HPP Richard Petty Superbird
EngineSC 5.7L V8
Power575 Wheel HP
The gents at Heide Performance Products (HPP) make cars that get attention. The philosophy, at least, should appeal to enthusiasts who experience gastric distress whenever they look at another evolution of the mid-sized-fits-all Camcordimabu.
That hasn't been the case, however – at least not in our comments. Once we post on HPP's SEMA-riffic offerings like the Camaro-based Trans-Am or Challenger-based Charger Daytona, we don't have long to wait for a sharp opinion.
We visited HPP's workshop in suburban Detroit and were given a brief opportunity to form some opinions inside a car, the Petty Superbird, and burn a little gas in the process. Foremost among the revelations: HPP isn't really trying to revive a car; it is reviving an attitude.
And in keeping with the philosophy we started with, that's the point. A new supercar is announced every week. If someone had texted you just one year ago with the question, "Hey, have you seen that new Polish supercar?" your response might have been, "I think your autocorrect is acting up – you meant 'posh,' right?"
It can be challenging enough to keep up with them. What's often more difficult is remembering what they look like, or being able to identify them, a week later. That will never be the case with an HPP car. So yes, you have to want an HPP car. You can't just want a track screamer or bargain performance, or the right to say you have a supercar. You wouldn't say "I have eighty grand, what can I get?"
You have to truly desire this specific car. You would say, "I'm going to get $80k so I can get this."
We're not advocating or denouncing this car or your desires. We're only making a case for a unique desire for a unique thing, which is something that doesn't happen often.
But what is it? It's a motivation tool created by Heide Performance Products, a company in Madison Heights, Michigan run by Gordon Heidacker and three partners. Before HPP, Heidacker built his career at The Pentastar, involved in the development of the Dodge Viper and Plymouth Prowler and Chrysler's racing and performance programs.
Heidacker wanted to build attention-getting things, but other less technical, yet higher, positions would come calling. He did three years in Germany when the company was owned by Daimler, and was appointed Director of Global Procurement for Powertrain and Electronics, overseeing a $10 billion annual budget. Realizing that his colleagues, other high-level managers, would forever be hands-off when it came to wrenching and building automotive hardware with their own hands, he decided to leave Chrysler and start his own company doing engineering design and prototyping
Even then, the plan wasn't to simply make parts for cars, the plan was to develop a system for creating small-volume specialty cars for dealerships – to provide an American-owned, American-run outsourced Skunkworks for OEMs and go "from art to part," and along the way putting the fun back into showroom floors. He would do this not just for Chrysler dealers, but any dealer – and customer and OEM – who sees such modified cars as sales tools. Hence products like the Daytona Charger, Petty Superbird and HPP T/A. Think Michael Stoschek's Lancia Stratos for the domestic set...
The HPP Superbird is built on a car that was never intended to do such duty, a genesis story that it shares with the original. The 1970 Superbird was only built because team driver Richard Petty got tired of being beat by Fords and Dodge Daytonas, so he defected to The Blue Oval. But he told Plymouth that if they gave him a version of the Daytona, introduced a year earlier, he'd come back.
Plymouth took a Road Runner – which itself was a modified Belvedere, that in turn being the model Petty used to take the Grand National Championship in 1964 – and created a front clip slightly different than the Charger's, fitted a hood and fenders from the Coronet, and engineered a wing that was more substantial and at a steeper angle than that on the Charger. The additional benefit of Plymouth having created its car a year after Dodge was that Charger Daytonas might overheat if driven slowly, Superbirds didn't.
The HPP Superbird is, obviously, built over a modern Dodge Challenger, which, coincidentally, has the same wheelbase as the '70 Superbird. The Challenger gets a front clip bolted to stock points that moves the headlamps seven inches in, a couple of inches down and a whole foot forward. The headlight doors drop to reveal the beams, which have painted bezels.
Behind those lights – far behind – is a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 aided by a Kenny Bell supercharger. The package is good for 575 wheel horsepower, and gets additional air through vents that have been moved to the hood, as compared to the original Superbird's fender-mounted intakes. The Hemi makes noise through a Magnaflow cat-back with a side exit exhaust protruding out the rear fenders. Between the two, side-marker lights are round, as on the original Superbird, and the rocker panels have a little extra flare.
In back, the rear panel is altered and the taillights get an overlay. They sit beneath an aluminum and fiberglass wing adorned with inlaid graphic of that Roadrunner guy with his helmet. The whole shebang has been dropped three inches on a K&W suspension, and rides on 20x8.5-inch wheels in front and 20x10s in back.
Inside, you'll find a custom gauge package, a shotgun shifter and a lot of leather sporting the expected logo embroidery. As is, it would run you $47,000 on top of the price of the donor Dodge Challenger. This, however, is for the full-zoot version we drove that was headed to auction for a Midwestern dealer. The base package is $17,900, and that includes the nose cone, rear wing, rear quarter scoop, taillight overlays, Superbird and HPP badging outside and in, pistol-grip shifter, dash bezels painted to match the exterior color and a serialized dash plaque. The Richard Petty versions get the base package from HPP, then go to Petty's firm for engine and interior modifications.
This one was destined to be a customer car so we couldn't play too many fervent notes with the throttle. Yet having driven a Hurst HEMI Challenger, which is different in details but quite similar in concept, we didn't expect too many surprises from the formula of a boosted and luxed-up Challenger on an aftermarket suspension. It's as big as a rec room, swallows you like a La-Z-Boy, rumbles like an earthquake and runs like a rhino. And in case you didn't know, rhinos can run.
However, it should be well established by now that running isn't the point of any Challenger, not even a bog-standard one. The HPP Superbird is fitted with a fenced diffuser out back, but it will rarely do a proper job of managing airflow. As quick as any dealer-floor Challenger might be, it was created for showmanship, not Mach speed. And if an SRT8 gets plenty of attention, the Superbird is a butt-naked Blake Lively eating ice cream and gold dust under a stoplight at Sunset and Vine. On a horse. This is perhaps the worst getaway car in the entire world.
Not that some won't use them to run. Heidacker told us they've done three Petty cars and they're up to about 15 HPP cars, and a rather sinister black version was built to run the Texas Mile this summer. After seeing a different souped-up Challenger suffer some indignities on its run, the owner called HPP to get the car prepped for top-speed duty. HPP fabricated reinforcements including a retrofitted nose, larger splitter and structural tie-downs. The Superbird was then taken to Mr. Norms, bored out to 426 cubic inches and given a Whipple supercharger among other mods. With ambient temps lurking around 110 degrees and a 28 mile-per-hour headwind, the black beast ran 180.2 mph. After giving the car even more power, next year the owner plans to break 200 mph at Bonneville.
As for our much more sedate drive around suburban Detroit, some gave a thumbs-up, some tailgated, some got the heck out of the way. And some just looked the thing over with incomprehension. Which is why we chuckled when Heidacker said that he "didn't want to go too far" with the Superbird. When we're older and ready for such things, we might want to see what Heidacker considers too far. But even he will admit, "Some will love it, some will hate, but they'll talk about it."
We'll be seeing HPP again soon at SEMA, where they'll be bringing two new models: a Challenger 2 with mods like a functional Shaker hood scoop, and a convertible version of their HPP T/A. Come November, prepare to witness the attitude...
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