A Brief History of the Plymouth Barracuda
When Ford announced the development of a new sporty compact car based on the Falcon, the execs at Chrysler were in a quandary. They needed an entry into the growing young buyer market that would directly compete with the Mustang and Chevrolet Corvair but keep production costs down so that the company didn’t waste resources. The designers turned to the already successful Valiant, offering what was essentially a fastback version of the sedan.
The Plymouth Barracuda (it was almost named the Panda) was rushed into production and debuted on April 1, 1964, beating the Mustang’s introduction by about two weeks. The new model used the A-body platform of the Valiant, copying the front of the family sedan but redesigning the rear. A sloping rear windshield that wrapped around the sides and smaller sport-styled trunk gave the Barracuda a quick, muscular look. While incorporating Valiant’s engine, powertrain, front headlights, front fascia, bumpers, and A-pillar helped ease production time and costs, most people thought that the new Barracuda was little more than a tweaked version of an already boring family sedan. The car sold about 23k units in its first year, but it was no match for the stylish Mustang that sold over 126k pony cars during the same months.
Plymouth did make a few minor made changes to the first generation of models to try and stay competitive. Most notably, a new Commando engine (4.5L V8 273 ci) boosted power to 235 hp and a new “S” package offered improved suspension, and larger tires and wheels. Amenities like air conditioning and power brakes began to appear during this time. Plymouth wanted the Barracuda to be distinct from the Valiant so it changed the badging, refreshed the front and hoped Americans wouldn’t notice.
Despite the similarities, the Barracuda continued its reliance on its Valiant twin in the second generation (1967 - ‘69). While It still utilized many of the Valiant’s components, the car did get some design changes, sporting a more streamlined look. The rear wrap around window from the previous generation was modified, and to meet government requirements side marker lights were installed.
Primarily, the second generation Barracuda received performance enhancements, as Plymouth played with the power outputs of its engines. As larger and more powerful engines made their way into car, the highest performing engine was the 440 ci Super Commando V8 offered in the 1969 new ‘Cuda trim level. The engine could produce 375 hp, and when CarLife magazine tested the new engine, the ‘Cuda ran a 5.6 second 0 - 60 mph time, (the quarter mile was 14.0, which put it on par with the Mustang Mach 1). Sales of the Plymouth pony car were decent during the second generation with 62k units sold in 1967. Combined with the success of the Road Runner, Plymouth was establishing itself in the muscle car market.
The third generation is when the Baracuda came into its own, breaking free of the constraints of its Valiant pedigree. Using the new E-body, Chrysler fashioned the Barracuda with a look similar to the Dodge Challenger. It was shorter in length, with a wider stance, and gave a much more aggressive appearance but the platforms were the same.
Three models of the Barracuda were offered for the 1970 - ‘71 model year, a base model, a more luxurious Gran Coupe and the sport ‘Cuda trim. All trim levels were offered in both hardtop coupe and convertible versions. Even though owners could opt for the standard slant six, there were four V8 choices. Owners of the sporty ‘Cuda trim could opt for the 340 V8 or the 383 V8 (standard) or choose between the 7.2L 440 V8 or the 7.0 L (426 ci) Hemi engine.
While many of the models had the V8 and automatic transmission, only a handful of 1971 ‘Cuda convertibles were made with the 426 Hemi engine mated with a 4-speed transmission. (These models are considered to be the rarest of the Plymouth Barracudas. (Only 14 ‘Cuda convertibles were made in 1970, and even less in 1971).
The public received the new Barracuda design well, and Plymouth translated it into sales of 55,459 units in 1970. Even though 1970 might be considered to be the pinnacle year for muscle cars, cracks were beginning to show. Sales for many models were down (Road Runner, Mustang, and Charger were all down).
Sales fell significantly after the 1970 model year, (Plymouth only sold 18k units in 1971). Increasing governmental regulations for fuel economy and emissions began to eat away at the muscle car market, and as consumers started to turn toward imported, more fuel efficient vehicles. When the oil embargo of ‘73 hit, muscle car owners could not afford to continue to operate their large V8s, and many of them were traded in for more gas-sipping four cylinders.
The final year for the Barracuda was 1974, with only 11,600 units sold. The last Barracuda rolled off the factory line on April 1, 1974, exactly ten years to the day it was first introduced.
The Most Sought After Plymouth Barracuda
There is a special affinity for the 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda convertible with a 426 Hemi and 4 speed manual transmission. Only 12 of these rare birds were made, with 5 of them shipped overseas. Since there is no way of knowing how many have survived to this day, and because 1971 was the last year for the 426 Hemi, their exclusivity makes them highly-sought after muscle cars.
While the 426 Hemi was not the most powerful motor that Plymouth offered, (the 440 V8 was also an option) In 2007, one of the surviving models with a period correct but not original Hemi engine sold for $2.2 million. Seven years later, an all original 71 ‘Cuda convertible with all matching numbers brought a whopping $3.5 million, becoming the world’s most expensive muscle car. One of the five non-US ‘Cuda Convertibles was offered on auction in 2021 and it was expected to sell for between $5 - 6.5 million, but the owner rejected the high bid of $4.8 million.
While the 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda is not the most expensive US muscle car ever to be auctioned, (that honor belongs to a 1962 Shelby Cobra CSX2000 for a cool $13.75 million). The Cuda does rank in the top five however, behind the Cobra, a ‘64 GT Prototype, a ‘66 SuperSnake, and a one of a kind Red on Red 1967 Corvette L88S Coupe.
Other Rare Barracudas On the Market
There have been a few other Barracudas that have captured the attention of collectors throught the years.
1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda Convertible
In 1970, Plymouth produced only 652 Hemi ‘Cudas and made 14 of them convertibles (nine of which were equipped with the Torqueflite 3-speed automatic transmission and the dual 4-bbl carburated 426 Hemi motor). This rare beauty was black on black, and stylishly restored to original condition. The car once belonged to John Herlitz (who was responsible for designing the Barracuda), and sold in 2015 for a paltry $2.2 million.
1970 Plymouth RTS ‘Cuda
The Rapid Transit System ‘Cuda was one of four custom built ‘Cudas designed by GM designer Harry Bradley, (who was also a designer for Hot Wheels Cars). These beautiful beasts were given to various custom shops to be tweaked for a touring road show to glorify Mopar muscle cars. Recently, one of the RTS ‘Cudas (that was thought to be lost), rolled over the Mecum auction ramp in its unrestored glory on its way to a $2.2 million dollar winning bid.
Plymouth promoted the RTS as a gathering spot for information for owners and potential buyers. Sales consultants were encouraged to “share the RTS system” and early brochures emphasized Plymouth racing pedigree as a way of enticing new consumers to the brand.
Their literature told customers that “if they couldn’t beat the system, they should join it”, meaning Mopar muscle.
This particular RTC had a 440 Magnum V8 and automatic transmission, original paint and all matching VIN numbers. The odometer read 967, which means it got trucked all across the country for shows during the early 70s.
1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda Convertible 440 Magnum
While the Hemi ‘Cudas get all the glory, there is an incredible market for the 1971 ‘Cuda with a 440 six barrel V8. Of the 17 or so that were made with this configuration, only a scant few (5) came with the 4-speed manual transmission. Recently, a beautifully restored red with black leather interior ‘Cuda 440 Six Barrell sold for $1.1 million and it had an automatic transmission. (Go figure).
1970/71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda Hardtop
What would you sell an original first off the line 1970 ‘Cuda Hardtop for if you owned it? Well, if you are one owner, the answer to that question is about $2.2 million. Scribble out that amount and you could own the original first ‘Cuda to ever roll off the factory line in 1971 (serial numbers 1 and 2 were scrapped at the plant). The hardtop is Alpine white, comes with a 426 Hemi, a shaker hood and a pistol grip shifter. For your entertainment pleasure, an 8 track tape player is included.
The point is that while only a handful of Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles were produced in both years, there weren’t too many hardtops produced either. Of the 6,228 1971 ‘Cuda hardtops (all engine sizes) that were manufactured, only 2% (108 units) were made with the Hemi engine. (The Hemi was a savage beast producing 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a 5.8 second 0 - 60 mph).
1970 Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda
During the height of muscle car mania, Plymouth hired Dan Gurney and All-American Racers to develop a Trans Am version of the Barracuda. The resulting race cars performed admirably, and Plymouth decided to honor the attempt by creating a dealer-only street racer. According to production records there were 2,752 AAR ‘Cudas built, and even though that might seem like a lot, the AAR versions were only made for one year.
The AAR models were clearly recognizable with their black hood constrasting the one of 5 paint schemes that were offered. All AARs were blessed with a 340 V8, that had enough power to match the numbers of its big brother the 426 Hemi.
A recent sale of an AAR hardtop 1970 ‘Cuda (pink) was reported for $308,000 at a Mecum auction. The car was unrestored model had pink exterior paint with unique white leather seats (all other pink had black interiors). .
1970 - 74 Barracudas
Any Barracudas from this time period are probably going to be valuable items in a collector’s garage. Many ‘Cudas sell regularly for over $100,000 which is a pretty decent return on the close to $3k MRSP back in the seventies. If you are searching for a project, the Hemi engines are the most rare, and 440 six barrels (with manual transmissions) run a close second. As with any restoration project or classic car, matching numbers make the car’s worth increase. If your car has a good back story, (like the first off the factory line) those details can add to the value.
Why Are ‘Cuda Hemi Convertibles So Valuable?
By the first part of the ‘70s, most muscle cars were on their way out. There was not enough demand in the sports car market to justify so many offerings. Here are a couple of reasons why Hemi ‘Cuda are so rare.
The Age Of The Covertible Was Ending
As a general rule, the day of the convertible was coming to a close. Fewer customers evey year were requesting the drop-tops and with declining sales, car manufacturers focused their productions on what customers wanted, which were hardtops.
The Hemi Motor Was Expensive
One of the reasons that more people didn’t opt for the Hemi motor is that it was a $871 add on, which pushed the price of the Barracuda to almost $4000. Most young American buyers did not have those kinds of resources to plop down on any kind car, let alone a Barracuda.
The Hemi ‘Cuda Was Made In Limited Numbers
The biggest factor affecting the expense of the Hemi ‘Cuda is the lack of production. Obviously, the rarer a commodity is, the higher demand is created, and the demand justifies an excalating price. As any car enthusiast knows, the more limited a car’s production numbers, the more sellers can ask for. (And the more expensive parts tend to be for that unit).
Why Did Plymouth Stop Making the Barracuda?
There simply was not enough demand for the convertible Barracuda to make them viable options for the average consumer. Economic fears as inflation began to rise over 5% also fueled worry among buyers. When the oil crisis impacted gasoline prices in 1973, skyrocketing inflation toward 11.4 % in 1974, Americans simply could not afford to drive their large gas-guzzling V8s. Even though Plymouth would hold on for another 17 years, by the 1990s, they were ineffective in producing cars that attracted consumer confidence. Chrysler tried to reposition the brand as its value car company division, but even a new logo did not help salvage the company. Plymouth folded in 2001, although Dodge continued to make some of their models until 2006.