Plymouth never enjoyed as much sales success with Barracuda as Ford did with Mustang or Chevrolet with Camaro, but Barracuda offered competitive performance and appealing styling, especially from 1970 to 1974.
Moreover, because Barracuda sales were fewer than Mustang’s or Camaro’s, to see one on the street or at a car show is arguably more of a treat.
Art McDonald of Courtright owns a 1972 Barracuda and had it on display at the 2019 edition of the WAMBO event at Wallaceburg.
His Barracuda appeared to have the original blue paint and white Mopar swoop along its flanks. It would have been one of 10,622 sold in that model year. Chrysler Corporation sold 18,450, but 7,828 of those were the high-performance Cuda models.
By comparison, Ford built 125,093 Mustang models for 1972, which was a drop from its 1971 production.
Camaro production for 1972 was relatively weak, mostly because of a strike that hit GM, but 68,651 Camaro models were still rolled out.
McDonald’s Barracuda is defined as the two-door hardtop coupe. When it was sold new, its base price would have been $2,710 (the more powerful Cuda was $2,953).
Barracuda was built on Chrysler’s E-body platform. It was 186.6 inches long, with a 108-inch wheelbase, and weighed 3,040 pounds.
For 1972, buyers had three engine choices – a 225-cubic-inch six-cylinder that produced 110 horsepower; or two eight-cylinder engines: Chrysler’s 318 V8 that churned out 150 horsepower, or the 340 V8 that, when mated with a four-barrel carb, produced 240 horsepower.
There were three transmission choices: a three or four-speed stick, or an automatic transmission.
Although Barracuda for 1972 featured a few changes, it was basically the same car that Chrysler had introduced for the 1970 model year. That same platform and design would continue until 1974, at which time the car and Barracuda name would be retired.
The new Barracuda design was introduced at the very peak of pony car fever. And as with the performance enhancements that were bleeding over from the muscle car culture into Mustang and Camaro, so too did Chrysler ensure that Barracuda was “muscled up”, especially in its Cuda derivative.
Yet the 1970 to 1974 period was witness to the collapse of both the muscle car and pony car cultures. New federal requirements for emissions played havoc with performance ambitions, and the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974 did great harm to overall sales.
Ford’s response was to introduce a much-smaller Mustang, based on the Pinto platform. It was called Mustang II.
Chevrolet’s response was to continue building Camaro (and Pontiac its Firebird), but engine performance was muted to meet the new requirements as well as the public’s desire for greater fuel efficiency.
Chrysler simply ended Barracuda production. The final Barracuda was assembled on April 1, 1974. That may have been on purpose, since the very first Barracuda had been introduced precisely 10 years earlier, on April 1, 1964.
Barracuda was Chrysler’s initial response to a new demographic within the American car industry that Detroit was only starting to define. Loosely identified as Baby Boomers, they didn’t want the cars their parents drove. They wanted something that represented youth, freedom and possibilities.
Detroit had toyed with such a car for some time, and had checked off some of the boxes with cars like the 1953 Buick Skylark, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, the Chrysler 300 and the 1958 Pontiac Bonneville.
These cars helped bring performance and elegance into the mainstream, but Baby Boomers wanted their own vehicle, and it would come from the most unlikely of places – the compact segment.
American Motors launched that segment with Rambler for 1958, and Ford quickly followed with Falcon. GM’s initial response was the revolutionary Corvair, but by 1962 rolled out its Chevy II.
All of these cars were small, basic, economical and reasonably priced. And they sold well. Total sales easily approached one million cars annually in the early 1960s.
Among them was Valiant. Chrysler’s compact car was introduced in 1960 and was slightly larger than Falcon. It featured innovations specifically designed for small car use, including its remarkable Slant Six engine.
For 1963, Valiant was redesigned and received even more creature comforts, along with a synchronized three-speed transmission and more available engine options. The market responded enthusiastically. The 1963 Valiant sold in record numbers, 225,156 units.
Chrysler,was tracking the Baby Boomer market but just didn’t have the cash to fully implement a program that would embrace these new customers. Ford designers had taken the Falcon and turned the compact into a youth car called Mustang. Mustang was an incredibly attractive automobile, and looked nothing like Falcon, although its underpinnings were the same.
Chrysler did the same with Valiant, but the transformation wasn’t as apparent. Two weeks before Mustang was introduced in mid-April 1964, Chrysler unveiled Barracuda, which looked very much like the Valiant on which it was based.
That wasn’t a bad thing, as Valiant for 1964 had received a V8 engine specially designed for the compact class, as well as a new four-speed, fully synchronized transmission that was operated from a snazzy new floor console.
But Barracuda didn’t have Mustang’s visual appeal. Chrysler tried to make a distinction between Valiant and Barracuda with a dramatic fastback rear window.
And unlike Mustang, Barracuda wasn’t a standalone product. For 1964, it was an option package for Valiant. The base engine was the 225-cubic-inch Slant Six. But Chrysler’s 273-cubic-inch V8 was available, and more than 90 per cent of Barracuda buyers opted for the V8.
Although Barracuda was introduced two weeks ahead of Mustang, it was outsold buy the Ford pony car by eight to one. Both cars were introduced late in the 1964 model year, but Ford sold 126,538 Mustangs. By comparison, Chrysler sold 23,443 Barracudas.
Chrysler continued with Barracuda for 1965 and 1966 with improvements to the engine, but the Plymouth pony car remained in Mustang’s shadow, as did most cars in that era. By the end of the 1965 model run, Ford sold 559,451 Mustangs, while Chrysler sold 64,596 Barracuda models for 1965. The distance between the two cars widened even further in 1966 when Ford sold 607,568 Mustangs, but Chrysler sold 38,029 Barracudas.
But while Barracuda was chasing the same audience as Mustang, it was also pursuing another – those who aspired to own a muscle car.
Barracuda was redesigned for 1967, sharing no sheet metal with Valiant. A coupe and convertible were added and the engine bay enlarged to accept the 383-cubic-inch V8. That engine produced 280 horsepower. Several engine options were offered, including the Slant Six. Two versions of the 272-cubic-inch V8 were available with 180 and 235 horsepower. The 383 V8 was available only on the Barracuda Formula S model. But also available was a 440-cubic-inch V8 and the 426 Hemi V8.
A three-speed manual transmission was available for all engine options, but a four-speed, floor-shifted manual transmission was an option, as was a floor-shifted automatic transmission.
Despite the redesign and convertible availability, Barracuda sales were relatively low. A total of 62,554 units were sold. Of those, 4,228 were convertibles, and 28,196 were hardtop coupes. Barracuda’s fastback attracted the most sales at 30,130 units. But Mustang sales were enormous; Ford sold 472,121 units.
Part of the problem for Barracuda was increased competition. Although it was technically the first pony car on the market, by 1967 Barracuda was not only competing against Mustang but against Chevrolet’s Camaro. Also, Pontiac had its Firebird, and Mercury had rolled out its new Cougar. Chevrolet for 1967 sold 220,917 Camaro models, while Pontiac sold 82,558 Firebirds.
The 1967 Barracuda was arguably more attractive than its predecessor, but it just couldn’t leverage the pony car craze to its own advantage. So what Plymouth decided to build was not so much a pony car as a muscle car.
For 1968, Plymouth replaced the 272 V8 was the 315-cubic-inch engine, along with a new 340-cubic-inch, four-barrel V8. The 383-cubic-inch Super Commando engine was upgraded, but its horsepower limited to 300.
The 426 Hemi was limited for Super Stock drag racing. It’s been suggested that only 50 fastbacks equipped with the legendary Hemi were built.
For ’69, Barracuda’s emphasis on performance was enlarged. The 383 V8 was upgraded to turn out 330 brake horsepower, and a new trim package called Cuda was released in April 1969. Based on the Formula S option, Cuda was available with the 340, the 383, or the 440 Super Commando V8.
Planning for the 1970 Barracuda began in 1967, and Plymouth was determined that its pony car/muscle car would rule the roost. At the same time, Dodge was given its own Cuda, but it was called Challenger. But Challenger was slightly longer. The new E-body cars came in six different styles with nine available engines, ranging from the Slant Six to the 426 Hemi V8.
Sales for the ’70 Barracuda were disappointing, with just 55,499 units sold. Dodge, meanwhile, sold 83,012 Challengers.
Barracuda was built until 1974 but, as already explained, the E-body program remained a challenge in the face of rising fuel prices and emission regulations.
Over its 10-year lifespan, Plymouth sold roughly 400,000 Barracuda cars, but it had been an uphill battle. Yet, because of its relative rarity, a well-kept Barracuda is a joy to see and appreciate today.