What Is Special About Plymouth Barracudas?

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Every classic car lover knows that one of the most sought-after models is the Plymouth ‘Cuda convertible. What is special about a Plymouth Barracuda?

The primary reason that a ‘71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda is so memorable is because it is so unique. Only a few convertible cars were made, making them one of the rarest muscle cars ever. Also, the ‘Cuda is the epitome of what a muscle car was at the time when drivers wanted speed, power, and performance.

One of the holy grail moments in classic cars came when a third generation 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda rolled across the auction block and locked down a $2.2 million bid. The moment was a jaw-dropping moment, to say the least, creating headlines and ripples throughout the world. Then just a short seven years later, another ‘Cuda with matching numbers brought home a cool $3.5 million. And now, just a couple of years ago, a French owner put one of five manual shift ‘Cudas on the market but refused to accept a $4.8 million bid because it did not meet the reserve. While no one knows what the future holds, expecting the ‘Cuda to continue to command the highest numbers is not unreasonable. Are we in store for a $5 million ‘Cuda? Perhaps a $6.5 million? What in the world is going on? When collectors are willing to shell out extravagant sums of money for the pleasure of owning a muscle car, what is going through their minds? Has the world become crazy? Or did the pandemic just make buyers lose their sanity? Let’s explore what is about the ‘Cuda because, as a lover of Mopar muscle, I can see why these rare gems are bringing more than ever.

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What Is So Special About A ‘Cuda?

Let’s examine what makes a Plymouth Barracuda one of the most exciting muscle cars of the 20th century. The ‘Cuda is a particular model of muscle car that we will detail below, but first, let’s determine exactly what a ‘Cuda is and isn’t.

The ‘Cuda Isn’s Just Any Old Barracuda

First, we must understand the vast difference between a ‘Cuda and a Barracuda. In 1969, Plymouth offered a special sports trim for its Barracuda lineup and called it the ‘Cuda. It was based on the “Formula S” model they had been using. (My belief is that they knew they were about to make a clean break with a brand new redesign and E platform, so the company felt the trim should have a new name to build excitement for the third generation of Barracuda).

For 1970, Plymouth offered three trim levels: the base Barracuda, a luxury Gran Coupe, and the sport trim ‘Cuda. Most of the production for that year consisted of base Hardtops/Coupes (22k), although over 16k ‘Cuda hardtops/coupes were made. What wasn’t as popular with buyers were the convertibles which cost about $300 more than the base price for a hardtop model.

The ‘Cuda Has History Of Competing With Ford

When Plymouth needed a car to compete with the up-and-coming new Ford Mustang, they turned to the Plymouth Valiant. in 1964, they created a new fastback version vehicle called the Barracuda. (It was almost called the Panda, but that name was quickly rejected). The first generation Plymouth Barracuda was a modified Valiant with the same front end but a restructured fastback rear end. Though the new A-body Barracuda came out a full two weeks before the launch of the Mustang, it did not outsell the Ford Pony car. (The Valiant Barracuda sold only 23,443 compared to the 126,538 for the Mustang). The second generation Plymouth Barracuda didn’t fare much better, sales were still sluggish.

At the same time as the new Barracuda launch, Chrysler had developed a 7.0L 426 Hemi for its racing applications. The motor performed so well that NASCAR banned it (along with the new 427 SOHC Cammer developed by Ford - more competition). While the reasons for the ban had to do with safety, up until that point, the engine was not being used as a production motor, which violated the rules.

Chrysler began to offer the Hemi in some of their full-size vehicles. An owner had the option of a 436 Hemi for the Satellite and Belvedere in 1966. The powerful engine entered other vehicles across much of the Dodge and Plymouth lineups in subsequent years. (Plymouth did outfit about fifty Barracudas with the 426 Hemi in 1968 for super stock drag racing).

At the height of the muscle pony car era, the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda received an all-new E-platform and a complete redesign for the 1970 MY. With a more comprehensive, lower stance, the car began to look similar to the new Dodge Challenger. (Using the same platform with the Dodge Challenger helped lower production costs). The ‘Cuda trim line was carried over from the previous year, and a new luxury trim, Gran Coupe, was established. The 426 Hemi was offered as an option over the standard 383 V8. (A 440 V8 was also an option). Plymouth Barracuda owners could opt for the optional, more powerful V8s, but to get the 426 Hemi engine, they had to pay an extra 897 dollars and get the ‘Cuda trim.

Customers reacted very well to the new design of the Barracuda, and Plymouth had its best year ever, selling over 55k units. Unfortunately, owners were not motivated to order the Hemi (most wanted to avoid paying the extra fee). They preferred a Coupe/Hardtop over a convertible (likely because of the higher costs). For example, according to production records for 1970, only 14 Hemi ‘Cudas convertibles were built, and only five had a 4-speed manual transmission. In 1971, even fewer drop tops saw the light at the end of the assembly line (Twelve were made, five of them shipped overseas).

Sales dropped by 70% in 1971, which would be the last year for the Barracuda (‘Cuda) convertible. With a total production of over 18k units but only 1800 convertibles across all trim lines, the company felt that making the convertibles was no longer feasible. (They ceased producing any convertibles for any model. While Barracuda sales peaked a bit in ‘73, the following year, Plymouth pulled the plug on the Barracuda and pronounced it dead.

The ‘Cuda Has A Hemi Motor

One of the reasons that a Plymouth ‘Cuda is so memorable is the Hemi motor. Designed as a race engine, with plenty of experience on the drag strip, the motor became a favorite among drag racers. It was a powerful engine for its time, producing 425 hp and scurrying the ‘Cuda down the track in a 5.8 second 0 - 60 mph track time.

The Hemi has a rich connection with Mopar muscle, having seen use in almost every Dodge and Plymouth car in the late 60s and early 70s. At the height of the American muscle era, the 426 Hemi was more than holding its own against the best that Ford and GM could offer.

The ‘Cuda Is Fun To Drive

I realize that driving is an entirely subjective experience, but if you have ever gotten to drive a piece of American Mopar muscle, you know exactly what I mean. The car’s wide, firm stance plants itself into the ground, and the large Hemi growls with anticipation as you step on the gas. The car jumps forward as the rear tires catch the pavement’s surface, and the power snaps your head back into your seat. One only has to drive a Barracuda once to be a believer. This car is about as close to a bonafide religious experience as a person can get.

The interior is leather seating surfaces, and the steering is nice and taut, which is surprising for an older muscle car. Controls are easy to reach, and there is plenty of room for a passenger (although the back seat does seem just a touch small for our tastes.

The ‘Cuda Commands Respect

Part of the swagger that a ‘71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda has comes from the prices potential owners have been willing to pay. There is no question that 4.8 million dollars might seem like a lot to pay, but if the car can bring it, who’s to say it's wrong? (Frankly, the people who yell the loudest are usually Ford owners). The Hemi “Cuda is number five on the all-time list, and if the recent failed transaction is any indication, it won’t be long before that mark.

While the ‘Cuda was well-loved even before the million-dollar mark was blown out of the water in 2007, the fact that it commands such offerings means there is something special about this car. As long as buyers continue to pay, we will keep seeing these beauties storm the auction lines and fetch exorbitant amounts.