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Detroit’s Fastest Stock Cars From The NASCAR Circuit

Vukasin Herbez June 2, 2019

Back in the heyday of the muscle car culture, those NASCAR superspeedways were the main battling grounds for the Detroit car manufacturers. Since the mid-50s with the Chrysler 300 C and early ’60s Galaxies and Impalas, Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet were fighting each other for supremacy and bragging rights. In those days, NASCAR allowed only 100-percent stock cars, unlike today. But soon, most car manufacturers realized those boxy designs weren’t aerodynamic at high speeds.

Modifying car bodies for racing purposes was out of the question so Detroit started introducing sleeker, fastback coupes that were somewhat better than regular those two-door sedans of the day. But, by the end of the ‘60s, Dodge and Plymouth were so desperate to win, they decided to produce limited run, homologation specials they designed and produced solely for NASCAR racing.

This was the first time that an American company produced road-going vehicles just for homologation purposes. And that marked the start of the legendary “Aero Wars” of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Also, it paved the way for those Aero Specials of the mid-80s, as well. So here are a handful of those fantastic and often misunderstood machines that present a unique part of the muscle car culture.

  1. 1969 Dodge Charger 500

Most muscle cars fans know the Charger lineup well, including the wild Charger Daytona from 1969. But, the Daytona’s predecessor they named the Charger 500 was far less known and not so successful. However, in the late ‘60s, Dodge was desperate to go racing in NASCAR and the Charger was the perfect candidate. But, since NASCAR cars already approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on those newly constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a key role in a car’s performance and results.

With a deep grille and concave rear glass, the standard Charger wasn’t that aerodynamic. Also, despite its powerful engines and talented drivers, it couldn’t achieve the high speeds required for winning. So Dodge decided to introduce a limited edition they named the Charger 500 because they produced it in that many examples.

It came with flushed a grille, fixed headlights and regular rear glass to enhance the aerodynamics of the car. The 500 was somewhat better, but not quite as good. So Dodge decided to go even further and present the Daytona. They offered the Charger 500 with two engines, the standard 440 and an optional 426 Hemi.

  1. 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

The most interesting period in NASCAR was the late ’60s. That’s when the rules allowed modifications to car bodies to make them more aerodynamic. The condition was to apply those changes to regular production examples and sell a limited number of them to the public. So, most manufacturers jumped at the opportunity, creating Aero racers or specially designed cars they homologated for the races.

But one of the most famous and influential was the 1969 Charger Daytona. They produced it in just 504 examples strictly as a homologation special. Despite winning some races, the Charger 500 wasn’t good enough, so Dodge decided to go all out. They created the Daytona, a racing car with a special front end, flush rear glass and a big rear spoiler. The Charger Daytona was one of the first cars they developed in a wind tunnel using new materials in construction.

The Charger Daytona proved to be successful on the racetracks. It even managed to do a record 217 mph run in almost stock configuration. And that shows how good the design and engineering behind this project were. The standard engine was 440 V8 and only about 70 cars received the legendary 426 Hemi.

  1. 1969 Ford Torino Talladega

Ford was always successful in the NASCAR championships. So when Dodge started moving with their specially-prepared Chargers, Ford reacted with the Aero-warrior model they called the Torino Talladega after a NASCAR track. The idea behind the Talladega was to take a standard Torino and give it a unique front end. Next, they added a few slippery details and homologated it for the superspeedway.

Ford built a total of 754 Talladegas, using many of them for racing. In contrast to the extreme Charger Daytona, Ford decided to modify the front and the back of a regular Torino, removing the pointy wings and front end. This approach proved to be successful, so the Torino Talladega won many races.

  1. 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II

Ford had the Talladega, so Mercury wanted its own Aero Special. So, their designers took the Cyclone and copied some design cues from the Talladega, creating the Spoiler II model for 1969. The Cyclone Spoiler was mechanically identical. However, they sold it in two packages, the Cale Yarborough Special and Dan Gurney Special.

Although both packages had different color schemes, otherwise they were the same. The only difference between the Talladega and Cyclone Spoiler II was a standard rear spoiler, front grille, and the design of the rear lights. Even though the official rule was that manufacturers must produce 500 or more copies of their homologation special, there was controversy over the exact number of Cyclone Spoiler IIs they produced.

The official literature states it was 503 examples, but the experts claimed the actual number was much lower, at around 350 cars. The rumor was that Mercury was behind with the production of the Cyclone Spoiler II. And so, when the NASCAR officials came to check the cars, they sneaked in some regular Cyclones they painted in Spoiler II colors. This way it appeared they made 503 cars. But in fact, they made far less Cyclone Spoiler IIs.

  1. 1970 Plymouth Superbird

As one of the craziest muscle cars the ever produced, Plymouth has one of the most recognizable graphics packages they ever presented to the public. The Superbird was an attempt to win the famous Aero Wars in the late ’60s to early ’70s NASCAR championships. However, to homologate the car for racing, Plymouth built just under 2,000 roadgoing Superbirds, selling them all over America.

When the NASCAR officials noticed the limit of 500 cars was too low, they raised the limit to one car per dealership. And in 1970, Plymouth had exactly 1,971 dealerships across the states, so they based the car on the Roadrunner. It came with a 440 V8 as standard and 426 Hemi as the only engine option. However, to make it as aerodynamically efficient as it could, Plymouth installed a nosecone, hideaway headlights and an enormous spoiler on the back.

They even transformed the rear glass from the standard concave-shape to the regular shape, which proved more slippery in wind tunnel testing. The Superbird came with a wild graphics package along with the choice of bright colors. Also, all the cars had a vinyl roof to hide the rear glass conversion scars and big “Plymouth” lettering on the rear fender.

But the best part was the roadrunner bird logo holding a racing helmet. Also, they were quite successful in racing, managing to woo the legendary Richard Petty back to Plymouth after a brief stint with Ford.

  1. 1970 Ford Torino King Cobra

Ford wanted to attack those fast and victorious Aero Mopars, the Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird. So for the 1970 season, they designed the Torino King Cobra. Apparently, the Torino Talladega with its modest modifications was not enough to beat those wild winged warriors from Mopar.

The King Cobra was a regular Ford Torino with a special, wedge-shaped front end and 429 engine. The car did well at its initial testing, but at the last minute, Ford pulled the plug on the project. They only made three cars, which are incredibly expensive today.

  1. 1971 Plymouth Superbird Prototype

Inspired by the racing success of the original 1970 Superbird, Plymouth wanted more. So, they moved to design and testing the 1971 version. Since they redesigned the 1971 Mopar intermediates with a new body, they based the 1971 Superbird on their new line. However, they added a pointy front end and a new, improved double rear spoiler.

Once again, they thoroughly tested the car in wind tunnels. However, the sudden change of rules implemented by NASCAR officials canceled the project. To tame down the raging speed wars, NASCAR decided to limit the displacement of the engines to 302 inches or 5.0-liters. This slowed the cars down, yet made them extremely aerodynamic.

Sadly, since the 1971 Superbird was an expensive project, the car was obsolete. So, Plymouth canceled the model at the last minute after building just a few prototypes.

  1. Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe

Despite being in production for just two short years, the Aerocoupe is one of the most interesting ’80s muscle cars ever. Basically, it was a regular Monte Carlo SS, but with a few design tweaks they homologated for the NASCAR races. They presented the Aerocoupe option in 1986. It featured a panorama-style back window and a back spoiler. The new rear glass provided an almost fastback profile, vastly improving the aerodynamics on the NASCAR superspeedway tracks.

However, mechanically speaking, the Aerocoupe was identical to the regular SS. And that meant that the power came from a 180 HP 305 V8 engine. The production for the 1986 model year was just 200 examples, which was enough to homologate the car. However, for 1987, Chevrolet produced an additional 5,852 cars.

  1. Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2

Domestic car buyers were surprised when Pontiac introduced the interesting 2+2 package for its popular luxury coupe in 1986. It was the muscle car the company lacked since the late ’60s and an interesting version of the boring Grand Prix of the ’80s. Similar to the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, the Grand Prix 2+2 used the same platform, rear glass and rear spoiler for NASCAR races.

Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t provide the 2+2 with an exciting performance for street use since all cars got the 305 V8 with 165 HP. However, the Grand Prix 2+2 handled much better than the Aerocoupe. That’s because gas-filled shocks, stiffer springs and sway bars, as well as high-performance tires, were a part of the standard package. Pontiac produced this model for two years, in which time they made 1,225 cars.

These are the top nine legendary NASCAR aero warriors. These were Detroit’s fastest stock cars that changed racecar history. No matter what the rules, they managed to build cars that went fast and ruled the NASCAR tracks.

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