Coronet. Charger. Belvedere. Satellite.
In the period between 1968 and 1970, it was difficult, even for the most keen-eyed Mopar aficionado, to distinguish between these B-body models and their seemingly myriad sub-models such as the Charger 500, Road Runner, and GTX.
I must admit, in spite of being a Pentastar fanatic for forty years, I often have trouble discerning exactly what that B-body at a car show is until I can get up close to inspect it.
The trouble for most is that all of these cars shared the same sheet metal, with the major differences between them often being limited to grille, taillight, and interior treatments, as well as some minor options and stickers. To make matters even worse, they all possessed similar powertrains and suspensions, making even mechanical differentiation difficult.
Out of all of the B-body sub-models, there was one that sold in much smaller numbers than the rest. What’s more, in 1970, if you ordered it with the dreadfully expensive 426 Hemi option, then you would have been delivered a true unicorn of the Mopar world, a car in which only low double-digit numbers were produced.
The vehicle in question was the 1970 Dodge Super Bee 426 Hemi, and it’s this month’s subject of Rare Rides.
The Super Bee was a variant of the Dodge Coronet, one of brand’s most storied and longest-running models. Introduced with the first wave of Dodge vehicles to be produced after the end of the Second World War, the Coronet, whose name translates to “little crown,” was released in 1949 as a full-sized vehicle with two lesser trim models, the Wayfarer and Meadowbrook, beneath it in the lineup.
Available as a two-door club coupe and convertible, a four-door sedan, and a four-door station wagon, the cars all sported conservative designs that featured pontoon fenders and a fair amount of chrome.
After a slate of refreshes and a pair of total redesigns, Dodge retired the Coronet name in 1959, despite robust sales. It was supplanted by a slew of models, including the Dart Seneca, Dart Pioneer, Dart Phoenix, Matador, and Polara.
This was far from the end of the Little Crown though. The hiatus was lifted with the release of an all-new Coronet for 1965. This fifth-generation car was now a mid-sized, mid-level offering, built on the Chrysler B-Body platform and featuring the svelte, sleek Jet-Age lines that were dominating the auto industry at the time.
Subsequent to a mid-cycle refresh, Dodge completely redesigned the Coronet in 1968, with Plymouth contemporaneously redoing the Belvedere using the same bodywork as its stablemate.
With the muscle car wars now in full swing, Plymouth made the decision to offer two distinct performance models in their lineup based on the Belvedere that shared the same body design. The GTX (which had been introduced the year before) represented their upscale-trimmed “gentleman’s muscle car,” and the all-new Road Runner occupied the no-frills, low-cost speed machine slot in the lineup.
Dodge initially decided to go with only one Coronet hot rod for 1968 – the Coronet R/T – that is until Plymouth’s Road Runner became a massive sales success. Dodge execs became desirous of their own slice of the low-cost muscle car pie, and so they hastily configured and released their own bargain-priced performance model based on the Coronet, the Dodge Super Bee, midway through the model year.
Available only as a two-door pillared coupe, the Super Bee’s aesthetic differences from the Coronet R/T existed but were decidedly subtle. On the outside, they mostly consisted of bespoke grille and taillight treatments, as well as unique badging and stripes for each model. Taking a cue from the Road Runner, the Super Bee tail stripe included a stylized cartoon image of its own: a bee sporting a race helmet and goggles, scorching a set of aggressive looking tires.
Inside, the Super Bee differed from its Coronet R/T brethren by sharing its gauge cluster with the Dodge Charger, and being dramatically more stripped down in terms of materials and creature comforts.
The differences continued with the cars’ respective drivetrains.
The ’68 Coronet R/T came standard with Chrysler’s largest displacement lump – the 440 Magnum four-barrel V8, capable of 375 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque. Optional was the legendary 426 Hemi V8 with its 425 ponies and 490 lb-ft of twist. Transmissions consisted of a standard 727 TorqueFlite three-speed auto, while the beefy A-833 four-speed manual was available as an option.
In contrast, the ’68 Super Bee came equipped with the 383 Magnum, a new version of the standard 383 that borrowed heavily from the 440’s parts bin, using the bigger engine’s cylinder heads, camshaft, windage tray, and exhaust manifolds. Bearing a Carter AVS four-barrel carb and an unsilenced air cleaner, the 383 Magnum could lay down 335 horses at a relatively high 5,200 RPM, and churn out 425 lb-ft or torque.
If that wasn’t enough for a buyer, Dodge was happy to install the Hemi in his or her ‘Bee. Transmissions were the same as the Coronet R/Ts but in reverse, with the four-speed, fitted with a Hurst Competiton-Plus shifter, standard, and the slushbox optional.
In part due to its abbreviated availability, the Super Bee failed to set the world on fire like the Road Runner, and by the end of the model year, only 7.844 had been built compared to a massive 44,599 examples of its Plymouth cousin.
Dodge executives were nonetheless content with the sales numbers and the Super Bee soldiered on into 1969, along with the Coronet R/T, Road Runner, and GTX. While the cars maintained the same overall body in the new model year, some significant changes were brought to the ‘Bee in particular.
A hardtop joined the existing pillared coupe, and a tough looking, twin-scooped, N96 “Ramcharger” functional induction hood was introduced as an option for the 383 and was standard on Hemi cars. A new grille design, revised taillights, and an updated Super Bee stripe completed the external changes.
Most notable though was the introduction of a third engine. Part of what was known as the A12 Package was a “Six-Pack” version of the 440 motor named after the three Holley two-barrels that topped the engine. This powerplant was slotted in between the standard engine and the Hemi, and provided a stout 390 horsepower and 490 lb-ft.
A $463 option, the A12 also added heavy-duty engine internals, a Dana 60 axle with a 4.10 final drive ratio, heavy-duty 11-inch drum brakes, black steel wheels shod in G70x15 performance rubber, and a special, matte black, pinned, lift-off hood with a large scoop emblazoned with a “Six Pack” callout.
Sales of the ’69 Super Bee reflected the attractive new options and features, with 27,806 cars finding homes that year.
Most automotive historians consider 1970 to be the ultimate year for the American muscle car. Horsepower reached its zenith, several important new models were launched, and nearly every brand redesigned or at least refreshed their offerings to start the new decade.
Dodge and Plymouth were prime examples of this. In addition to releasing the new E-body Challenger and Barracuda, the companies changed their strategy of using the same design across all of their B-body models. While the Road Runner and GTX retained the same sheet metal of the 1969 models, Dodge gave their Coronet and Super Bees a fresh look, designated “fuselage styling,” that would ultimately prove controversial.
Starting up front, the cars were bequeathed with a bold, new front end that featured quad headlights set into dual, split grille segments, each ringed with a chrome bumper, referred to in ad copy as “bee wings.” Nothing like it had ever been seen on a Chrysler vehicle, but despite its audaciousness, the treatment became a hugely polarizing element, with some loving the future-forward look, and others rejecting the design as unsightly.
On Super Bees, a fresh hood with a centerline crease showcased a faux “Power Bulge,” scoop, while the functional N96 “Ramcharger” layout remained an option on 383 cars and was still standard on the Hemis.
The twin recesses on each rear quarter panel ahead of the rear wheel arches that had been a feature of the Super Bee since ’68 were now replaced by a single, rectangular one.
Finishing off the aesthetic revisions was a new tail, consisting of twin, trapezoidal-shaped lamps separated by a brushed aluminum center panel, and an optional, longitudinal performance C-stripe with the Super Bee logo.
Inside the ‘Bee, things stayed bare bones, with windows, locks, and anything else that could be powered on a luxury car remaining manually operated. Standard, as had been the case in prior iterations, was the Rallye gauge cluster and vinyl bench seats. Vinyl buckets were an option, as were a tachometer, a choice of radio, and a center console.
As for the mechanicals, the 383 Magnum V8 remained the standard engine, now fitted with a Holley carb. The A12 package was dropped, although the 440 Six-Pack remained as a standalone engine option.
Once again, the Hemi represented the top offering under the hood.
Rolling into its third year of Super Bee duty, the Hemi sported a 4.25” x 3.75” bore and stroke, a 10.25:1 compression ratio, a pair of Carter four-barrel carbs, an aluminum intake, a forged steel crank, forged aluminum pistons, and an iron exhaust manifold leading to a 2 1/2-inch dual exhaust with H-pipe, twin mufflers, and twin resonators.
While 383-powered Super Bees now sported a floor-shifted three-speed manual as standard to lower the car’s price, Hemi-equipped cars still came with the heavy-duty A-833 four-speed utilizing an 11-inch CenterForce dual-friction clutch. The 727 TorqueFlite three-speed remained an option for those who wanted one less pedal.
When equipped with the latter, Hemi cars shared the 383 and 440’s 8 ¾” differential fitted with 3.23 gears. On four-speed Hemi Super Bees, the rear end was bumped up to the 9 ¾” Dana 60 unit with a 3.54:1 ratio. Optional was a Super Track Pack packing 4.10 gears with a Sure-Grip LSD.
Keeping everything stuck to the pavement was Chrysler’s Torsion-Aire suspension, which, in Hemi guise, consisted of independent upper A-arms and lower control arms, 0.92-inch diameter torsion bars, torque struts, 1-inch thick telescoping shocks, and a 7/8-inch anti-sway bar up front. Out back lived 1-inch shocks and semi-elliptic leaf springs, which differed from the Coronet’s in that the left assembly was comprised of six leaves, while the right side had five-and-a-half.
For slowing down, 10-inch hydraulic drums lived at all four corners, but 11-inch power-assisted front discs could be outfitted for an upcharge. Hemi cars with the Sure Grip diff mandated the front discs. 14-inch Steelies were still the standard wheel, but Chrysler’s classic, 15-inch Rallye wheels mounted with Goodyear Polyglas F60-15 rubber were available as an option.
All of these heavy-duty mechanicals made the 1970 Dodge Super Bee 426 Hemi a serious performer, with the Standard Catalog of Muscle Cars listing the car’s verified acceleration numbers at 5.3 seconds 0-to-60, and a quarter mile run in 13.5 seconds at 105.0 mph. Staggering, “king of the streets” numbers for the period.
In spite of this, a number of factors led to Super Bee sales numbers dropping to just 15,506 units for the 1970 model year. While aversion by some to the front-end styling no doubt accounted for a portion of this decline, increased insurance premiums on muscle cars, and the release of the popular E-body Challenger and Barracuda likely had an even more profound effect.
Owing to the aforementioned circumstances and the steep price of the Hemi option – $848 in 1970 – frightfully few 426 ‘Bees ever left the factory. Just how few? Try 32 hardtops and four-pillared coupes.
Today, this scarcity, plus a much greater appreciation for the car’s once-maligned styling, makes prime examples of the 1970 Dodge Super Bee 426 Hemi worth close to $200,000, thus qualifying it as one of Mopar’s most valuable and sought-after Rare Rides.