knows there is no way I am going to allow him past. I hold the speed limit with laser precision. Eventually he passes me after someone else passes us both. I let him go. He got the point.
Women hate this kind of thing. At least on the surface they do. Down deep, I think they like it just as much as men. Standing up to idiots is a male imperative so I am not apologetic for my actions. I do bring the topic up in discussion so that it does not fester and I allow Cheryl to express her thoughts. I don’t contradict her feelings but I don’t apologize. The issue passes with little more fanfare and I know tomorrow will be fine.
Monday, August 21st, 20060821
This is our day to take leave of Glacier. I want to see the Lewis and Clark Center in Helena. I have visited three other major Lewis and Clark interpretive centers and I have heard the one at Great Falls is on par with them all. The drive to Helena is uneventful. We stop to look at old cars on the way and grab a snack. As usual, lots of people are interested in the car. We only drove about 140 miles today. Chapped lips are something I had forgotten about. Non-AC cars on hot days means windows down, vents open and possibly vent windows tilted past 90 degrees for max air intake. All this air blowing on us dries out our eyes and lips. I had forgotten how a bug hitting the vent window splattered on the driver.
Once in Helena, we find the Interpretive Center and walk through about half the exhibit. The Best Western turns out to be a very nice Motel and the hot tub is a savior.
Tuesday, August 22nd, 20060822
Our day began with an excellent breakfast at the Best Western Motel.
We returned to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to finish seeing the entire display and to watch a short film on the portaging of the falls by the Corps of Discovery. I recommend taking in the center with either a long lunch break or overnight stay to break it up. There is so much to see and read and it is all worth it. I have visited three other Lewis and Clark interpretive centers (St. Louis, Missouri – starting/ending point, Washburn, North Dakota – first winter, and Fort Clatsop, Oregon – second winter on the West Coast) and this one is on par with all of them. It is a fantastic facility.
After leaving the center, we made an attempt to find a Mopar enthusiast I had met years ago but had no luck. One person we asked recalled a blue Hemi Superbird around the Great Falls area many years ago. It seems everyone remembers the winged cars even if they are not sure about the details.
The drive from Great Falls Montana to Glendive Montana is a testament to just how big this country is. The concept of world overpopulation becomes laughable once one has experienced this section of the Great Plains. Somewhere near Jordan I took leave of my senses. When we crest one rise, ten more await us. I now understand the feelings sailors must have when far out to sea riding one long wave after the next. Does it ever end? Is there anyone out there? There are places in Montana where you can’t even get a country music station – ON AM!!! Cellular coverage is non-existent unless we are near a community and then it is often analog. This is a different land and it takes a hardy and independent soul to inhabit it. It is hot. I drink an entire gallon jug of water and never have to stop to relieve myself. I am wearing an elastic back brace now as it is painful to bring myself to an upright position when we get out of the car. These seats suck! If the statute of limitations were not certainly expired, Chrysler should have a class action product liability lawsuit on their hands. There is no other way to put it. They suck! Even sitting on a pillow only helps marginally.
As usual, we are cruising at 60 MPH. We are passed by a couple in a Dodge mini-van doing 75 MPH in complete comfort getting between two and three time the mileage we are. It dawns on me that if the Superbird was a new car sitting on dealer’s lots today, they would be just as hard to sell now as they were back in 1970. If you think about it, the Superbird is the antithesis of what a car should be today except for one thing – style.
Imagine looking at a car on the car lot. It has no options to speak of – no AC, no tilt, no cruise control, no power anything other than brakes and steering, not even a map light or tinted windows.
The gauges work but are not accurate.
It has very uncomfortable black vinyl seats that trap your sweat in your clothes so that even moderate heat soaks you to the skin.
The driving position is tolerable but shorter people can not easily see over the dash or work the pedals unless they sit on something.
It is not particularly reliable – you have to check (and fill some of) the fluids daily.
It is carbureted and the fine tune varies with atmospheric conditions.
It gets terrible gas mileage by today’s standards and only has moderate horsepower.
It is very expensive and parts are hard (or impossible) to find for it.
It is big and takes up a lot of room but really can’t haul much.
BUT IT HAS STYLE, BIG STYLE, IT IS STYLE.
The people are friendly when we stop for gas. We stop every hundred miles just in case we end up somewhere that has no open stations. A meal stop in Jordan helps. After an hour we push on into the coming night in the hopes of making Glendive near the North Dakota border. Once in Glendive we find a motel and after a single nightcap we collapse into bed exhausted from a long, hot, slow, noisy and uncomfortable drive. The car performed flawlessly through the great expanse that is Montana but driving and riding in it are physically taxing. I have no idea how Lewis and Clark did what they did. Our trip was nothing by comparison. They truly performed a heroic feat by completing their mission.
Wednesday, August 23rd, 20060823
We are in the home stretch now. Only about 200 miles of the Great Plains remain before we complete our trip. Cheryl decided to get a few more miles of clutch time in so she took the wheel from Glendive MT to Dickinson ND. We have both just about had it with the black vinyl seats, no air conditioning and 90 plus degree heat.
Once again, the people have been great. The reaction of a fellow in Glendive at the morning fuel stop summed up the overall reaction well. After asking a few questions he said: “Thank you for sharing it.” At the time I thought that was a strange statement and I did not know exactly how to respond to it. Later, I realized that his comment was a very good summation of the excitement and approval we encountered everywhere on this trip.
In Dickinson, ND we stop for gas. As always, we have two or three people stop to comment even if they aren’t buying anything. I recall how there was a Vitamin C orange Superbird in Dickinson a few years after I bought mine. It was for sale for $7000. If only we knew then.
At New Salem, ND we stop to get a photo in front of the world’s largest dairy cow “Sue”. North Dakota has a number of these large plastic/fiberglass/cement animals. There is a buffalo in Jamestown, a sand hill crane in Steele, a dinosaur in Valley city (I think), and a giant turtle riding a snowmobile in Bottineau?!?!?
We are nearing the truck stop in Mandan where the trip began. To complete the circle we stop for fuel and the trip is officially over.
Total miles 2767 Note – odometer reads within 2% (fast)
Total fuel burned 256 Gallons
Total fuel cost $860
Ave MPG 10.7 Note – much better MPG with low octane fuel.
In some ways I am sad to be done with the trip. In others ways I have had enough. I suppose it is the same with all travel. Maybe another Superbird tour should be on the calendar for next year.
Brennan R. Cook
The car made the trip without a single wrench turned. Only fluids added as needed.
I did not carry collector car insurance on the Superbird. I only carried the legally required liability insurance needed to drive it on the street. The nature of this trip would have voided the collector car coverage anyway to there was no sense in buying it.
I bought a “club” like device for the steering wheel but never installed it. There was no need to. Any would-be-thief would be held hostage by question asking enthusiasts.
68 Charger was the most commonly referenced car on the trip. Apparently everyone owned one at some time.
It should be noted that we put more miles on the Superbird during this trip than I have put on it in the preceding 25 years of ownership.
RIDING SHOTGUN – Cheryl’s perspective. 9th – Day one Elgin and EdgarVacation. A chance to get away from the stresses of life that everyone understands. At a distance those things seem smaller and when you are in the middle of nowhere there is nothing you can do about them anyway. This vacation would have a theme—Superbird tour 2006. I had visions before we left of me sitting on the side of the road with my magazines and suduko puzzle book while Brennan fixed whatever part of the car had blown up—again. I would have been happy taking my pick-up or his Tornado as I like to call it. But, Brennan really wanted to give the car some road time and I like pretty cars so what the hell? We would go for it. The car never blew up although I began to question my generous decision to go along with this old car on a roadtrip thing after my first half a day sitting in that vinyl un-air-conditioned seat. Usually on a long car trip I reach for a chocolate bar at the gas station—not the gallon jug of water. Did people walk around soaked to the skin everywhere they drove in the 70s? Walking would be cooler!
10th – girl park ranger We talked to many people at our fuel and other stops. Most were men. There were a few women who were excited about the car. One was a park ranger at Devil’s Tower. She seemed to know cars and was excited to see one of the same era as a car she helped work on back home. Sometimes I wish I was a real car girl too. I ask questions and really try to remember the answers. Some cars really are cool and I do want to know more about them. At some point I have to admit though that I really just like to look at them. I like the shapes that have personality and the more interesting colors. There are other things that I would rather spend my time studying in depth. I don’t think I will ever be a part of the cool-girls-who-know-about-cars club.
11th – parking karma—It only took a couple days to learn what the response to the car would be everywhere we stopped. People were super excited to see it (I wouldn’t know what it was if I wasn’t dating a Mopar guy) and many stopped to get a closer look and have their picture taken with it. I think the only time I took my picture with a vehicle was when I sent photos of my new pick up and first major purchase ever to my parents. It was pretty fun to get such a response though. I like talking to new people and this sure turned out to be a way of finding them. The car seemed to bring the positive and gregarious side of people right out and into any other subject we strayed to.Another perk….a little thing we started to call parking karma. I started wondering if the car was possessed for a while. The best spots just seemed to clear for us. I may not be a real car girl but when Brennan rented “Christine” (somehow I missed it when it first came out) I loved it.
12th – Driving instruction - Even if I never learn all about the inner workings of the vehicles that I drive everyone should know how to drive a manual transmission. It is just silly not to. Knowing that I wanted to learn and share some of the driving on the trip Brennan decided a rest stop in the middle of WY was a good spot. It had a big circle drive and a hill and very little traffic. Sounded like a good spot to me. Perhaps the driving age of 14 in ND is a good thing. Learning new things gets a bit more tedious as we get older and growing up in St. Louis we did not drive around on rural roads from the age of 10. Let’s just say that I am not a pro yet but Brennan survived the near whiplash of teaching me to drive and I might be able to get somewhere in an emergency.
13th – Plum Crazy Challenger – nice carThere are some cars that nearly convert me to car girl status. The Plum Crazy Challenger we saw in Cooke City just about does it. I think at some point I heard someone say it was not the most desirable car. Something about being the wrong year or the original engine size isn’t that great or something like that but it is just a beautiful car. All the style a person needs and a great color. Then we start talking about the reality of driving an older car and keeping everything working and I think maybe a nice new car like the Challenger concept car is more my speed—point and go. As long as I change the oil, don’t hit anything and have my boyfriend drive it once a year to make sure everything works right I am good to go.
14th – travel burnout – need a pizza and a bottle of wine
15th – recovering a little – sleep in and breakfast just the way I like it No TVA really fun car that brings a positive response from all who see it, beautiful mountains, a break from the sometimes monotonous daily routines—what better way to ruin all of that than a TV set with so many shows telling the same stories……every day…..all day…..so I decided to swear off TV for the whole trip. I think it did me some good. I needed to kick the habit. Perhaps I will start a new habit of skipping it most nights in favor things I would rather be doing that just take a little bit more effort.
16th – blurt out “440 4 barrel 4 speed” “dana in the rear end”I got to feel pretty cool one night unloading the car at a hotel. Brennan was in the room and some guys stopped to ask about it. Luckily my memorized line about the “440, 4 barrel, 4 speed” and “dana rear end” worked when one of them asked about the engine size. As they walked back toward their rooms one of them said something like “that’s a nice car you’ve got there gal”. Maybe he really thought it was mine.
Thursday, 17th 18th HikingAs much as I enjoyed the car and all of the fun we had with it there came a point when I was ready to do the things I envision doing on vacation. I was raised in St. Louis so going to the mountains and being outside are treats. I had two things in my minds eye when planning my vacation--hiking and wildlife spotting. I started to get a little impatient when we had been without a real hike for 9 days. I wanted to hop in the car quickly at the mornings fueling so no one would stop to chat and keep us from our hike. It all worked out. Brennan and I hiked enough to see wonderful mountain lakes and views and we also saw three mother bears with two cubs each from the safety of distance or the car. After two days of hiking so far we were sore it was back to Superbird tour 2006. There really is room to have a nice vacation with a little help in direction from a theme.
20th East to West through park
23rd – Mopar OverdoseSome good things must come to an end. After a while travel can start some of its own stresses so it is time to come back to regular life, refreshed and cured of some of the obsessions that come from needing a break. It has been fun but I am ready to move on to subjects other than Mopar. It is good to come home to my cat, my truck and my air conditioning.