Fish Story: The Plymouth Barracuda (Part Two)

When we last saw the Plymouth Barracuda, its second generation had floundered (if you’ll excuse the expression) in its efforts to challenge the popular Ford Mustang, ranking near the bottom of the “pony car” sales race despite more attractive styling and stronger engines. Troubled but undaunted, Plymouth took a third swing, with results that surprised even them. Here’s the story of Plymouth’s 1970-1974 E-body Barracuda and Plymouth Duster.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda hood pin


Whatever else you may say about the third-generation Plymouth Barracuda and its E-body sibling, the Dodge Challenger, you can’t call them half-hearted. After six years of being frustratingly out of step with buyer tastes in the pony car market, the Chrysler Corporation was in a mood to overcompensate, giving its latest-generation pony more of everything, from horsepower to sheer size.

The earlier A-body Barracudas had eschewed — to their cost — the long-hood, short-deck proportions that had given the Mustang, Camaro, and Firebird their aggressive image. Some (including your author) found the vaguely European-looking 1967-1969 Barracuda sleek and graceful, but it looked far less muscular than its rivals and performance-minded young buyers shied away.

John Herlitz, principal designer of the third-generation car, applied the long-hood/short-deck theme to the E-body Barracuda with a will. The fastback roof, which had been the Barracuda’s signature since its 1964 introduction, was abandoned in favor of a notchback hardtop roofline. The new Barracuda was long, low, and wide in the best Harley Earl tradition, giving even the simplest six-cylinder Barracudas a decidedly carnivorous air. If the Barracuda looked more than a little bit like a ’67-69 Camaro or Firebird on steroids (an observation made by several contemporary reviewers), that was fine with Plymouth managers — GM’s F-bodies had outsold the Barracuda by a large margin.

The E-body Barracuda was actually about 6 inches shorter than the 1969 Barracuda, riding the same 108-inch (2,743mm) wheelbase, but its hood was more than a foot (30 cm) longer and overall width was several inches greater. The extra width was important because it facilitated the second part of Plymouth’s more-is-better strategy: bigger engines. The A-body Plymouth Barracuda, based on the compact Valiant, had never been designed for the big-block engines that the marketing people had started to demand. Chrysler’s 383 cu. in. (6,276 cc) and 440 in. (7,206 cc) B and RB engines had been made to fit with some difficulty, but the resulting cars were not very satisfactory except on the dragstrip. Worse, Plymouth’s meanest (and most famous) engine was simply too big. Plymouth had squeezed the 426 Hemi into a few 1968 Barracudas, but those cars required considerable modification and weren’t suitable for street driving.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 front view
This is a compact? The E-body Barracuda isn’t as long as it looks, but it’s as wide as a modern 7-Series BMW. The complex six-segment grille and the louvers on the front fenders were new for 1971. Many critics preferred the simpler, cleaner 1970 nose, and few liked the pearlescent silver that the 1971 Plymouth Barracuda’s grille was painted if you didn’t specify the optional body-colored “Elastometric” bumpers. This car has all the cues expected of the muscle car breed, including driving lamps, hood pins, and a really ostentatious hood scoop.

The “E-body” designation might suggest that the Barracuda and Challenger were entirely new cars, but that was only partly true. One of the basic tenets of the pony car genre had always been low production costs; by Detroit standards, none of them (even the Mustang) sold in large enough volumes to justify a lot of unique hardware. The second-generation A-body Barracuda had had its own sheet metal, but floorpan, much of its inner body structure, and its running gear were shared with the Valiant and the Dodge Dart. When the Valiant and Dart’s “A” platform proved to be too narrow for the third-generation car, Chrysler engineers turned instead to the intermediate “B” platform, used by the Dodge Coronet, Plymouth Satellite, and Dodge Charger. With its wheelbase trimmed from 117 to 108 inches (2,972 to 2,743 mm), or 111 inches (2,819 mm) for the Challenger, the B platform became the basis for the E-body Barracuda and Challenger.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 dashboard
The E-body Barracuda’s interior was a sort of molded plastic cocoon, a feeling the woodgrain trim on the dashboard, console, and steering wheel did little to alleviate. At least with the optional Rally Instrument Cluster, you got a full set of gauges, including a tachometer and a rather gaudy clock. This 1971 ‘Cuda’s console was optional, as was the three-speed TorqueFlite, which cost a heft $237.50. It was worth it: Chrysler’s A-833 four-speed manual was durable but truckish, not well-suited to fast shifting.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 convertible back seat
Behold the definition of the term “close-coupled.” Although the E-body Barracuda’s back seat was certainly wide enough for two adults, legroom was practically nonexistent except perhaps for very small children. Admittedly, this is a convertible, which seldom makes for good rear-seat space, but the hardtop isn’t much better. Black vinyl upholstery is the source of much pain on hot summer days; it wouldn’t be our choice for an open car.

The consequence of that engineering sleight of hand was appalling space utilization and an unseemly amount of avoirdupois. With a big-block engine, Chrysler’s B-body intermediates hovered around two tons; the E-body Barracuda was lighter, but not by much, weighing about 200 pounds (90 kg) more than a comparable 1969 Barracuda.

For all their bulk, the E-bodies had less interior room than many compact sedans weighing half a ton less. The inches extracted from the B-bodies’ wheelbase had come mostly from the rear seat and the short-deck styling reduced the trunk to little more than a shallow bin. It was a far cry from the station wagon utility Plymouth had promoted in the original Barracuda. Of course, sacrificing practicality for style was the other great pony-car commandment; the Mustang’s sales had never suffered measurably from its scant rear legroom or modest trunk. Besides, the first-generation Barracuda’s fold-down rear seat and load-carrying flexibility had never impressed anyone but a handful of campers and surfers.


Plymouth tried to cover a broad range of buyer tastes with the E-body Barracuda by offering three different models: the basic Barracuda; the plusher, luxury-oriented Gran Coupe; and the performance ‘Cuda. If the Barracuda’s size and shape weren’t extroverted enough for you, you could order yours in a host of vivid, absurdly named “High-Impact” paint colors, including TorRed, In Violet, Lemon Twist, Vitamin C, and (if you were very secure in your identity) Moulin Rouge (known to Dodge buyers as “Panther Pink”). A three-speed manual transmission was standard on most models, but most buyers opted for either the optional four-speed or the three-speed TorqueFlite.

A vast array of engines was offered, ranging from a 225 cu. in. (3,682 cc) Slant Six to the monstrous 440 cu. in. (7,206 cc) Six Pack with three two-throat carburetors and a claimed 390 horsepower (291 kW). At the top of the heap was the 426 cu. in. (6,974 cc) Hemi, which claimed 425 gross horsepower (317 kW). You could round out your purchase with front disc brakes, a wide array of axle ratios, and a choice of different hood scoops.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 shaker hood
The E-body Barracuda’s optional “shaker” hood scoop was essentially an oversize engine air cleaner with an integral air scoop extending through a hole in the hood; the name was derived from the scoop’s visible vibration whenever the engine was running. Engine call-outs on the side were perhaps a little redundant in 1971, when most ‘Cuda models had dramatic body-side decals announcing the same thing. This 1971 ‘Cuda 383 had 300 gross horsepower (224 kW).

Despite the extra weight, the E-body Barracuda’s performance left little to be desired. The Slant Six and base 318 (5,204 cc) V8 were adequate for less demanding drivers, but seemed a little pointless in the bulky E-body; even a six-cylinder Barracuda was in no danger of being mistaken for an economy car. At the other end of the scale, the 440 and Hemi were capable of running the standing quarter mile (402 meters) in less than 14 seconds; the 340 cu. in. (5,567 cc) and 383 cu. in. (6,276 cc) engines weren’t far behind.

Handling was another matter. Earlier Barracudas with the optional Formula S suspension had a reputation for competent handling, at least by American standards, but even with the stiffest suspension options and fattest tires, the E-body Barracuda was a clumsy beast. It plowed heavily in turns and the massive torque of the big engines could send the tail skittering sideways even in straight-line acceleration. The heavy-duty suspension options were reasonably adept at keeping the rear wheels on the ground in hard acceleration, but weren’t much help with cornering or braking.

The other problem with the new body was depressing assembly quality. Earlier Barracudas had a reputation for rattles, but the E-body Barracuda was worse, compounded by some alarming design flaws. According to designer Carl Cameron, the doors could actually be unlocked with a well-placed whack on the outer door panel — an unwelcome quirk for cars that were already hard to insure.

Design weaknesses aside, the E-body Barracuda also had the misfortune to arrive just as the entire performance car market was collapsing. New federal emissions and safety rules, which tended to make the cars heavier and slower, didn’t help, but the bigger problems were price and insurance. In 1965, you would have been hard-pressed to spend more than $3,500 for a well-equipped Plymouth Barracuda Formula S. In 1970, a six-cylinder base model with radio, power steering, and automatic would cost you around $3,100 and a fully loaded Hemi ‘Cuda could top $5,000, well beyond the mens most of the buyers who would’ve wanted one. The pony cars, like their intermediate Supercar brethren, were rapidly pricing themselves out of the market.

Sticker price was only part of the problem; insurance companies, alarmed at the proliferation of big-engined cars aimed at young buyers, were starting to impose punitive surcharges on Supercars. A driver under 25 with a high-performance car might face premiums of $1,200 or more a year, more than 25% of the car’s original sticker price.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 convertible side view
As disappointing as 1970 sales of the hardtop Plymouth Barracuda were, they were fabulous compared to the convertible. Only 2,785 E-body Barracuda convertibles were sold in 1970, followed by a mere 1,388 in 1971, its final year. Our photo subject is an extremely rare and rather collectible car: only 374 ‘Cuda convertibles like this one were built in 1971.


Chrysler had invested a lot of money in the development of the E-body Barracuda and Challenger and expected great things of them. To the corporation’s dismay, sales of the new Barracuda were disappointing. Only 55,499 were sold in 1970 — better than 1969, but lackluster for a heavily promoted new model. Mustang sales were down for 1970 as well, but the Mustang still outsold the Barracuda by more than 3 to 1. The Dodge Challenger did somewhat better, selling 76,935 cars, but many of those sales came mostly at the expense of Dodge’s bigger, more expensive Charger, whose sales dropped a commensurate amount.

The E-body Barracuda’s fortunes were not helped by Plymouth’s ill-fated Trans Am efforts. Plymouth hired Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers to run the Barracuda in the 1970 SCCA Trans Am series, with the cars driven by Gurney and Swede Savage. A limited-edition street car was offered to the public to homologate the racers’ cylinder heads, lightweight hood, and spoilers; it was dubbed AAR ‘Cuda, which Gurney later claimed was done without his permission. Unfortunately, the competition cars fared poorly in competition, suffering a series of embarrassing mechanical failures and never winning a single race. The Dodge Challenger, driven by Sam Posey and Tony Adamowicz of Posey’s Autodynamics, did no better, hampered by gearbox problems and a succession of blown engines.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 convertible rear view
This 1971 E-body Barracuda’s rear wing was an option in 1970 and 1971 and looks a lot like the similar wings used on Pontiac’s GTO Judge and other contemporary Supercars. The spoiler’s functional value is dubious at best. The AAR ‘Cuda and Challenger T/A had different duckbill spoilers, which actually had some value at high speeds; the items were offered to homologate them for Trans Am racing. This car has the optional “Elastometric” bumpers, which added hardened urethane foam over the un-chromed metal bumper.

In 1971, Chrysler followed the lead of General Motors by reducing the compression ratios of many of its engines in preparation for the use of unleaded gasoline. The optional performance engines were little changed, but it would be their last hurrah. E-body Barracuda sales plummeted to 18,690. In 1972, the Hemi was dropped, the convertible was discontinued, and the big 383 and 440 engines were no longer offered in the E-body line. The 340 cu. in. (5,567 cc) V8, now the most powerful available engine, had its claws clipped, losing its big valves and free-breathing heads along with two full points of compression. The loss of the 383, 440, and Hemi had little effect on sales, evidence of how difficult the big engines had become to sell.

By the time the 1973 models debuted, Plymouth had already decided to pull the plug on the E-body Barracuda. The Camaro and Firebird seemed to be on death’s door and even Mustang sales were falling rapidly. Design studies for a fourth-generation Barracuda had faired poorly in marketing tests, so Chrysler concluded that the pony car’s day was done. Sales for 1973 did little to change that judgement, totaling only 22,213 units. The 1974 tally, impacted by the OPEC oil embargo that lasted through much of the model year, was only 11,734. Production of both the Barracuda and Challenger ended in March 1974.

1971 Plymouth Barracuda 'Cuda 383 convertible engine call-out decal
Massive engine call-out decals on this 1971 Plymouth Barracuda’s flanks might intimidate opponents in stop light drag races, but no doubt failed to amuse insurance agents. Nor were the decals popular with Plymouth workers, who found that applying them correctly was challenging. This was the final year for the 383 cu. in. (6,277 cc) V8 in the E-bodies; it was dropped from the E-body Barracuda line in 1972.


The sad fate of the E-body is not quite the end of the Barracuda story. We mentioned in our previous installment that Plymouth took a two-pronged approach to the Barracuda concept in the early seventies. The Barracuda itself was one; the other was the Plymouth Duster.

The A-body Barracuda’s workaday sibling, the Plymouth Valiant, was redesigned (along with the related Dodge Dart) in 1967. It sold well in 1968 and 1969, but by the 1970 model year, the Valiant was losing out to the new Chevrolet Nova and Ford Maverick. The Valiant’s basic dilemma was that while it was a decent car, it was boxy and rather stodgy-looking even in hardtop form, which was a turn-off for younger buyers. Chrysler-Plymouth could have followed Dodge’s example by creating a sportier hardtop like the Dodge Dart Swinger 340 (a new name for the previous Dart GTS), but what the Valiant really needed was a sexier body — which, as you may recall, was the original motivation for the Barracuda.

1974 Plymouth Duster front 3q
The Plymouth Duster wasn’t exactly a pony car, but with the optional 340 cu. in. (5,567 cc) (or later 360 cu. in. (5,895 cc)) engine, it had scorching performance. With a six-cylinder engine, the Duster was Plymouth’s most economical car and the smallest model the company offered in the U.S., barring a handful of captive imports from Hillman and Mitsubishi, until the arrival of the Horizon in 1978.

The A-body compacts were still considered a relatively low corporate priority, so Plymouth’s budget for the 1970 Valiant was only $15 million, not normally enough (at least by Detroit standards) to do anything particularly new or exciting. However, Gene Weiss, Chrysler-Plymouth’s A-body product planner, very much wanted to give the staid Valiant a little more pizazz. They didn’t have the budget for substantial body changes, but Weiss thought they might be able to manage a new roofline — again recalling the original Barracuda.

Exterior design supervisor Milt Antonick, who had been the principal designer of the first- and second-generation Barracuda, assigned the project to Neil Walling, who came up with a new semi-fastback roof for the two-door Valiant, featuring with the sail panels flowing into a reshaped decklid and raised rear fenders. For cost reasons, the standard Valiant door panels were retained, but more radically curved side glass provided a degree of tumblehome approaching that of the E-bodies. In front, a new grille helped to distinguish the fastback from its Valiant siblings.

The results were a bit of a stylistic kludge and had some awkward spots, but the new roof made the Valiant look much sportier, making it a clear rival for the two-door Nova rather than a schoolteacher’s special. More importantly, the changes could be achieved within the limited development budget, although Weiss was obliged to spend almost all of it on the new body style. He also had to trick engineer John Worthy of the Advanced Car Engineering group into helping the designers figure out how to integrate the new side glass with the existing doors, initially telling Worthy it was for a design study rather than an actual production car.

Thanks to such subterfuge — and a surprising lack of management oversight — the project was completed in only six weeks. Chrysler-Plymouth management was not exactly thrilled with Weiss’ initiative (nor was Worthy, once he figured out what Weiss was really up to), but they reluctantly approved it.

1974 Plymouth Duster rear 3q
Compared to the Valiant from which it was derived, the Plymouth Duster’s rear fenders are raised, its roof has greater slope, and there is considerably more tumblehome (inward curvature of the body relative to the vertical plane). Achieving the latter required new side glass, a major development headache, and fixed rear quarterlights.

Since Plymouth had had good luck with the Road Runner, Weiss suggested a similar cartoon licensing tie-in for the Valiant fastback. Since he wanted to offer a performance version of the fastback with the hot 340 cu. in. (5,567 cc) V8, Weiss suggested calling it “C.K.” (for Clark Kent), with a licensed Superman “S” logo on the air cleaner. Division management vetoed that, but gave more serious consideration to a tie-in with another Looney Tunes character, the Tasmanian Devil. However, Warner Brothers licensing now wanted considerably more money than the division was willing to spend, so the fastback instead ended up with a more generic dust devil mascot and a non-licensed name suggested by the ad agency Young & Rubicam: Duster. The performance version became simply Duster 340.

Although Plymouth never described it as such, the Plymouth Duster was essentially a revival — in concept, if not in name — of the old A-body Barracuda. The difference was that the Duster was considerably cheaper. With a starting price of only $2,172, a six-cylinder Duster was within $18 of the upright two-door Valiant sedan it replaced and almost $200 cheaper than the original Valiant Barracuda introduced back in April 1964. The Duster 340, which had a base price of $2,547, was a bargain-priced screamer, lighter, faster, and more than $500 cheaper (not to mention easier to insure) than a ‘Cuda 340 with the same engine. The Duster’s stock suspension left much to be desired from a performance standpoint, but sufficiently motivated buyers could substitute the pieces from the old Barracuda Formula S.

1971 Plymouth Duster 340 rear 3q
Early Plymouth Duster 340s could be ordered in some of the same lurid colors as the E-body Barracuda and Road Runner. In good tune, a car like this was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in well under 7 seconds, with quarter mile (402 meters) E.T.s in the low 14s — very similar to the old Barracuda Formula S with the same engine.


The Plymouth Duster bowed for the 1970 model year and, to the very great surprise of Chrysler-Plymouth management, proved to be a smash hit. The irony was considerable: Plymouth could hardly give away the old A-body Barracuda, but the conceptually similar Duster sold 217,192 copies for 1970, 24,817 of which were Duster 340s. To put that in perspective, in 1970 alone, the Duster had managed to sell better than all 1964–1967 Barracudas combined.

The Duster also beat the 1970 Mustang by almost 20,000 units and the new E-body Barracuda by almost 4 to 1. Despite the Barracuda’s more aggressive styling and bigger optional engines, the Duster simply made more sense for many buyers. Consequently, the Duster survived well after the Barracuda had expired. Chrysler-Plymouth hedged its bets by reintroducing notchback hardtop, the Valiant Scamp (essentially a Valiant version of the Dart Swinger), for 1971, but the Duster survived with only minor changes through the end of the A-body line in 1976. Total sales were a highly satisfactory 1,328,377. From 1971 on, there was also a Dodge version, the Dodge Demon (called Dart Sport from 1973), although it didn’t sell as well as the Duster.

The Duster name was subsequently applied to a sporty option package for the two-door Plymouth Volare and survived in that form until 1980. Even in its final year, 5,586 were sold. The Plymouth Duster name was briefly revived from 1992 to 1994 for a sporty version of the P-body Plymouth Sundance powered by Mitsubishi’s 181 cu. in. (2,972 cc) SOHC V6.

While Dodge reused the Challenger name several times over the years, there was never another Barracuda. With the demise of the Plymouth division in 2001, there probably never will be.

1974 Plymouth Duster side view
From the A pillars forward, the Plymouth Duster is basically identical to the Valiant sedan and most of the overall dimensions are about the same, including the 108-inch (2,743mm) wheelbase. The 1970 Duster was 188.4 inches (4,785 mm) long, about 2 inches (51 mm) longer than the E-body Barracuda. 1973 and later Dusters like this one are a bit longer thanks to the bulky, federally mandated crash bumpers. A V8 Duster weighed about 200 pounds (90 kg) less than a comparable Barracuda, with predictable effects on performance.


What is the moral of this story? The success of the Plymouth Duster suggests that the original plan for the Barracuda back in 1964 — to spice up the Valiant line with a sexier fastback coupe — was a perfectly viable one, doomed more by awkward styling and clumsy marketing than any conceptual flaw. If Plymouth had introduced the Duster in 1967, it probably would have worked. For that matter, if Plymouth had introduced the E-body Barracuda in 1967, it probably would have sold a lot better than it did in 1970-1971. Moreover, if Chrysler had stuck it out in the pony car market for a few more years, sales of the E-body might have picked up markedly, just as they did for the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, which rose from their early-seventies doldrums to some of their best-ever sales years towards the end of the decade.

We think the Barracuda’s basic problem was that it was a fundamentally reactionary product, the result of myopic long-term planning. At every turn, Chrysler was reacting to what its competitors had already done rather than anticipating where the market was going, which left the Barracuda perpetually out of step.

That is admittedly an easy mistake to make in the auto industry; the costs of doing business are so high that it’s always tempting to follow the crowd or pursue what seems like easy money. Decades later, Detroit did the same thing with trucks and SUVs, focusing on those high-profit models to the expense of everything else only to find themselves caught short a few years ago when high oil prices sent consumers scurrying in other directions. That sort of thing has happened repeatedly in the past and will undoubtedly happen again each time there’s an unexpected shift in the economy, but it illustrates the difficulty of long-term planning in a business world that prioritize quarterly profits.

Still, even recognizing the obvious errors Chrysler-Plymouth made with the Barracuda, it’s hard not to sympathize. They had most of the right pieces and the right ideas — just never quite at the right time or in the right order.

# # #


Our sources for the development of the Barracuda and Duster included the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History, (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996), and “1970-1976 Plymouth Duster,”, 10 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1970-1976-plymouth-duster.htm, accessed 1 October 2008; Arch Brown, “1965 Plymouth Barracuda,” Special Interest Autos #82 (July-August 1984), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Plymouths: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 102-109, and “1970 ‘Cuda Six-Pack: Plymouth’s Prancing Pony,” Special Interest Autos #98 (March-April 1987), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Chrysler Performance Cars: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000), pp. 108-115; Eric Dahlquist, “Motor Trend Interview: Dan Gurney,” Motor Trend January 1970, pp. 90-94; Curtis Redgap, “Duster: The Plymouth That Almost Wasn’t,”, 2004, www.valiant. org/ duster.html, accessed 2 October 2008; Ray Thursby, “Horse Power: The Ponycars of 1970,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 20, No. 2 (August 2003), pp. 8–23; and Paul Zazarine, Barracuda and Challenger (Muscle Car Color History) (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks, International, 1991).

Road tests we consulted for this story included Mal Bracken, “Plymouth’s Honking Hemi Cuda,” Motorcade March 1970; “Plymouth ‘Cuda 383: True High-Performance at a Reasonable Price,” Road Test, June 1970; Don Matthews, “AAR ‘Cuda: The All-American Impulse Car,” Sports Car Graphic June 1970; Allan Girdler, “Swede Was My Copilot,” Car Life October 1970; “The Handler!” Hi-Performance Cars June 1971; Steve Kelly, “Beware the Quiet Fish,” Hot Rod June 1971; “Plymouth Barracuda: The end of the road is in sight and no one, it seems, is looking for the detour,” Car and Driver January 1972, all of which are reprinted in Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974, R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books, Ltd., 1995), and “How to Buy Your New Barracuda,” Motor Trend December 1970, pp. 30-31; “Plymouth Performance Surprises for ’70,” Motor Trend August 1969, pp. 50-52; and “Plymouth’s Beat Goes On!” Motor Trend September 1969, pp. 42-47, which are not; “Valiant Duster,” Car and Driver, September 1969; Steve Kelly, “A new entry: DUSTER,” Hot Rod, March 1970; A.B. Shuman, “Road testing the 340, 440-6 and Hemi ‘Cudas: ‘Isn’t there an easier way to earn my Canadian Club?'” Motor Trend, May 1970; “AAR Cuda,” Car and Driver July 1970; and Rich Taylor, “Retrospect: ’70 Plymouth AAR Cuda: Street-Rod in Trans-Am Clothing,” Motor Trend February 1993, all of which are reprinted in Plymouth Muscle Portfolio 1964-1971, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2003). Another contemporary impression of the Barracuda’s styling came from “70½ GM Sports Spectacular: Firebird/Camaro,” Motor Trend January 1970, pp. 28-30.


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  1. This second installment on the Plymouth Barracuda and later Duster line makes several salient points. The proliferation of powertrain options was comparable to many of General Motors product lines, no mean feat. Taking on the Barracuda, I would like to add to the History presented in this latest article.

    The 1st generation Barracudas signature design element was the massive rear window, to the degree that when mentioning this 1st generation car, the first thing that comes to mind is that rear window. These cars were later popular in drag racing circuits not only because they were equipped with larger engines; a considerable undertaking, but because that Heavy rear window helped with increased traction at the starting line. The Full Fastback design element; terminating at the tail, is one that its Mustang competitor did not adopt until the 1967 models, and certainly helped the early Barracudas aerodynamics for top speed runs, when compared to notchback designs. It is almost certain that this was not a concern for the Designers, the 1st generation Barracuda predating wings and aerodynamic add-ons by few years, on this nascent field. Drag racing also contributed to the popularity of the Barracuda with a wheelstanding exhibition racer known as the Hemi Under Glass, with mid mounted injected Hemi. This black and gold car was heavily promoted and brought awareness to the demographic group that all manufacturers were shooting for back then, the emerging and potentially huge baby-boomer market. Excellent point made as to the Barracuda appearing on the scene before the Mustang, few are aware of this, so wildly successful was the Mustang coming out of the gate (so to speak) that it Completely overshadowed the Mopar entry, even creating a whole new category of automobiles which became known as Pony Cars. The Valiant interior appointments were rather bland and may have limited sales as well for this oddly proportioned new car.
    The 2nd generation Barracuda had a much more modern look, more in line with the coke bottle design school introduced by General Motors a year earlier in their Big Cars, which by the way, won Motor Trends CAR OF THE YEAR award, the only time a whole category of cars has ever won this award, mostly a result of coherent organic design. The Barracuda was now offered in 3 styles, Coupe, Convertible and Fastback. All are pleasing, though the Coupe adopted a narrow C-pillar and concave shaped rear window that look awkward from most angles. Upgraded interiors were welcomed and had better space efficiency when compared to its competitors. The whole car seemed of-a-piece now, the body making use of excellent surface development and details. Even in its last 1969 iteration, the side marker lights were superbly integrated, and the car had a purity of line lacking in most of the competition, though at the expense of expressing Power and Aggression, as your article alluded to. The 3rd and last generation Barracuda was the one that finally Cemented that Automobile in the Auto Enthusiasts consciousness. The Design was fantastic. A magazine cover of the times shows the front of the car in prominent fish eye view, with a bold text announcing HERE COME THE 70s! Its dramatic debut was a result of a great Avertising Campaign, the Design and availability of the Big Engines. The ad showing the newly available high performance model called the ‘Cuda (with apostrophe even!) is one of my all-time favorites. Upper 3/4 front angle, desert location, reddish filter, and the wide tie in the grill with pop art graphics! The Car is wearing the tie!!! This spoke Directly to the young crowd and gave the machine a personality. No girls or guys hanging on it for effect or needed. The 1970 Barracuda was inmediately embraced by the in-crowd and the Hemi powered ones were called KINGFISH in street and strip circles. A tremendous amount of people confuse the Dodge Challenger with the Plymouth Barracuda but the latter is more truncated, and better conveys that hungry animal impression, in this case a dangerous sea predator. The ‘Cuda in particular, reinforced this image, with options like the SHAKER hood scoop with angled front gills, and in 1971, with still more gills, at the upper side of the front fenders. As with most American cars the 1st year was the cleanest and best looking one. The Barracudas tailights fit perfectly in the rear panel and in the top models, the exhausts in the valance panel imitate the slightly curved rectangle of the recessed rear panel. The whole car has interesting touches, its narrow slit shaped side marker lights denote speed, and so does the pronounced kick up crease at the doors. Because of the shape and demarcation of the top to the body, it looks great with OR without a Vynil top, an option that was de rigueur for some autos in this period, (which translated to easy dealer profits). The 4 speed manual transmission Pistol-Grip Shifter, the body sill trim with gills, even the ability to fit enormous rear tires in the capacious rear wheel wells contributed to the popularity of this car for most buyers. The AAR variant, with its center scooped hood finished in matte black, plus strobed effect side stripes, was a sinister looking vehicle and a well handling one as well. As we know, and as pointed out in your article, from 1972 on, the barracuda was in decline, a result of all the factors you enumerated. The design suffered as well, with round tailights, more generic front ends and side graphics. I choose to remember my first view of a 1967 Navy blue fastback or joking with Girls at a party in a new 1971 Red with White top Cuda 340, or the respect these cars received at Street races. But that is another Story. I have enjoyed reading about not only nuts and bolts info. but behind the scenes Industry activity I was unaware of. I will spread the word of this website as you clearly are able to convey Historical facts in a concise and dare I say, entertaining manner. Thanks again.

    1. The history of the first two generations is discussed at greater length in our first installment (, although I didn't get into the Hemi Under Glass or other specials.

      Maybe it's just me, but the “Hello, New People” tagline seems like a really weak effort to reach an admittedly tough market.

      The powertrain proliferation was similar to Chevy's, in that there were several different iterations of three basic block designs (the slant six, the LA-series V8, and the B/RB-series big-block, although the Hemi was assembled so differently than the other B-series engines that you could argue that it wasn't exactly the same thing). It wasn't as great as GM as a whole, certainly, but it was probably more than it needed to be. (In 1970, for instance, there were three slant sixes, the 318 and 340 LA-series engines, the 383 and 440 B/RB engines in several states of tune, and the Hemi.) Before emissions controls — and, more to the point, EPA certification testing — it wasn't a big deal, but in the 70s it quickly became too costly.

  2. hi there i just wanted to say thanks for the information about theys sweet cars. i have been into mopars sents i got my first 67 notch back cuda. that was 23yrs.ago iwas twenty at the time.in2006 i bought a69340 notchback it took me a long time to find another one like i had. right now im in the middle of restoring it its going to take me 2 or three yrs to do.i think people today are starting to understand the real storie abought the barracuds and just how cool they cars are.thanks for a graet web sight.

  3. Oh man, I remember my 65 Barracuda very well. It started life as a slant six but when I got it 1977(?), it got all the good pieces from my 66 Dart which I had just wrecked. New front suspension, solid-lifter 273 V8 w/Carter AFB & Mallory Dual-Point. Later I found a four-speed tranny which was an interesting installation job. You didn’t mention that the A-body Valiant-based car had torsion bars instead of front springs, the car handled nicely except for the rear axle which tended to hop like crazy when accelerating strongly. No, I don’t miss that the car broke constantly and even w/the little small block there was precious little room under the hood. The Mallory distributor ate points like crazy & at $20/pair it was a challenge keeping the car road-worthy. (Yeah, I kept a points file close at hand as you never knew when they would go south) Working on the starter or clutch linkage was always a challenge plus I probably still have scars from the exhaust pipes… Nah, I’ll take my little Japanese pickup of today, it may be dull but at least it doesn’t break. But sometime I do miss my Plymouth.

  4. [quote]You didn’t mention that the A-body Valiant-based car had torsion bars instead of front springs[/quote]

    Well, torsion bars are springs, just a different [i]kind[/i] of spring. Instead of compressing like a coil spring or flexing like a leaf, the bar twists. Its spring rate is a function of the diameter of the bar (actually the fourth power of the diameter, so a slightly thicker bar is a lot stiffer) and the inverse of the lever-arm length. An anti-roll bar is the same thing, just turned sideways to resist body roll, rather than vertical movements.

    For all the hype Chrysler gave the “Torsionaire” suspension, its main functional advantage was the front springs could be adjusted at the factory for different front-end weights — Chevrolet had to use a bunch of different front coil springs, with slightly different rates, to maintain a uniform front-end height with different engines and equipment combinations. The fact that Chryslers tended to handle better was a function of stiffer spring rates and better control arm geometry, rather than any inherent advantage of torsion bar springs.

    I’m a little surprised that the rear would hop on acceleration. Chrysler usually mounted the rear axle toward the front of the spring (at around 33% of the spring’s length, rather than in the middle), which made the front portion of the leaves effectively stiffer than the rear. Usually, a sixties Mopar would do a pretty good job of resisting hop on acceleration, but go into a St. Vitus dance if you stomped the brakes. Very disconcerting…

    [quote]Working on the starter or clutch linkage was always a challenge plus I probably still have scars from the exhaust pipes[/quote]

    At least you didn’t have a later car with a 383 (or, for that matter, a 390 Mustang) — just getting at the plugs with the bigger engine was a job for Plastic Man!

  5. I can’t imagine if Plymouth dropped the Barracuda nameplate. Now, the ‘Cuda name means gold at car auctions! Too bad none of that $$ goes to Chrysler.

    1. Well, part of the reason the Barracuda commanded such high prices as a collectible was that it was so scarce. If it were as common as an early Mustang, it wouldn’t be as sought after today.

  6. Down in Australia it was mostly Valiants, especially anything 2dr. The Charger here was a Valiant for ages, before it got all ugly and turned into a Chrysler.
    Chrysler here was more about huge grilles, 4 doors and being large in general. I think the only 2 door they made under the Chrysler badge was the last of the Chargers, and the Chrysler CH Hardtop. I can see the influence the Duster had on the CH Hardtop.

  7. Besides the federal government, the other major contributer to Chrysler’s sales woes was and continues to this day, was and is the their accounting department.

    Chrysler always had an excellent engineering department but the company as a whole was held victim to the accounting department.

    Had Chrysler had Iaccoca at that time instead of Ford, Mopar would have had better sales success and a highly engineered and designed automotive product.

    But instead, Chrysler’s accounting team made sure that the corporate executives had the lion’s share of sales income.

  8. My family has owned Chrysler products since the days of the Airflow (1936), and I have owned numerous MoPars over the decades. My long term project car purchased used in 1981 has been my 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A with 4-speed. I spent many a happy weekend on road courses on the east coast and found the car quite capable in factory original configuration. I eventually went to Koni shocks and a variety of alignments, along with 15×9 wheels and 265x50x15 tires, and that certainly helped. I purchased a pair of 1.14″ torsion bars but never had the chance to install them before the engine was pulled. The engine is back in the car but I have yet to head back to the track.

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