Written by independent automotive journalist Steve Magnante
Two birds and a judge drive into an automobile auction … it may sound like the setup to a joke in a hazy, late-night comedy club, but in the case of this trio of professionally restored muscle cars from the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams collection, the punchline is guaranteed to generate more than a few chuckles from the crowd.
Well-known for his knockout-punch bidding strategy at Barrett-Jackson events for many years – and for generating TV-camera-friendly moments by occasionally using his pet dog’s paw to indicate bids – John Staluppi has an expert eye for the best in automotive design, legend and value. In the case of this trio of No Reserve offerings to be sold at the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach Auction, Staluppi’s interest in top-tier American muscle cars is on display.
To some, the two “birds” heading for the auction block may be just a couple of old relics; shiny relics for sure, but otherwise of little interest. But for The Enlightened, this 1970 Plymouth 440 6-Barrel Superbird and 1974 Pontiac 455 Super Duty Firebird Trans Am represent a fascinating display of how auto stylists can accentuate the nose and tail of a car to add image – and performance.
In the case of the Alpine White Plymouth Superbird, the oversize missile-shaped nose cone was put there in 1970 to help Plymouth NASCAR drivers defeat their GM and Ford opponents by piercing the air at over 200 mph. Just like a V2 rocket – or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner you might have flown in recently on business – pointy things pass through the atmosphere much more efficiently than blunt slabs. Thanks to that controversial nose cone, the Superbird helped Plymouth dealerships to “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
As for the nose of the 1974 Firebird Trans Am, it played on a central Pontiac design theme dating back to the 1959 model year. That was when Pontiac Motor Division stylists first embraced the split grille with a central “prow” design configuration as a way to build a quickly recognizable corporate identity on the open road. When the Firebird launched in 1967 as Pontiac’s first pony car, the prow was rendered into the front bumper so forcefully that some folks took to calling it a beak. Call it what you want, it was marketing brilliance in how it visually tied all Pontiacs into a cohesive family.
The tails of these two machines also exhibit some fascinating aerodynamic trickery, designed to generate downforce at 150-plus speeds during the high-stakes factory racetrack battles of the day. The Superbird’s Eiffel Tower-esque spoiler wasn’t meant to be pretty. On the Super Duty Trans Am, the exotic three-piece tail spoiler first appeared on 1970 models. Standardized on every Firebird Trans Am built through the 1981 model year, this “duck tail” spoiler is one of the most instantly recognizable styling touches of any car, anywhere.
The Superbird and Super Duty T/A are both powered by their original matching-numbers engines and drivetrains. Better still, each has been verified by marque experts as being the real thing. Bid with confidence; these are top-notch examples of top-notch collector cars.
While many teenaged drivers of the original muscle car era actually found themselves standing before somber judges, their right to drive hanging in the balance after some moment of youthful indiscretion, this Judge in this muscle car trio is sure to offer much happier proceedings. A first-year example of the GTO Judge option (which ran from 1969 through 1971), this stunningly restored Carousel Red hardtop has something extra to offer: it’s a true, fully documented Ram Air IV. Better still, it was factory-built with the close-ratio M21 Muncie 4-speed manual transmission instead of the less exciting automatic that was also offered.
Back in 1969, the vast majority of the 72,287 GTOs built were equipped with non-functional scoop inserts set into their sleek double-bubble hood skins. Only the hardy few stepped up to one of the extra-cost Ram Air engines – where the twin hood scoops became functional. Not so the Judge. To set it apart, Pontiac made sure every one of the 6,833 Judges built in 1969 had functional hood scoops for street credibility points. For the most part, the scoops fed the Judge’s standard-issue Ram Air III 400 with a respectable 366 horsepower. Just 549 of the total number of Judge buyers coughed up the extra $558.20 needed to add the tiny Roman numerals IV to the ends of the Judge’s Ram Air hood scoop stickers. Those who did, bought legends modern collectors treasure. Perhaps the ultimate GTO engine of all time, the 1969 Ram Air IV was the only GTO engine equipped with an aluminum intake manifold.
Despite the extra baked-in content, Pontiac’s marketing team rated the Ram Air IV at 370 horsepower. It was a charade. In reality the RAIV was nudging 410 horsepower, especially with its large-diameter cast-iron exhaust manifolds, high-flow mufflers and plumbing. Another option that further elevates this particular Judge into the stratosphere: RPO 362, the 3.90:1 gear set inside this Judge’s Saf-T-Track rear axle. Allowing full utilization of the quick-revving Ram Air IV 400, it helps make this Judge one of Pontiac’s most fearsome muscle cars of all time.
So that’s the story of the two birds and a judge that showed up on auction day to rock the block. No punchline required.
Preview these and other vehicles headed to the Palm Beach Auction HERE.