What Is The Rarest Hemi Cuda Ever Made?

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There is no question that the Plymouth Barracuda is an excellent addition to any classic car collector’s garage, but what is the rarest Hemi ‘Cuda ever made?

The ‘71 Plymouth ‘Cuda Convertible with a 426 Hemi paired with a four-speed manual transmission is considered the rarest model. Only 12 of these models were made (5 were shipped overseas). A recent model was offered for sale in 2021, but failed to meet reserve despite a high bid of $4.8 million.

When Plymouth released the first generation of the Barracuda in 1964, little did they know that they were creating what would become the holy grail for car collectors everywhere. Even though the Barracuda only had a 10 year run, (it stopped production ten years to the day it started), the car morphed into a legend. Today, 1970 and 1971 ‘Cudas bring astronomical prices, that are often reserved for the likes of Shelby Cobras, or one-of-a-kind concept cars. (In fact, a 71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda is one of the top five most expensive American vehicles ever purchased at an auction). So what is the rarest Hemi ‘Cuda and what makes it so unique? Let’s explore that issue as we reflect on this iconic image of the muscle car era.

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What Is A Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda?

Plymouth is an American automaker who manufactured vehicles from 1928 - 2001. The car company was a division of Chrysler who wanted to enter into the low-cost market being dominated by Ford and Chevrolet. Over the years, Plymouth produced many notable vehicles like the Deluxe, Belvedere, Fury, Valiant, Barracuda, RoadRunner, SuperBird and Reliant among others.

In 1964, Plymouth wanted a compact pony car that could compete with the impending new version from the competition called the Ford Mustang. The company needed a car that could perform well, but keep production costs in line. To achieve this aim, Plymouth took the Valiant, designed a new fastback rear end and rushed it into production. The car was almost named the Panda, but that suggestion was scraped in favor of the more aggressive Barracuda.

During the height of the muscle car wars, Plymouth played with various engine sizes for their vehicles. When NASCAR banned the 426 Hemi engine from the racetrack in 1965, the company did what any respectable automaker would have done, they slapped the 426 Hemi into their full sized sedans in 1966.

When Plymouth began producing the third generation of Barracuda in 1970, they offered the 426 Hemi for their new sport trim level which they called the ‘Cuda. (Technically, the ‘Cuda trim began in 1969 with one of the engine options being the 440 Super Commando V8). Since three other V8s were offered (340, 383 (standard) and the 440 V8, many owners opted for the standard 383 V8 rather than pay extra for the two higher powered performance motors.

The MY 1970 was a banner year for the Barracuda. Plymouth produced over 55k units that year (their best sales year for the Barracuda). The car was offered in three trims levels, a base model (hardtop or convertible), a luxury Gran Coupe (hardtop and convertible), and the sport minded trim, the ‘Cuda, (again in both hardtop and convertible). The ‘Cuda had power brakes and steering, but stopped short of power windows. It did have an iconic Shaker hood scoop as an option.

There were 18 separate paint schemes offered on the ‘Cuda, with colors like Lemon Twist, Lime Light and Vitamin C. The ‘Cuda models has a black inverted hockey stick striping on the sides of the rear quarter panel.

Additional refinements on the ‘Cuda trim included upgraded suspension and improved structural stabiity to help handle the power of the larger V8 engines as they applied power to the road surface.

The Hemi engine was a beast even if nobody wanted it. With 425 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, the engine was capable of motoring the 70 Cuda down the track in 5.8 seconds, and 14.0 quarter mile time at 102 mph.

What Are The Rarest Hemi ‘Cudas

We have compiled a list of some of the rarest Cudas on the planet with descriptions and links for each one. Since the Hemi production was offered on only one trim level of the Barracuda (‘Cuda trim), and only for the ‘70/’71 models, the cars so equipped tend to be extremely rare.

1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible

Of the most expensive muscle cars to ever be sold at on the auction block in the US, the ‘71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles with a 4 speed manual transmission seem to be the consistent top finishers. (Currently, the ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible sits at number five on the all time list). The most expensive car ever sold is a 1962 Shelby CSX2000 that sold for $13.75 million.

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.

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 numbers matching brought a whopping $3.5 million at an Mecum auction, 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. (It is unclear whether the present owner in France will attempt the sale of this ultra-rare winchester gray Mopar beauty again, but we’d be anxious to see what this example of Hemi muscle might bring).

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 and it sold in 2015 for $2.2 million.

Of course that means that the 1970 Convertibles that were equipped with Hemi engines and had the 4-speed manual would have numbered five - making them even rarer that this 1970 model.

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.

Are There Other ‘Cuda Models That Are Valuable?

Yes, almost any ‘Cuda model from either 1970 or 1971 are rare beasts that often fetch good money at the auction.

1970 RTS ‘Cuda

In order to help foster some interest in their brand, Plymouth decided to take the case for Mopar muscle on the road. The Rapid Transit System ‘Cuda was one of four custom built ‘Cudas fashioned in the mind of Harry Bradley, (who was also a designer for Hot Wheels Cars). Recently, one of the RTS ‘Cudas (that was thought to be lost), found a new home when it was lavished with 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 Barrel sold for $1.1 million and it had an automatic transmission. (Go figure).