The Plymouth Barracuda is an iconic name among classic American muscle cars. Since its discontinuation almost 50 years ago, Mopar fans have hoped for a revival that has yet to come.
The “Barracuda,” named by Chrysler designer John Samsen, was a modified Plymouth Valiant fastback sports car built to fulfill America’s need for a pony car. The pony car trend came about in the 1960s as an emerging segment of inexpensive and compact sports cars.
The development of the Mustang in the early 1960s was no secret. In fact, these efforts helped build up the hype for the car, and Ford loved the attention. Not wanting to be left out, Chrysler began its efforts.
Launched on April 1, 1964 (just 16 days before the Mustang’s debut), the Plymouth Barracuda became America’s first pony car. Penned by Irv Ritchie, the first-generation Barracuda was a fastback version of the more mundane Valiant and featured a slant-six engine.
As Chrysler moved forward with its pony car plans, it was hampered by the resources already invested in its Turbine car project. So, the automaker had to get creative, on the cheap. Ritchie stepped in with a solution: take an existing compact (the Valiant) and incorporate a fastback design into a new model.
Originally called the “Panda,” this modified Valiant featured a distinctive and massive (14.4 square feet) wraparound glass back plus an improved suspension, redesigned front grille, and sculpted rear wheel arches. And while not sticking with the Panda name, ultimately, the original Barracuda couldn’t shake its economy car roots.
Unfortunately, Chrysler couldn’t create a unique identity for the Barracuda as it was still a Valiant. Chrysler’s pony car used the same slant-six power plant as the Valiant and the same hood, bumper, windshield, headlamps, windows, doors, and even quarter panels. The only real unique feature was the fastback body style, thanks to a collaboration with Pittsburgh Plate Glass (now called PPG Industries) to create the biggest backglass at the time.
The first-gen Barracuda wasn’t a great performance car as it only offered 101 horsepower and did 0-60 mph in 16.4 seconds: numbers that weren’t impressive even for that time. Chrysler did try to solve the power issue by offering a more powerful 145 horsepower 3.7-liter (225 cubic-inch) engine. Another option was a 4.5-liter V-8 with 180 horsepower.
But, despite the extra power, the Barracuda was still a modified Valiant, a glaring issue in light of the all-new Mustang (that still relied on Ford Falcon mechanicals). Chrysler’s marketing department also missed the boat as advertising pegged the Barracuda as a family-friendly car. The results were predictable: only about 23,400 Barracudas were sold in its first year. This is about the same number of Mustangs sold on its first day! And Ford’s pony car sold more than 400,000 units in the first year.
Interestingly, only the 1964 Barracuda had a push-button control for the Torqueflite automatic transmission. And the original Barracuda would soldier on with slight changes for the 1965 and 1966 models.
The 3.7-liter slant-six would continue, and 1965 saw the introduction of the Commando variant with a reworked V-8 featuring a four-barrel carburetor and a new camshaft. Output reached 235 horsepower. At the same time, a Formula S package added bigger wheels, an upgraded suspension, an improved tachometer, and factory-installed air conditioning.
Cosmetic changes were the focus of the 1966 Barracuda as the car enjoyed new taillights and some sheet metal tweaks. The Deluxe model offers some upscale touches but no performance improvements.
It was with the second-gen where Chrysler put the effort in making Barracuda a standout. Designers went back to the drawing board and revised almost every part. While the car still used Valiant parts and Chrysler’s A-body platform, the new Barracuda was longer, sharper, and definitely less Valiant.
The Barracuda now had a longer 108-inch wheelbase, revised front, and rear bumpers, a split grille, curved side glass, bigger wheel openings, and a clean look with less chrome. You could have your Barracuda in two body styles: a fastback hardtop or a convertible.
For 1967, the 3.7-liter slant six was still the base power. But now, you had two V-8 options with two- or four-barrel carburetor configurations. Apart from the 4.5-liter V-8, you could also get a 280 horsepower 6.3-liter big-block V-8 offered only with the Formula S package.
Safety was becoming a more significant concern among federal regulators, so the 1968 Barracuda was updated with side-marker lighting and tail lamps with white reverse indicators. The slant-six gets dropped, and standard power gets replaced with a 5.2-liter (318 cubic-inch) V-8. A 5.6-liter (383 cubic-inch) V-8 is also offered. Performance starts to get serious as the Super Commando package offers 300 horsepower thanks to a reworked 5.6-liter engine with upgraded intake manifolds, camshafts, and cylinder heads.
Collectors and race enthusiasts drool over the 50 limited-edition 1968 Barracudas built as a dragster variant. The prized fastbacks embraced a 7.0-liter (426 cubic-inch) Hemi V-8 capable of pushing out 425 horsepower. The cars were modified by Hurst Performance and featured fiberglass front panels, hood scoops, light seats, a low-profile front end, and massive rear tires. The car could hit a quarter-mile in 15 seconds (impressive performance for the day).
As the second-generation would closeout, a “Cuda” trim (based on the Formula S) was offered with multiple engine choices including the 7.2-liter (440 cubic-inch) Super Commando V-8.
By the time the third-gen Barracuda hit the streets, the nameplate had become synonymous with performance. Keeping this in mind, Chrysler went back to the drawing board to design an all-new Barracuda. The result was a perfect example of that 1970s muscle car look that is treasured today by Mopar lovers. Its low ride profile, massive tires, long hood, slant back, and curvy wheel arches can still turn heads. This new Barracuda now had nothing to share with the Valiant, and the fastback style was gone, too. The new E-body platform (based on Chrysler’s B-body) offered a fresh start as well.
A coupe and convertible are the sole body styles. And the Barracuda was available in the three trims: the base model, the Cuda sports variant, and a luxury grand coupe. Plymouth also offered a budget Barracuda with a slant-six and a more basic interior into 1971.
Both the base and Gran Coupe were available in six different configurations starting with either a 3.2-liter (198 cubic-inch) or 3.7-liter (225 cubic-inch) slant six. V-8s, including the 5.2-liter (318) and 5.6-liter (383) engines, were also available. The 383 engine could be had with either a two-barrel carburetor and single-exhaust or four-barrel and dual-exhaust setup.
The Cuda had power ranging from 335 to 425 horsepower. The 383 was standard, but the Cuda could be upgraded to the 440 Super Commando engine (with either 375 or 390 horsepower, depending on the carburetor). Thanks to the larger engine compartment of the E-body platform, the 425 horsepower 7.0-liter Hemi (from second-gen Barracuda dragster fame) was also available in a street-legal Cuda.
Yet, the days of the Barracuda and muscle cars, in general, were numbered. Restrictive emission regulations caused the base slant six, 383, 440, and Hemi engines to be dropped for 1972. That meant the 225 slant-six, 318 V-8, and a neutered version of the 340 were the only power plant choices. Plymouth did manage to slap on new front and rear ends, but the writing was on the wall.
1973 rolled around with only the 318 or 340 V-8 available under the hood (the 225 slant six was axed). And, these engines were further weakened thanks to emissions requirements. For the latter part of 1973 and 1974, Plymouth breathed one last bit of life into the Barracuda by replacing the 340 with a slightly more powerful 360 V-8. Still, this engine lacked the punch and authority of what was first available in the third-generation Barracuda.
The Barracuda could not overcome the triple whammy of the 1973 energy crisis, stringent pollution regulations, and increasing insurance costs. Americans wanted tamer and more fuel-efficient choices. On April 1, 1974, exactly ten years when it first launched, the Plymouth Barracuda went out of production.
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