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The big E-body Plymouth Barracuda and Cuda: Plymouth’s Challenger

1970 barracudaThe original Plymouth Barracuda was based on the Valiant, and theoretically competed against the Mustang. While critics praised the Barracuda’s handling and ride, comparing it favorably to pricier European exports (expecially in the Formula S), it did not sell well; and the tight engine bay, designed for the slant six, could barely accommodate the small-block 340 V8, much less the company’s big guns.

So, in 1965, Chrysler product planners started working on a new version of the Barracuda (more development rationale and details.) The original Barracuda’s place as a “sportier Valiant” was taken by the Plymouth Duster, whose development started at around the same time. Designer Carl Cameron refined the brand new Barracuda for some time, and, by 1968, they were building prototypes of what would be the 1970 cars.

John Herlitz Barracuda

The E-body Plymouth Barracuda was created by merging A and B body components to fashion a sporty, attractive car that could handle any engine Chrysler had; some sources claim the suspension itself was designed by Bob Bachelor, adapted from one of the turbine cars. In any case, the new Barracuda was nearly the opposite of the original, capable of fitting a 440 or 426 Hemi, but not providing the same sports-car cornering as the older models.

hemi cuda

In the fall of 1969, the nearly identical 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger were introduced; the Dodge was two inches longer in wheelbase than the Plymouth. Both were made in hardtop and convertible versions. The E-bodies had a huge range of powerplants - from the slant six engine to the 426 Street Hemi, with just about every other engine in between, and a choice of four-speed sticks and tough three-speed TorqueFlite automatics.

Herlitz car rear

The 340 engine pushed out a rated 275 hp (gross) and 340 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,200 rpm; the 340 Six Pack (triple two-barrel Carter carburetors) provided the muscle of bigger engines with much lower weight, helping traction and cornering. The 383 was up to 335 gross horsepower standard, with three optional engines: the legendary Hemi (425 hp), the 440 Magnum (375 hp with a single four-barrel carb), and the Hemi-challenging 440 Six Pack, with three two-barrel carburetors (390 gross hp and a stunning 480 lb-ft of torque at a very low 2,300 rpm).

hi cuda

The ‘Cuda, with its 340 six-pack engine, seemed perfect for Trans Am racing, but the package didn't work as well as they had planned; traction remained an issue, and the AAR ‘Cudas, acid-dipped and generally weight-reduced, didn't remain in production long. (A small number were sold to the public, but worksmanship seems to have been unusually poor.) Tom Murden mentioned that the Plymouth 'Cuda was an inch too short for Can-Am, so the Challenger, being two inches longer, was raced there.

hemi engine

A heavy duty TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission was standard on the 440s and Hemi engines, with a four-speed manual as an option; the TorqueFlite could outrun the manual, despite its Hurst pistol-grip shifter and bulletproof Dana 60 rear axle. A limited slip differential, which would be a coveted feature, was optional, but a heavy duty suspension was standard across the R/T line. Even the Hemi was given 15-inch 60-series tires, which today are reserved for economy cars and family sedans.


shaker hoodThe dual-scoop hood pushed air into the engine bay, rather than forcing it into the engine; for that, you need the "shaker" hood, which was essentially an attachment to the air cleaner that protruded through the hood.

For 1971, Barracuda got a new grille designed to suggest barracuda fish teeth; both it and Challenger had quad headlights. Chrome simulated inset louvers were supposed to suggest gils. The tail and reverse lights were modified as well, and large, flat-back decals covering most of the rear quarter panels, with integrated engine size callouts on the doors, were optional; the shaker hood scoop was available on all 'Cuda models ('Cuda was a separate name for high-performance Barracudas). 1971 ended up being the last year for the Barracuda convertible; with just 1,385 convertible sales, one can see why. Production was even more disappointing than in 1970, faling from 54,800 to 18,690.

The highest-performance E-bodies limited to two years only, 1970 and 1971. In 1972 the horsepower ratings fell, and the various B engines disappeared; the 318 became the standard engine on all models with the 340 optional. Electronic ignition became available as an option.

Sox & Martin Plymouth Barracuda Hemi

1973 Plymouth Barracudas

1973 Plymouth Cuda carsThere were few visible differences between 1972 and 1973 Barracudas: the side marker light positions were slightly changed, a 'Cuda body-side stripe had a flat bottom edge, and there were impact-absorbing black rubber bumper guards. The latter didn't detract much from the lines of the original thin-line bumpers. But then, they didn't offer much extra protection either, except in head (or tail-) on situations.

This was a V8-only series this year with the 318 as the standard engine in both the Barracuda and 'Cuda models and a detuned 340--in its final year--optional in both models. Included with the 340 was a non-functional twin scoop hood whether the engine was installed in the Barracuda or 'Cuda. It could also could be ordered with a flat black pattern treatment.

Bucket seats were standard this year. A console and the Rallye Cluster instrument panel remained optionally available. Standard 'Cuda features were the scooped hood, heavy duty suspension, large tires, and a 7-blade Torquefan. But if you ordered a 340 in your base Barracuda, you'd also get these features. It seems only 'Cudas got a body color grille and a black rear valence panel, and, if you wanted all the high-performance appearance features and suspension with a 318 engine, you could get them only if you ordered a 'Cuda.

1971 plymouth cuda

Although greatly downplayed from its splashy 1970 introduction, the Barracuda-Cuda series rebounded to a 22,213 sales total, up from the 18,450 sold in 1972 but less than half the 55,499 1970 total.

The concept "third generation Cuda"

Chad Imthurn wrote that the 1980s concept Cuda was in Mopar Collectors Guide. The white one had red stripes running down the sides that looked like the stripes on the AAR cudas, except that they said CUDA instead of having the AAR shield. The red car had black stripes with black interior, and the white one had a red interior. They had the rear window louvers and ground effect kits from the Shelby Chargers. Both cars were used for a driving school after they were done.

The guys who created the 'Cuda drove it around Chrysler HQ and everbody liked it except for ... Carroll Shelby. He didn't like the idea of Plymouth making their own version of the Shelby Charger; he said it would take away the specialness of owning a Shelby Charger. Since Chrysler didn't want to offend Shelby this early in their relationship, the Cuda was dropped.

Return to the first generation Barracuda • See the projected 2016 SRT Barracuda

AAR ’Cuda

The AAR ’Cuda was a special package available to the public. The 340 ‘Cuda seemed perfect for Trans Am racing, but the package didn't work as well as they had planned; as with the production cars, traction was an issue, and the lightened AAR ‘Cudas didn't remain in production long. A thousand cars, as required, were built and sold to the public, but worksmanship was alleged to be unusually poor. The Challenger was raced in Can-Am, which required longer-wheelbase cars than the ’Cuda.

Ed Poplawski provided the following Product Planning letter, which was used to create the ’Cuda Trans Am (AAR ’Cuda).

aar cuda planning letter

AAR letter

Plymouth Barracuda Specifications

Brakes were drum for each year, with front discs optional. The front suspension was torsion-bar; the rear was leaf-spring.

  1965 (A body) 1968 (A body)  1971 (E body)
Headroom F/R 38.5 / 36.8 37.4 / 35.8  37.4 / 35.7
Legroom F/R 40.6 / 31.1 41.7 / 30.2  42.3 / 28.9
Hiproom F/R 56.9 / 56.4     
Seat Height F/R 7.8 / 10.3    7.3 / 9.7
Wheelbase 106.0 108  108.0
Max Tread 55.9 57.4   
Length 188.2 192.8  186.6
Height 53.5 - 53.8 52.6  50.9

Plymouth Barracuda Engines (1971)

Engine size 225 318 340
Horsepower (gross) 110 @ 4,000 155 @ 4,o00 240 @ 4,800
Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 2,000 260 @ 1,600 290 @ 3,600
Compression ratio 8.4:1 8.6:1 8.5:1

Barracuda Books

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