When Pontiac started the muscle car segment with the 1964 GTO which was a mid-sized car with a large displacement high performance V8, most of the other American automakers were caught off-guard including Dodge. In fact Dodge and Plymouth were in the process of attempting to recover from the very bad mistake of shrinking its full-size car lineup to almost mid-size proportions for 1962. The last thing Dodge was concerned with at that time was the new muscle car segment. After it finally was able to return a full-size car back to its lineup for 1965, it then began concentrated on its sporty and performance oriented Charger which was released in 1966. With the release of the Charger, Dodge made a step in the right direction and had officially entered into the muscle car market. However it wasn’t until the release of a redesigned Charger for 1968 that Dodge was truly a player in the muscle car game. It was worth noting that if you were buying a Charger as a muscle car, you had to opt for the R/T version which was standard with the 375 horsepower 4-bbl 440 CID V8. It was the perfect muscle car package however its $3,506 price was out of reach for many younger buyers.
Dodge had the solution to this problem, it introduced for 1968 a new budget oriented high performance version of the Dodge Coronet called the Super Bee. At $3,027 it was a downright bargain especially when you considered that a 335 horsepower 4-bbl 383 CID V8 was standard. To fully understand what a great bargain a $3,027 muscle car was in 1968 – adjusted to inflation this would be slightly over $20,500 in 2013 dollars. Can you imagine getting a V8 powered rear wheel drive muscle car for a little over $20K in 2013? Eeven a stripped down 5.7 liter Hemi V8 equipped 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T is around $30K. Only slightly better bargain back in 1968 was the $2,896 1968 Plymouth Road Runner which was standard with the same 335 horsepower 4-bbl 383. There was a downside with the Super Bee, if you wanted to upgrade to Chrysler’s red hot 440 V8, it wasn’t happening. The only optional engine was the 425 horsepower 426 CID Hemi V8. Unfortunately the Hemi added about $700 to the sticker price. To get an idea of how expensive the Hemi was back in 1968, adjusted to inflation that $700 is about $5,000 in 2013 dollars. If a buyer wanted a 2-door Coronet with a 440 V8, upgrading to the more costly Coronet R/T was the only way to go. The plus side to this upgrade was the Coronet R/T was better equipped with options and could be had with a convertible body style.
The Super Bee proved to be popular and returned again in 1969 as Dodge’s base-level muscle car. The Super Bee could now be equipped with the 390 horsepower 440 Six-Pack (triple Carter 2-bbl carbureted) V8. The 335 horsepower big-block 383 was still the standard engine and a the mighty 425 horsepower 426 Hemi was again optional.
When the 1970 model year rolled in, the good news was the Super Bee had a front and rear redesign which overall gave the Super Bee very captivating styling. This meant that charismatic head turning styling and top performance was now the essence of the bargain basement priced Super Bee which had a base price of just $3,012 for the (pillar) coupe – the hardtop (pillarless) coupe started at $3,074. As a comparison the 1970 Pontiac GTO had a base price of $3,267. It can’t be stressed enough how this styling transformed for 1970 the 1968-1969 plain Jane in appearance Super Bee into an attractive but tough looking heavy weight contender. In other words for 1970, the Super Bee’s engines didn’t have to do all the talking, the exterior appearance gave all possible competition a heads up that it was one series muscle car. And helping with the whole new persona was the new rear styling. And even though the roofline was a carryover from the 1968-1969 Super Bee, it blended beautifully with the new front and rear styling. Adding to the Super Bee’s appeal were two decal packages – one included a large stripe that started on each rear quarter panel and transversed the rear trunk while the other had two horizontal stripes on both sides of the rear quarter panels. No matter which striping package was selected by the buyer there was a large round Super Bee cartoonish bee decal with "Super Bee" script (surround the bee) on the rear portion of both rear quarter panels. The bee decal was Dodge’s version of the Road Runner bird decal. A cartoonish bee emblem was also found between the twin front grilles and between the twin rear taillights. And there was also an optional trunk mounted rear spoiler which was one the most attractive in appearance rear spoilers available during this era.
The only downside was that just when Dodge had finally discovered its own unique blend of attractive muscle car styling, the rug was pulled out from under it. By 1970, the original muscle car party was nearing the end. Dodge would still offer hot motors through the 1971 model year. By 1972, the party was officially over with the cancellation of the 426 Hemi and 440 Six-Pack when the 1971 model year ended. In terms of the muscle car buyer on a tight budget, it didn’t get much better than the 1970 Super Bee. And as a sign of the times 1970 would the last year the Super Bee used the Coronet body style. Dodge would instead relegate the Super Bee name to a budget performance oriented 1971 Charger model. The pairing would only last a year and the Super Bee name would be retired. Ironically the name returned on a special edition 2007-2009 and 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8s.
By 1970, muscle cars sales were dwindling across the board. The Super Bee was no exception with sales dipping to 15,506 (3,996 pillared coupes and 11,540 pillarless coupes) for 1970 even with the new hot styling. Muscle car sales were fading due to very high insurance premiums for young drivers – in some cases the monthly insurance payment for a muscle car was as expensive or more expensive than the monthly car payment. Insurance rates for muscle cars by 1970 were substantial higher than when the Super Bee first hit production back in 1968. Henceforth those who were buying muscle cars in 1970 tended to be a little older and wanted the extra options. So the 1970 Super Bees tended to be more heavily equipped with options than previous Super Bees. By 1970 the standard interior was classier overall and looked closer to that of the 1970 Charger rather than the 1968 Super Bee which was barebones in comparison.
1970 also marked the addition of some new wild exterior color schemes which Chrysler referred to as High Impact Paint. The High Impact colors first were available on Chrysler’s wide array of muscle cars for 1969, however it was 1970 when the most memorable colors were first introduced. Plum Crazy (a wild violet/purple), Lime (a very light and bright green), and Panther Pink (an extremely bright pink) were some of the most legendary muscle car colors ever offered. And any of the Mopar muscle cars that came equipped from the factory with these colors, today are highly sought after.
There was no denying that the heart and soul of the 1970 Super Bee were its engine offerings. A free-flow dual exhaust system was standard on all 1970 Super Bee engines. The 426 Hemi was the engine that garnered all the attention. The Hemi was good for mid-13 second quarter mile times which made it one of the fastest available engines during the original muscle car era. The Hemi retained the 425 gross horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque ratings of previous years. The Hemi had a monster bore of 4.25 inches and a shorter stroke of 3.75 inches and was fed by two Carter 4-bbl carburetors. The Hemi had a 10.28:1 compression ratio. It was in essence a race engine that was dropped into a street car (with only very minimal amount of detuning for street use). Only 32 Super Bee’s were equipped with the Hemi for 1970.
The reason for the Hemi being so rare, was that the Super Bee was available with the 440 (Magnum) Six-Pack V8 which had 390 gross horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque, which was about 90% of the Hemi’s power for a lot less bread. With the 440 Six-Pack (which had a 4.32 inch bore and 3.75 inch stroke), the Super Bee was only a few 1/10s of a second slower in the quarter-mile than with the Hemi. The 440 Six-Pack could easily break into the high-13 second quarter-mile time range. And the Six-Pack was also easier to tune on the street than the sometimes finicky Hemi. Talk to the Mopar old timers and they’ll tell you the stories during their youth when well tuned (bone-stock) 440 Six-Pack equipped cars beat (stock) Hemi equipped cars in street races or at the drag strip on numerous occasions. Back in 1970, the far less expensive Six-Pack was just the performance ticket. The Six-Pack had a 10.5:1 compression ratio which was slightly higher than the Hemi.
For most buyers the base motor was good enough. And who could blame them? After-all the base motor was a high performance tuned 383 CID (Magnum) V8 equipped with a Carter 4-bbl carburetor. It had more than enough cubic inches to get the job done – it produced 335 gross horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque. Ironically the 383 had the same 4.25 inch bore size as the Hemi, but of course a much shorter 3.38 inch stroke. With the 383, the quarter-mile flashed by in a quick 14.6 seconds, which was more than ample to keep the Super Bee very competitive. The 383 had a 9.5:1 compression ratio which was very low for a performance car during this era.
All three Super Bee engines could be equipped with the (N96) Ramcharger cold air introduction system which grabbed cooler outside air via dual hood scoop ducts and sent that air into the engine for a very slight performance boast. The Super Bee was also available with three different transmission choices: a 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual, and 3-speed automatic. A heavy duty suspension was standard with the Super Bee, providing very good handling for its day.
Chrysler may have been a little late to the muscle car game, but it not only caught on real quickly to the game but mastered it. The 1970 Super Bee was a sign of how they mastered the creation and production of a budget muscle car. As previously mentioned the rug had been pulled out of the muscle car market with high insurance premiums. The 1970 Super Bee’s 15,500 sales (down from 44,599 in 1968) were proof the walls were crashing down. Those examples of this fine muscle car that do remain today are highly sought after by collectors and their current high market value is testament to this fact. And this only makes sense with their rarity, fantastic exterior styling, and lots of muscle under the hood – these cars were the byproduct of Dodge’s take no prisoners strategy during the later part of the original muscle car era.
Written contents in this article – © 2013 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved