Pony Car Icons, Part 2: Plymouth Barracuda

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Going on sale just two weeks before the original Mustang, the 'Cuda has become a legend in its own right.

Though nearly all pony cars went through some pretty serious changes in the first few years of their existence, the changes which Plymouth scrambled to implement on the Barracuda are certainly the most dramatic. The first-generation Barracuda came out just two weeks before the first Mustang, and although it did have several of the elements of the pony car, it wasn't quite what the car-buying public was looking for, and the Mustang outsold the Barracuda by a huge margin.

Thus began the processes of rethinking the Barracuda, one which would eventually lead it to become the legendary 'Cuda. The original Barracuda was not without its charm. Based heavily on the Valiant, the fastback body incorporated a large wraparound rear window. At 14.4 square feet, this window was not only the Barracuda's most distinctive design feature, but also the largest window to have been fitted to any production car in the world at the time. The base price was a couple hundred dollars higher than the Mustang's (a big deal in 1964), despite a less-exciting engine lineup.

There were two different slant-six options and one V8 offered, a 273 cu mill fitted with a two-barrel carburetor. This engine produced 180 horsepower, which was noticeably less than the 225hp produced by the Mustang's 289 V8, it's no wonder the Barracuda didn't match up in sales to the Mustang. Plymouth immediately swung into action to correct the Barracuda's less appealing qualities. Though 1964 models were badged as the "Valiant Barracuda", the "Valiant" part of the name was dropped for the 1965 model year, in an effort to make the models seem more distinct. That year also saw a number of performance-oriented upgrade options.

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These included disc brakes, upgraded suspension and wheels, a tachometer and those all-important special badges for performance models. More importantly, the 273 engine got a thorough going-over. It got a more aggressive cam, increased compression and a four-barrel carburetor. This raised the power output to a competitive 235 horsepower, something which helped sales quite a bit. But it wasn't quite enough to save the first-gen Barracuda, and even though several changes were made to the sheet metal in 1965 and 1966, the Barracuda received its first redesign in 1967, just three years after it was first introduced.

The new Barracuda, though still based on the Valiant, had a new look which is much more pony car-like than the original. In addition to the fastback body style, a notchback and convertible were also offered with this generation, and the wheelbase was stretched by two inches. The slant-six remained as the base engine, and the 273 V8 was kept for the first year of the new model. It was replaced in 1968 by a 318 cu unit, and was joined by an optional 340 cu V8 and the 383 Super Commando V8. The 383 borrowed a number of engine components from the Road Runner and Super Bee.

It was also fitted with a more restrictive exhaust, limiting power to 300hp as a means to prevent the Barracuda from upstaging the performance of the bigger, more expensive cars. It was in 1968 when the full potential of the Barracuda as a drag car was first explored. Plymouth made 50 factory drag cars based on the Barracuda. These cars had stripped-out interiors and were fitted with a number of lightweight components. A 426 Hemi V8 was dropped in, and the drag cars could run mid-10s in the quarter-mile, quite a feat for 1968. Then, in 1969, the Barracuda was finally let off the leash.

The 383 was given a proper exhaust, and power was bumped up to 330hp. A new top-end performance trim level was added, known as the 'Cuda, it was available with the 340 and 383 engines, as well as the newly added 440 Super Commando V8. 1970 saw the introduction of another Chrysler pony car, the Dodge Challenger, and a newly-redesigned Barracuda now shared a platform with this car, thus abandoning the last of its connection to the Valiant. The Barracuda wasn't simply a badge-engineered Plymouth though, as it didn't share any sheet metal with the Challenger, and the two cars even had different sized wheel bases.

With the larger engine bay in the new model, Chrysler's 426 Hemi V8 was offered for the first time on street cars, as was the new shaker hood. The 1971 Hemi 'Cuda is generally considered to be the ultimate example of the Barracuda, and though one could argue that this particular setup would make the vehicle more of a muscle car than a pony car, the car's position in the Plymouth lineup, still below the Road Runner, makes a pretty solid case for the car as one of the ultimate pony cars. After 1971, new emissions regulations strangled the power out of the Barracuda, and by 1974, Plymouth no longer saw the point of producing it.

Its ten-year production run saw the meteoric rise and sudden fall of the pony car. The drastic changes which the Barracuda underwent in its short life span can be seen as reflecting overall trends in the automotive world at the time, and few nameplates have ever served as such a telling cross-section of automotive history. The Barracuda name was never revived, but rumor has it that the Barracuda will once again see the light of day in 2014, wearing a Dodge (or possibly SRT) badge. Although the legacy of the '71 Hemi 'Cuda will not be easy to live up to, it will be interesting to see how the project is handled. We're looking forward to it.

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