From moonshine runners racing to get their fresh brew across the countryside, to one of the most watched events in the world, Nascar’s history is a long and interesting one. Over the years the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (Nascar) has changed from cars that were driven to the (dirt) track, to cars made by manufacturers specifically to compete, to today’s cars that bear little resemblance to anything that’s ever rolled off a production line. While every era of racing has its own group of fans, the era that’s loved by more than any other — and considered to be the best years of the sport — is the ‘Aero Wars’ of 1969 and 1970.
Auckland brothers Robert and Andrew Pegler are amongst those that are fans of the period, but rather than just look back at photos as the rest of us do, they’ve been able to acquire some of the cars that made the era what it was. While the actual vehicles they own may not have raced in Nascar, they’re identical to those that did, and as such, are equally as sought after.
The Aero Wars were born out of the competition between Chrysler and Ford after engine restrictions were put in place during the 1960s, and both manufacturers strived for any advantage over the competition. While Chrysler had the 426ci Hemi, and Ford had the Hemi-headed Boss 429 and 427 side oiler, the costs involved in extracting more power from the motors was exponentially increasing for smaller and smaller gains. It was this that forced the factories to start looking at other ways get speed out of their vehicles, and aerodynamics became the next frontier to be aggressively explored.
While Ford had already been paying some attention to aerodynamics with their ’68 Torino and the ’68 Mercury Cyclone, the Aero Wars were characterised by the extent to which aerodynamics became a design consideration. These designs created some of the most sought-after muscle cars the world has ever seen, not to mention the most outrageous, too.
The newfound focus on aerodynamics translated to production runs of cars that were made solely to eclipse the 500-car minimum put in place by Nascar officials. The numbers ensured the vehicles competing were ‘stock’, which, of course, was the main requirement for ‘stock car racing’.
Aerophiles (diehard fans of the era/cars) accept that there were five cars that really made up the Aero Wars: the 1968 Dodge Charger 500, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, the 1969 Ford Torino Talladega, and the 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II.
Of those five cars, Robert has the ’69 Dodge Daytona and ’69 Ford Torino Talladega, while Andrew has the ’69 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II you see here. While adding a Superbird and a Charger 500 to the fleet would be a dream come true, what they’ve already got is far beyond what most of us will ever be able to get our hands on.
Chrysler fans may tell you that the Daytona and Superbird got themselves banned by beating the competition, hence their production being so short-lived — and in a way they did — but there’s far more to the story than that. While the massive-winged and pointy-nosed cars did do well, they certainly didn’t win everything. In fact, if it weren’t for the success of the Fords and Mercurys in ’67/’68, they never would have gone into production. So while the Daytona and Superbird did have a part to play in it, it was the outright speed of all of the competing vehicles that Nascar was getting increasingly wary of.
With growing safety concerns, the 1969 and 1970 cars’ ability to exceed 200mph was the final nail in the coffin, and it’s not hard to see why. Essentially the speeds had increased far quicker than the safety and tyre technology had, putting drivers in ever-increasing danger. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long until several well known drivers were killed, while others stepped away due to the high level of danger now involved.
The other factor that played a part, but is less commonly known, was that General Motors — the biggest vehicle manufacturer in the world at the time — wasn’t part of the racing, and for them to catch up with Chrysler and Ford would have been a massive ask. Yet if they were to get involved, they’d potentially bring with them more fans and more sponsors.
Add to this the idea that the cars being raced should be the same as those that could be bought by spectators; removing the exotic-looking vehicles reinforced the name ‘stock car’ to keep interest levels high amongst the general public.
The solution to all of the issues was to enforce a new maximum capacity of 305ci for the 1971 season. And with the introduction of that new rule, the Aero Wars were over almost as quickly as they’d begun. As expected, with the change of rules, it wasn’t long before GM were back in the fold too, and they soon became competitive. This is in part due to the fact that by the time they were racing, Chrysler and Ford had pretty much walked away. The aero cars were gone, and with them, so were the glory days of Nascar racing.
1969 Ford Torino Talladega
Robert’s 1969 Ford Torino Talladega has travelled just 33,000 miles from new, as the original owner only used it for social drag racing in Fremont, California. Having an interest in all of the aero cars, Robert’s a member of the American Aero Warriors forum, which is where he first heard of the car in 2010. It’d take a further 18 months of negotiating, or more so pleading, before the car would be his though. With the purchase came plenty of historical information, and even a bunch of original timeslips still sitting in the ashtray, predominantly showing high 12-second passes.
From the factory, the car was fitted with a 428ci Cobra Jet engine and column-shifted C6 automatic transmission, which, while they came with the car, are not currently fitted. To preserve its value, yet be able to drive and drag race it, the previous owner built and fitted a non-matching-numbers worked version, on which now sits a Six Pack manifold and triple carbs.
While the Torino Talladegas are relatively unknown to those outside of the aero car scene, they’re extremely sought after by collectors — especially low-mile, unmolested cars such as this. Just 750 were built, and today less than are 100 are accounted for, which means there are 10 Superbirds and three Daytonas on the road for every one Talladega!
Coming with power steering, disc brakes (front), and a nine-inch diff with a 3.25:1 ratio and heavy-duty 31-spline axles, they’re a highly specced car for their time. While all Torino Talladegas came factory-fitted with ultra heavy-duty front rear springs, stabilizer bars and staggered rear shock absorbers, this car was also fitted with factory Drag Pack suspension. This add-on caused a few problems come VINing time due to the factory’s extremely rough mounting of the bracket for the forward-mounted shock.
The body is where the Talladegas are different from their standard Torino siblings and Ford’s earlier Nascar entries. The factory cut off the entire front end in front of the wheels, and a new-sloped nose was grafted onto the original fenders. The new smooth front bumper was built by cutting a rear bumper into three pieces and welding it back together. It was purposely fitted tight to the body and designed to act as a spoiler on the high-speed ovals. All up, the cars are five-inches longer than stock Torinos, and as such a whole lot slipperier. With no other mechanical changes made, the cars were soon recording hugely increased top speeds, which on an oval track was a massive advantage.
The Talladega did exactly what Ford had hoped it would do; winning 25 Nascar races in 1969 (against Mercury’s four, and Dodge’s 21), and it took out the 1969 Championship too.
Despite Richard Petty being a diehard Chrysler guy, he too drove a Talladega, finishing second in the 1969 series
- Engine: Ford 428 Cobra Jet block (matching numbers 428CJ in storage), heavily ported Ford 406 heads, Six Pack manifold, Holley Tri-Power carbs (1050cfm total), MSD 6AL ignition, factory equipped Drag Pack oil cooler
- Drivetrain: Factory equipped heavy-duty C6 transmission, Ford nine-inch diff
- Suspension: Factory Drag Pack, lowered 1½-inches all round
- Brakes: Stock disc/drum
- Wheels/Tyres: 16×8-inch Specialty Wheels’ Magnum rims with Magnum 500 Spinner Caps, 225/60R16 and 255/50R16 Goodyear tyres
- Exterior: Stock (Talladega is five inches longer than a stock Torino Cobra), factory Wimbledon White paint
- Interior: Stock
- Performance: 335hp (stock)
1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II (Cale Yarborough Special)
It was after brother Robert had purchased a Talladega from Californian couple Skip and Sharon Hughes that the Mercury came up for sale. Having always been a fan of the cars, and having owned various other Fords of that era, Andrew knew it was an opportunity too good to be missed. Although the cars never came from the factory in the Indian Porsche Red that it now wears, the ageing on the paint indicates it’s been that way for many years now. While perhaps it’d be nice to return the car to its stock two-tone red and white, the reality is, it’s best left as is.
As with all production models of the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II, the car runs a 351 Windsor engine, column-shifted FMX transmission and front bench seat. The race cars on the other hand had manual-shifted 427FE side oilers, or in the later months of ’69 they received the impressive Hemi-headed Boss 429.
Once Andrew’s car landed in New Zealand, some four-and-a-half years ago now, he embarked on a bit of a freshen-up of the brakes and suspension, which included fitting an uprated front sway bar. The only visual change from how it arrived, though, was the addition of the black aero-style Nascar rims, which as you can see suit it perfectly.
It’s not until you put the car side by side with Robert’s Torino Talladega that you realise just how different the two are. While admittedly they share the same glass and roofline, check out the differences in the guards and tail panels of the two, and you’ll soon realise they’re not as similar as they first appear.
Just 500 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II cars were produced, right at the beginning of 1969, to reach the minimum production numbers set by Nascar. The cars were available in two trim packages: the Cale Yarborough Special (as seen here) — a white car with red stripes, roof and interior, and the Dan Gurney Special — a white car with blue stripes, roof and interior.
To make the cars more competitive than the standard Mercurys, the front of the fenders were cut off and Holman Moody fabricated new six-inch-longer front panels during the week, before Ford fitted them at the Atlanta plant on the weekends. The newly fitted grille was sourced from the Ford Cobra and is identical to that used on the Torino Talladega.
Making the most of the parts available, new smoother front bumpers were created by cutting and narrowing the rear bumpers from the 1969 Ford Fairlane/Torino.
While these additions were fairly obvious, in a secret design move, the rocker panels were reshaped and rolled to allow Mercury teams to run their racing cars about an inch closer to the ground, while staying within the Nascar minimum height rules. The outcome of these modifications meant the 427 side oiler–powered race cars had a greater top speed due to a lower centre of gravity and reduced wind resistance.
There are many rumours that the 500 minimum production run wasn’t actually achieved, and just 351 of a supposed 503 were built. The way Mercury got around this was that ‘all 500’ cars were parked in a storage yard/parking lot, to be inspected. Apparently the front 351 were the real deal, while the back 152 were just regular-nosed Cyclone Spoilers painted in the same colours. From a distance all the cars looked the same, and as such Nascar signed off that they’d seen all 500!
With this said, it becomes even stranger that the value of the cars hasn’t risen nearly as much as the Superbirds and Daytonas have — the obvious reason being due to the Mopar’s sheer outrageous design, as opposed to the more subtle looks of the Ford/Mercury. However, those in the know, such as Andrew and Robert, are well aware of just how desirable these cars are.
- Engine: 351 Windsor, Holley 600cfm, MSD 6AL ignition, 2.5-inch exhaust, Lukey mufflers
- Driveline: FMX automatic transmission, factory Ford nine-inch (Mercury specs)
- Suspension: Factory Cross Country Ride package, KYB shocks
- Brakes: Stock disc/drum
- Wheels/Tyres: 15×8-inch Aero rims, 235/60R15 and 255/60R15 TA Radials
- Exterior: Stock (extended front fenders, flushed grille, re-rolled rocker panels, modified front bumper), Indian Porsche Red paint
- Interior: Stock
- Performance: Untested
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
The ultimate car for any aero car fan has to be either the 1969 Dodge Daytona or the 1970 Plymouth Superbird. Both cars are well known for their outrageously high wings and pointed front ends, but there’s more to them than just those.
With only 503 Daytonas ever built, of which 139 were the same 440 and four-speed combination as the one you see here, they’re not exactly thick on the ground, so it took some serious searching before one came up for sale.
Robert did a deal with the owner, James Folk from Pennsylvania, in January 2012, although admittedly, once a price was agreed on James realised that he didn’t really want to let it go. A man of his word though, eventually the finer details were sorted out and the car was sent on its way to California, where it was to be shipped back to New Zealand by American Boats Direct.
Having travelled just 2500 miles in the last 32 years, and being in fantastic condition, it’s easy to see why James wasn’t so sure he wanted to let it go, as he’d never find one the same again. Being a four-speed manual with a 440 under the hood, the car is completely as it left the factory; the only change being the Nascar-style wheels currently fitted, although the original wheels were on it when it landed.
It was really only due to the success of Ford’s Torino and Mercury Cyclone that these cars were created. Despite their looks that would lead you to think otherwise, the recessed grille and sunken back window on the 1968 Dodge Charger made the cars ‘hit’ an aerodynamic wall at around 175mph. The 1968 Dodge Charger 500 was created in theory to fix this, and to do so would wear exposed headlights and a flush rear window design. While the improved design worked well, Ford retaliated by building the Talladega, and in turn created the first Nascar to eclipse 180mph. Not wanting their new creation to be beaten straight away, Chrysler was forced to create the Daytona in a rather hasty fashion.
Rather than build an entirely new car, and to keep costs and time frames down, they had to work with the Charger 500 as a base. Mechanically the cars were up to the task, it was really just the aerodynamics that let them down. To get this sorted, Creative Industries (who initially designed the Charger 500) were once again told to come up with something that would be unbeatable. What they designed, thanks in part to wind tunnel testing, was the Daytona. At nearly a foot-and-a-half longer than the Charger 500, the car’s pointy steel nose cuts through the air unlike any other production car could. Matched with a new rear windscreen plug with flush mounted glass, a short boot lid, polished A-pillar trims, and the mother of all rear spoilers mounted directly to the rear quarters, the design was groundbreakingly controversial. With a drag coefficient (cd) of just 0.28, the cars are actually more aerodynamic than most cars made in the 1990s … Ironically they would have produced even less drag if it weren’t for the tall spoiler, but the spoiler was required to keep the rear ends on the ground!
Come March 24, 1970, and that big wing paid off when Buddy Baker was the first driver in Nascar history to break the 200mph mark. Sadly, it was the eclipsing of this barrier that essentially scared Nascar officials into creating the new rules, and in turn led to the demise of these cars.
Robert’s car, while it has no racing history as such, is identical to those that would have raced, and fitted with the current D Window rims and slicks, it looks right at home on the track. Despite the car having just 35,000 miles on the clock, Robert’s not scared of driving it, and has been out and about in it as often as he’s been able to. You can only imagine the looks the car gets when it’s on the road, especially when travelling in convoy with Andrew’s Mercury!
- Engine: Dodge 440 Magnum
- Drivetrain: Factory equipped heavy-duty four-speed manual, Dana 60 Sure Grip diff, 3.54:1 ratio
- Suspension: Stock torsion bar (front), leaf sprung (rear)
- Brakes: Stock disc/drum
- Wheels/tyres: 15×8-inch Aero Race Wheels 52 series, 26.5×8.0x15 Goodyear Eagle Stock Car Special tyres
- Exterior: Stock (extended front fenders and nose cone, rear window plug fitted, rear mounted spoiler, factory R4 Red paint)
- Interior: Stock
- Performance: 375hp (stock)