2008 Turkey Run Car Show
I picked up my new 1969 Dodge Super Bee from Jack Ramsey Motors in Plant City, Florida, on Monday, October 28, 1968. Even though it was forty-two years ago, I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was living in Miami but purchased the car in Plant City, FL. My parents were living in St Petersburg, so I drove up and spent the weekend with them. That Monday the three of us went to pick up my new car. We arrived early in the morning; the car had only arrived from the factory Saturday so they were still cleaning it up. I paid $4,786.39 for my new Super Bee, which was a lot of money back then.
Just a little auto industry history; in the 60’s car companies made a big deal out of announcing their new cars. Back then most middle class families purchased a new car at least every three years. Each year the dealers’ hid new cars from the public until the official new model “reveal” day. I remember each year getting with my car crazy friends to search for a sneak peak of new cars before the official ”reveal” date.
Since I ordered the ‘69 Super Bee sight unseen I was really pleasantly surprised with the fresh air hood scoops. I ordered the exterior in Silver Metallic color and burgundy interior but it arrived with white seats. I didn’t much like the white seats but I didn’t bring it up; I was so excited I let it go. It also had a scratch by the left side rear view mirror. The HEMI was so tight that it would hardly idle. Chrysler put two mufflers plus two resonators for a total of four mufflers. This muted the exhaust so all you could hear was the tapping of the solid lifters and a loud whooshing sound when you floored it. The silver metallic (A2) color was rare. It was an extra cost option; they actually pulled the car off the production line and painted the car by hand. The car is silver in the direct sun but turns green in the shade.
When I initially ordered the car I wanted a coupe because it was a hundred pounds lighter. But the dealer told me if I didn’t get a hard top, it would really hurt resale value when I sold the car. So I went ahead and followed the dealer’s advice and got the hardtop. I now find that funny after owning the car for 42 years. Today the coups are worth more than the hard tops. Oh well it’s still a pretty car.
Back in the day insurance costs were high for muscle cars. Being billed as a young male driver with one speeding ticket I figured my insurance cost for a high performance car could have been a deal breaker. And when I did start shopping around for cars I found that the monthly insurance payments for a high performance car would cost more than new car payments.
Dodge listed the car name as Dodge Coronet with Super Bee on the second line. Apparently cars listed as Coronet were not thought of as muscle cars by the insurance companies. And Super Bees were totally under the insurance radar. The insurance agent didn’t even ask what size motor the car had. All that being said we put the car in my Mother’s name and listed me as a part-time driver. By listing me as a part-time driver and the car not being listed as a high performance car lowered my yearly insurance payments from $2,000 a year to $600. Life was good in my Dodge Coronet”Super Bee”.
There just weren’t that many Super Bees sold as compared to Road Runners or Chevelles. Although now I would think the Super Bee was one of the best-selling cars ever by the number of people that come up to me and relate stories about their Super Bees.
Why did I purchase a HEMI Super Bee? Well, I had been a Chrysler fan from day one. When I was fourteen I would ride my motorcycle to Daytona and watch stock car racing. In 1968 the HEMI ruled NASCAR speedways. My first car was a 1964 Valiant with a slant 6 and 3 speed on the column, my second a 1965 Dodge Dart GT with a 273 V8 with a four speed transmission (this car came with a resonator that made the exhaust sound great) and my third a 1967 Dodge Dart GTS 340 V8 with a four speed transmission (this was a great car with better weight distribution than the Bee). I now regret selling any of these cars. This is ironic because I hear the same thing about old cars when people find out I kept the Bee. So I was a Dodge guy when Plymouth was the dominant Chrysler division. I would probably have gotten a 440 but it wasn’t offered in 1968. I am so glad they didn’t because the HEMI is a great motor. Considering my car-buying history a HEMI Bee was a natural progression.
My life with the Bee: I immediately got rid of the steel wheels with the dog-dish hub caps. Next I put on 2 ½ inch hooker headers. This ended up being a big mistake as they were a constant problem. They rattled against the car body and created unfixable exhaust leaks. And I really couldn’t tell any difference in power.
August 1969 I enlisted in the Army and went overseas for 18 months. I left the Bee with my Mother, who parked it outside her apartment building in the intense Florida sun. When I returned from the Army the beautiful silver paint on the Bee looked like gray primer. I could wax it and it would stay shiny for only three days. So I repainted it, choosing red because it looked better with the white seats. All my other Darts had been red. One side note about the white seats; they are a pain. They show dirt and have to be constantly cleaned.
I used to drag race on the streets–something I am not proud of today. I could outrun most cars. Many would take me off the line but I would run them down before the end of the quarter mile. Tires were bias ply Redline F70 Firestones, later G70 Goodyear Polyglass. To say they weren’t up to the task of handling 425+ horse power is a true understatement. The car has a 3.54:1 Dana rear end, a low ratio by today’s standards, but the highest offered at that time. It runs 4,200 RPMs at 80 mph. The motor feels like it would go well past 6,000 rpms, but that’s where I cut it off. I must not have strained the HEMI because I drove it for 99,000 miles without any serious mechanical problems. At first plug fouling was a problem that I corrected with electronic ignition. The HEMI was hard to start because of the two four carburetors mated to a mechanical fuel pump. I would crank and crank until the motor started. This would run the battery down. Then when the motor finally started the charging system would boil the acid out of the battery. What a mess. An electric pump fixed this.
For the next 20 years I used the car for daily transportation. I dated, got married, took my wife to the hospital to deliver my daughter, all in this car. I’d used it to buy groceries, pull a camper, go on vacations, and go to work, all without fault. By the end of the 80’s the car was really showing its age. Those 20 years of daily use left it in need of a serious fix up. The HEMI was still running well but the paint was faded, minor rust damage around the rear window, small body dents and under the hood was a real disaster. High gas prices and family expenses dictated that I park the Bee.
During the 90’s the Bee mostly sat outside in the yard. But I never forgot about her. I spent my spare time going to car shows and buying parts. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason–if it fit, I’d buy it. All these parts filled the largest room in my house. I knew I would restore the Bee sooner or later.
I live on a busy street. People would constantly stop by and inquire about the car. I was embarrassed that I’d let it get in such disrepair so I moved it into the garage. But the Bee’s reputation lived on. Those who had seen the car before I stored it would tell others, and eventually my Coronet Super Bee took on the status of a mythical rumor which spread throughout middle Georgia. I knew this because car enthusiasts were still showing up at my door. Jeff Dimery was one of the many that kept coming back. He runs a small auto restoration business in Macon, GA.
Time passed and my life changed. I was now at the point in my life when I was ready to “fix up” the Super Bee. It could have been my new wife not being impressed with car doors under the bed or the fuel line on the shelf rather than a car with fuel in it. Anyway I made every mistake you can imagine trying to fix my car on the cheap.
I first took the Bee to the best local body shop in Milledgeville but after they took the car apart and wasted two years they asked for twice the money we originally agreed to. I learned that body shops are not car restoration specialists. Next I took it to a local restorer. That was another lesson learned and two more years. What I did learn was that although many claim to be auto restoration specialists few really are.
I finally admitted the Bee needed more than a repainting job and took it to Jeff Dimery. By the time he got it, the Bee was nothing short of complete disaster. Parts had been lost and everything was boxed in bits and pieces. Jeff spent four years putting the Super Bee back together. I’ll also admit that he and I had our ups and downs along the way, but all in all I was happy. I will say I did one thing correctly the first time and that concerned the Hemi itself. I took the Hemi to Shacklett Automotive in Nashville, TN to be rebuilt. It runs great and their dyno says it put out over 550 hp on 93 octane gas.
It was now November 26, 2008, and the Bee was completely restored and in one piece. Now that she’s back together I’m having a blast driving the car. Our first big trip was to the muscle car show in Carlisle, PA. We drove the Bee and it was so much fun. We did have a problem with the Bee not wanting to leave Carlisle. That is when I met Dennis Kohr of Kohrs Restorations (this meeting was one of the best things to happen to the Bee).
I enjoy driving the Bee to car shows and I always love telling people about my car. Wherever I go people come over to tell me about their cars while they enjoy looking at my Bee. In retrospect because I get to meet so many new friends, both young and old, that my Super Bee is always giving more back than I’ve ever invested.
My future plans are to drive my Bee and have fun. I will admit that driving does put wear on the old girl. So after another three or four year I would love to have it restored by someone like Kohrs Restorations, a shop that only does Mopar muscle cars. One day I hope to compete at the big car shows but this will also mean the Bee will no longer be driven but trailored. And then my Bee and I will enter a new stage of our lives.
Tagged: , Super Bee , Cars , Daytona , Florida , FL