The first of the popular "pony cars" of the mid-1960's, Plymouth's Barracuda is a frequently overlooked part of American automotive history. A good car it was, but poor marketing and unfortunate sales due to indomitable competition buried the 'cuda.

Following the success of the Chevrolet Bel Air due to clever marketing to the nation's youth -- something that had not been done previously, and worked wonders -- prompted Ford to begin development of a new car. This auto would be small, light, relatively fast, inexpensive, and marketed to teenagers and young adults. Rumors begin to circulate about Ford's "new T-bird". Chrysler-owned Plymouth decided they, too, could create this sort of automobile, mostly to increase their image among the young consumer (Plymouth was typically seen as an older gentleman's car). Development began in 1959 on a new fastback model of the compact Plymouth Valiant.


On April 1, 1964, the first of Plymouth's pony cars, the Plymouth Valiant Barracuda, hit the market -- 16 days before its major competitor, the Ford Mustang. The Valiant Barracuda ran on a 170 cubic inch displacement (cid), inline-six cylinder engine, producing a far-from-phenomenal 101 horsepower. Optional engines for the performance-minded gent included a 145 hp, 225 cid engine and a 273 cid engine producing 180 hp. The Barracuda was mechanically weak, but attractive -- the sharp fastback invoked images of potential driving delights. The Mustang also ran on a 170 cid engine producing 101 hp, but had a 289 cid V8 (271 hp) option -- much more bang for your buck than the Barracuda offered. Unfortunately, though preceding Ford, the Valiant Barracuda suffered horribly in sales -- almost as many Mustangs were sold on the first day as Barracudas were sold in a whole model year. By the end of `64, 23443 Barracudas were sold to around 124000 Mustangs.


To distance the Valiant Barracuda from the original Valiant -- which was, by no means, a performance vehicle -- the Valiant was dropped from the name for good. Not to be outdone by the Mustang, the Barracuda now sported a high-performance "Formula S" option. This bad boy carried a race-designed and tested suspension, and the Commando 273 V8 engine, outputting 235 horse (and a very sweet zero-to-sixty time of roughly eight seconds, thanks to a heightened compression ratio). Unfortunately, when compared to other vehicles in magazine reviews and the like, the 273-S was extolled more for practicality than performance -- obviously, what Chrysler did not want; they were trying to market the 'cuda to youth, after all. The Barracuda was continuing to get its ass kicked in sales by the Mustang (a trend that would continue as long as the two cars were in existance together) -- 64576 Barracudas (the most ever) were sold in `65, to a whopping 559451 Mustangs.


Not many changes to the Barracuda in `66. A new "fish" emblem was given to the car, trying to distance it even more from its Valiant predecessor. Front disc brakes were now a dealer-installed option (the Barracuda otherwise used drum brakes on all four wheels). The Formula S option was still available. 38029 'cudas sold to 607568 Mustangs. These poor sales obviously put Chrysler off the mark, and a new, redesigned Barracuda was planned for the next model year...


The second generation Barracuda became more a muscle car than ever. Straight-line performance was emphasized, as well as good looks -- for the first time ever, the Barracuda was offered in a convertible model. Unfortunately, the 'cuda was facing stiffer competition -- Chevrolet's new Camaro and Pontiac's Firebird entered the pony car fray. The bare-bones Barracuda offered a wimpy 225 cid, 145 hp straight-six (a 273 cid, 180 hp V8 and a Commando 273 at 235 hp was optional). Formula S became even better than before -- now utilizing the Commando 383 engine, which output a solid 280 hp @ 4200 rpm (the low horsepower was due to a cramped block space, which restricted the exhaust system). Not enough to run with the fastest of Mustangs, but an impressive offering. It did, however, pack a ton of torque -- a tire-destroying 400 ft. lbs @ 2400 rpm. The 'cuda had its second highest sales ever in `67, with 62534 -- not nearly matching 472000 Mustangs.


`68 brought along a major shot in the arm for high-performance Barracudas. The 273 cid engine was retired in favor of the 318 V8, and a 340 cid (275 hp @ 5000 rpm and 340 ft lbs @ 3200 rpm) became the standard in Formula S -- though the Commando 383 was still optional, and performed better than the previous `67 383, now outputting a respectable 300 hp. Of course, none of these came close to the ultimate Barracuda, the Hemi Barracuda Super Stock. These monsters were fitted with the 426 Hemi, which gave the Barracuda an amazing 500 horsepower; more than enough to eat any Mustang, Camaro or Firebird alive. It did the quarter mile in 11 seconds, at over 130 mph -- say goodbye to stop-light confrontations. The whole vehicle was lightweighted (even the glass was replaced with a lighter substitute, called Kemcore) due to the heavy nature of the hemispheric engine. The Hemi Super Stock was, naturally, sold as-is, without warranty. At least 50 of these were built. Total sales for `68 'cudas reached 45412.


Hurst shifters and a heavy-duty suspension became standard on all models of 'cuda. A new model of Barracuda, actually called the 'Cuda (the first time it was recognized by its street nickname by Plymouth), was introduced for `69. Engine offerings for the Formula S included the Commando 340 engine (unchanged), and the Commando 383 -- which now turned 330 horses. Of course, higher performance was now the norm -- the Super Commando 440 Magnum offered in the 'Cuda model provided for 375 hp and a ground-pounding 480 ft.lbs of torque, making the strongest non-Hemi 'cuda yet. Under nominal conditions, your average Barracuda couldn't hope to beat a Chevrolet Camaro Z28 or a Ford Mustang Boss 302 in the turns; to help accomplish this, the new Formula S, the best yet (and the last), was given power steering, power front disc brakes (standard for the first time), 1" heavy duty shock absorbers, and heavy duty springs, making the 383-S a GT marvel. About this time in history, insurance companies were making a snit, forcing Uncle Sam to turn a hard eye to "unsafe" muscle cars. The future looked grim. Fortunately enough, automakers still had about a year or two to churn out some amazing machines -- `69 and `70 are generally recognized as the apex of performance by most muscle cars, and the Barracuda was no exception. Sales and production of 'cuda were a miserable 31987 in 1969.


The third generation of Barracuda. A new body/chassis platform, called the E-body, was created for the Barracuda -- and a new, "sister" car, the Dodge Challenger. The new 'cudas were made especially with the goal of optimal straight-line performance in mind, and so Chrysler decreed that any Mopar engine, up to and including the 426 Hemi, must be able to fit inside the 'cuda. A total of nine engines were made for the two E-bodies as a result, from the meager 225 cid straight-six (base engine of the 'cuda's new Gran Coupe model) to the 426 Hemi -- a 318, a 340, three 383s and a pair of 440s (a four-barrel at 375 hp, and a "3-2" Six-Pack setup producing 390) rounded out the list. A special model of Barracuda, called the AAR (for All-American Racers) Barracuda, also went into production -- only because the Stock Car Club of America, SCCA, required that a car must have 2500 production vehicles to be able to enter the Trans Am series (AAR 'cudas totalled 2724). The AARs running in SCCA utilized a 340 cid, single four-barrel carbuerator engine (de-stoked to 303.8 cid, as per regulations) -- the street AAR used the full 340 with a Six-Pack (three two-barrel carbs). Sales totalled 55499.


Not many mechanical changes for 1971, though a cosmetic change in the form of four headlights appeared. The AAR model disappeared as quickly as it came, due to the pulling of all Mopars from the Trans-Am series. The government had finally listened to the insurance companies, and had imposed emission controls (including a new horsepower rating system), low-lead gasoline was forced upon the American public, and an impending oil crisis was doing the muscle cars no good at all. More economical (mostly Japanese) cars were becoming more popular than gas-guzzling V8s. The death of the Barracuda is imminent -- an awful 18690 'cudas were produced.


The Barracuda went back to having two headlights, but a new distinctive appearance feature came in the form of four round taillights, visibly similar to a Chevrolet Corvette of the time, or a Nissan Skyline of today. Only two models of the Barracuda exist now; the base model, and the "high-performance" 'Cuda. The base model used the 225 cid straight-six @ 110 bhp, and the 'Cuda used a 318 cid V8 at only 150 bhp -- very depressing. An optional engine existed as the 340 cid V8, rated at 240 horsepower. Challenger and Barracuda are becoming forgotten by their parent companies, as more economical cars become the focus of automakers. Final year's sales total 18450.


Strangely, in the race for economy in automobiles, the straight-six 225 was dropped for `73. Almost no mechanical or cosmetic changes. The death of the Barracuda is close at hand, though sales were at a slight rise in `73 at 22213.


Last year for the Barracuda and the Challenger both. In an even stranger move, the 'Cuda is upped from a standard 340 to a 360, now outputting 245 hp. Despite the performance increase, the last Plymouth Barracuda rolled off the lines on April 1, 1974 -- 10 years to the day the Valiant Barracuda was introduced in `64. Only 4989 'cudas were produced before its demise. In total, around 386500 Barracudas were made by the end of its production -- the Mustang produced well over that number before its second model year was ended, a testament to just how badly the 'cuda fared.

Sources: David Newhardt. Dodge Challenger & Plymouth Barracuda.
Also, please see History of the Ford Mustang. 1964-1973 for more pony car info.

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