Brett Balsdon was on the road one day with his dad in Ottawa, when he saw a strange machine approaching: it was long and low, reddish-orange, with an extraterrestrial spoiler and the front-end of a spaceship.
“I saw the cone on the front, then I saw the spoiler. I was just like wow, that’s so cool,” said the Sooke resident, adding that at age 10, the car’s extreme look completely surprised him.
The mystery car was a rare 1970 Plymouth Superbird, one of the first racecars in NASCAR to break 200 mph.
In the hands of NASCAR racing legend Richard Petty, the Superbird raced straight to the top, making it one of the most successful racecars in North American history.
For Balsdon, the Superbird stayed in his head well into his adult life, until, in 2007, he went looking for one of his own. He’d found one in Toronto, but missed out on it by a few hours.
Then, another call came in from Ottawa. It was the owner of the very same Superbird he’d seen flying past him as a kid.
“I wasn’t supposed to get that car, I was supposed to get this one,” he said, adding that the two pretty much had to be together.
This particular “Tor Red” Superbird was No. 1089 on the NASCAR registry list, of which only 1,935 of these cars exist. In 1969, NASCAR required 500 copies to be built, but in 1970, each dealer in North America had to receive at least one, as per new NASCAR regulations. It is estimated anywhere from 34 to 47 Superbirds were shipped to Canada.
Its rarity and pedigree was certainly preceded by its lack of creature comforts, after all, this was a purpose-built racecar for the street. And as Balsdon said, it shows every time he drives it.
“I have to leave it in third gear, because it’s too easy to speed. It’s got no frills, no air conditioning, never came with anything that would drag on the motor, except for basics,” he said, adding that such a machine needs to be handled with respect.
“You need to have respect for this car, because if you don’t, you’ll be in the ditch.”
The Superbird was available to the public with three V8 engines: the 440 Super Commando, the 440 Six Pack and a very rare, detuned version of the same engine powering Petty’s No. 43 racecar, the 426 Hemi.
Balsdon’s 440 c.i. V8 had the Super Commando, but was later upgraded to the Six Pack, pumping around 400 horses of pure American muscle.
Decorating his car are also two custom murals; one of the Road Runner on the long hood, and another of Wile Coyote (all out of puffs) on the trunk lid. Balsdon made a few minor modifications here and there, but nothing that affects its originality.
Besides, he doesn’t want any other car.
“I’m the only one who has to be happy with it,” he said. “Your whole soul is in this car, you’ve taken it apart, you’ve driven it, you know it. You know exactly what’s going on with it.”