June 19, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

The SuperBird Buick funny car.

Ron Pellegrini’s Superbird Buick Funny Car

There were only a handful of Buick funny cars in the 1960s, and Ron Pellegrini raced two of them. The first was a fiberglass 1967 Gran Sport known as SuperBird.
Ron Pellegrini's SuperBird Buick
Ron Pellegrini's flip-top Buick Gran Sport at Detroit Dragway in 1967

Of the funny cars at Detroit Dragway’s 1967 Midwest Championships, one of the wildest entries was Ron Pellegrini’s SuperBird Buick Gran Sport. Paradoxically, the SuperBird probably looked closer to a factory machine than any of the other nitro cars.

At first glance this could be any  Gran Sport you might see on the street. Except for the paint (and the drag chute), the only non-stock items are the wheels and tires. Lots of kids spent their after school work earnings to purchase fat tires and chrome wheels for their ride in ’67, so the tires don’t seem out-of-place.

There were only a handful of Buick funny cars in the 1960s, and Pellegrini raced two of them. The first was this 1967 Gran Sport known as SuperBird. The second was a truly radical ’68 GS called Beware.

SuperBird was a more or less conventional funny car, utilizing a Logghe chassis under the one-piece fiberglass Buick shell.

The Buick body came from Pellegrini’s own Fiberglass Limited, a company responsible for many of the early one-piece glass shells,

There is some mystery about the car’s powerplant. The ’68 Beware Gran Sport was a wacky racer, utilizing a 1957 Chrysler Hemi for power.  I have always thought SuperBird used an early Hemi as well, and that is confirmed by DragList, which reports the car used Chrysler power.

I have heard persistent reports that there was a 430 cubic inch Buick V-8 in the car at some point, but that may have came after Pellegrini sold the car. Still, Pellegrini had a long history of running Buick and Oldsmobile powered dragsters in the early ’60s, so it is not out of the question that SuperBird started life with a Buick mill on nitro,

Interestingly, Pellegrini recounts that a some point he allowed a young and green Don Schumacher to drive the car when the future Stardust driver was just starting out. Most of the time, however, the driver was Pellegrini himself.

In 1968, Pellegrini built the wild Beware Buick, which was ten inches narrower than a stock ’68 Buick and ran on a radical dragster style chassis. The car had inherent handling issues and never ran as well as Pellegrini hoped. Beware was destroyed in a crash at Rockford dragway. Pellegrini completed the ’68 season in the SuperBird, before selling it for good.

I don’t remember how the SuperBird fared that April day in 1967. As the only blown, nitro flip-top car on hand, the Buick should have had the advantage. The car did not reach the semi-finals, however. I can’t remember how or why the SuperBird lost.

Still the stock appearing Buick remains a reminder that unlike todays overly massaged racing bodies, in 1967 it was possible to create a flopper that looked like an actual factory machine.