Why Are Cudas So Expensive?

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The ‘70-’71 Plymouth ‘Cuda Hemi convertible is one of the most iconic cars in automotive history, fetching millions of dollars. Why are ‘Cudas so expensive?

A Plymouth ‘Cuda convertible with a 426 Hemi and manual transmission is so expensive due to the limited number of models available. With only a handful of these cars made each year (‘70 and ‘71), the car exudes American muscle, selling for millions of dollars on the auction block.

If you follow auto auctions, you have probably seen a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda tends to make headlines. These icons of American muscle have rolled over the auction block in recent years, fetching jaw-dropping figures. In 2007, at a Barrett-Jackson event, one beautiful blue convertible fetched $2.2 million, and the collective classic car world gasped. Then, in 2014, another with numbers matching went for 3.5 million, and another shock wave hit. Shortly afterward, a black-on-black beast (1970 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible, one of nine fitted with the automatic Torqueflite transmission) sold for $2.2 million. And best of all, recently, a French owner put a Winchester gray ‘71 ‘Cuda convertible on sale but wouldn’t sell it despite a $4.8 million high bid because it failed to make the reserve. What on earth is happening with these muscle cars? Why is these particular ‘Cudas so expensive? Why is any ‘Cuda from 70 or 71 priced so high? Let’s explore that topic to determine why everyone seems to be losing their heads over a car made over fifty years ago.

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The Development Of The Plymouth ‘Cuda

When Ford announced the development of a new compact pony car in the mid-sixties (named the Mustang), Plymouth needed a model to compete for the wallets of younger American buyers.

A Car By Any Other Name

To accomplish this task, they turned to one of their sedans, the Valiant, and after redesigning a fastback version, they rushed the new car into production. The Plymouth Barracuda (it was almost called the Panda) debuted a full two weeks ahead of the Mustang, and since it shared many components with one of their current models, production costs could be managed, and not much of their factory operation needed to be changed to produce the car.

During the first two generations (1964 - 69), the Barracuda shared components with the Valiant, even though Plymouth tried to make the Barracuda its own entity. In 1969, a new trim level was offered, a sport trim version called the ‘Cuda. The car would be fashioned with several V8 engines, improved suspension, and a stout rear end and marketed as the performance end to appeal to young muscle car lovers.

The Barracuda Breaks Free

With the advent of the third generation, the Barracuda became its own. Breaking free of the constraints of previous models, the car was redesigned with a longer, wider stance, more aggressive features, and new engines. The ‘Cuda trim level was retained, and a 426 Hemi engine (Plymouth had been banned from using in NASCAR races in 1965 but now was featuring in their full-sized lineup) was offered.

Would You Like A Hemi With Your ‘Cuda?

Plymouth charged extra for the Hemi engine (a $897 add-on), and some of the production vehicles in 1970 and 1971 were made with it. Most ‘Cudas were made with the 383 V8 and automatic transmission, but a scant few came from the factory with one of the other V8 choices (340 V8, 440 V8, or the 426 Hemi). Owners had their choice of coupe/hardtop or convertible and, if they wished, could have their car built with a 4-speed manual transmission. (These manual transmission Hemi ‘Cudas seem to be bringing the most money at the auction block).

Nobody Wants A Convertible

Plymouth had a banner year in 1970, producing over 55k units, but shockingly only a few were convertibles. Of the total ‘Cuda production for the year (548), only 14 Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles were made, 5 with manual transmission and 9 with an automatic. Production records show only 51 ‘Cuda was manufactured with the 440 V8.  Plymouth produced even fewer in 1971, with 7 Hemi convertibles manufactured (some reports indicate 11 or 12, with five sent overseas).

The End Of An Icon

Sales for the 1971 Barracuda dipped to a mere 18,640 units, a 70% decline. The Barracuda was in free-fall, which prompted Plymouth to drop the less popular choices, like the Hemi engine. While the car saw a brief glimmer of hope in 1973, as sales spiked, by 1974, this iconic muscle car had run its course, and Plymouth pulled the plug (primarily in response to the Arab oil crisis, which sent the price of gasoline skyrocketing). After a 10-year run, the company rolled its last Barracuda off the line ten years to the day it had begun.

Why Is A Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible So Expensive?

There are a variety of reasons why this car attracts much attention at the auction house.

The Limited Production

The biggest reason a Plymouth ‘Cuda convertible with a Hemi engine is so pricey is the limited number of units made. With only a handful of convertibles produced, availability is scarce. As any classic car consumer knows, the rarest muscle cars tend to be the most coveted.

The ‘Cuda Is A Powerful Rare Muscle Car

The 426 Hemi was developed in the mid-sixties for Plymouth’s racing applications. After encountering success, Nascar banned the engine in 1965 as being too much (their concerns were that the car’s power would overpower the tires and create safety issues). The new Ford engine was also banned as Nascar tried to make things fair for everyone.

Plymouth began to use the 426 Hemi in some of its full-size models in 1966. Plymouth offered the Hemi in its Road Runner and Satellite/GTX models. Early ads advertised it as a way of getting some of the same power as Richard Petty (a famous race car driver). The 426 Hemi was a brute on the track, pushing 425 horsepower (which many people thought was underreported. The ‘Cuda Hemi proved itself on the track pushing the car down the straight in 5.8 seconds at 0 - 60 mph. Unfortunately, the 426 Hemi would be dropped from both Dodge and Plymouth models after 1971.

The ‘Cuda Looks Like A Muscle Car

The ‘Cuda checks the muscle car design boxes. This car looks aggressive with a wide stand, low profile, and iconic shaker hood scoop to the inverted hockey stick accent on the rear quarter panels. The car shared an E-body with the Dodge Challenger, had similarities with the Road Runner, and was well-built. The 426 Hemi looked like a racing motor, and Plymouth reminded consumers of the connection between stock cars and drag racing.

The ‘Cuda Is Just Fun To Drive

If you have ever driven a muscle car like the ‘Cuda convertible, you know what a blast it is to drive. (We think any convertible ever made is a fun driving experience, just saying). The ‘Cuda was nicely equipped with power steering and brakes (although power locks and windows were not available for the ‘Cuda during the Hemi years). The seats were leather, the steering wheel comfortable, the Rallye dash was an option, and other amenities felt right. With adequate muscle under the hood, wide tires, and a ride that holds the road with the best muscle cars on the planet, the ‘Cuda convertible needs to be driven. It begs for someone to get behind the wheel.

When The First One Falls, The Rest Follow

One of the primary reasons that a ‘71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible is so expensive is that someone was willing to pay $2.2 million for the privilege of owning one. While it might have surprised most of the classic collectors, it only takes one big money mover to rise the tide for others. If the first ‘Cuda to reach the million-dollar milestone has sold for a lot less, we would have a much different conversation. The reason that so many of these ‘Cuda with manual trannies sell so high is that potential buyers are willing to pay such exorbitant prices. I am not saying owning a piece of Mopar muscle isn’t worth a million bucks. This is a car we can only dream about owning for most of us.