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

1970 barracudaThe original Plymouth Barracuda was based on the little Valiant. Despite fine handling, it did not sell well; and the engine bay could barely hold a 340 V8, much less the huge 440.

In 1965, Chrysler started working on a new version of the Barracuda, with the Plymouth Duster to replace it as the “sporty Valiant.” 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.

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

The Styling Story (by Diran Yazejian)

It was a Saturday during the summer of 1967. In the Dodge studio, Elwood Engel was pretty happy with the Challenger proposal designed by Carl Cameron and okayed it to go into the theme approval the following Monday.

Elwood then reviewed four body sides of the Plymouth Barracuda. He didn’t like any of them. He pointed to four people and said, and I paraphrase, “We’re coming in tomorrow (Sunday) to design a car.” They were Milt Antonick, designer; Nick O’Shea, Jack Avoledo, and one other modeler whose name escapes me. On Monday morning, the body side of the ’70 Barracuda, as we know it today, was ready for theme approval.

The world will continue think of it as John Herlitz’s design and legacy and so be it, but he wasn’t even in the building on that Sunday.

Herlitz car rear

John understood and mastered form and surface development like no one else. He obviously did a great deal of refinement, and designed the front end and maybe the rear. I can’t say enough about him as a designer and a gentleman.


In the Spring of 1968, both he and I were promoted to Studio Manager level on the same day, he in Plymouth and I in Dodge, which made us eligible to lease company vehicles ordered per our specifications. For 1970, I ordered and leased a Challenger RTSE coupe with a 440 6-Pack, Plum Crazy with a red stripe on the rear. John leased a Barracuda convertible, triple black, 426 Hemi with a four speed trans. This is the car everyone is going crazy about today. At the end of the year we turned in the old lease and picked up the new lease cars, ’71s. My new one was a Charger and John’s a Satellite, which he did design. With that, the Barracuda went to, who knows where, probably the auction! Remember, during that time nobody wanted performance cars.

hi 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.

The 340 engine pushed out 275 hp (gross) and 340 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm; the 340 Six Pack (triple two-barrel Carter carburetors) had the muscle of bigger engines with lower weight, helping traction and cornering.

The 383 was up to 335 gross horsepower standard. Buyers could also get 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).

hemi engine

With the 340 engine, the ‘Cuda 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, though acid-dipped and weight-reduced, didn’t remain in production long. (A small number were sold to the public, with reportedly poor worksmanship.) 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.

A heavy duty TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission was standard on the 440s and Hemi engines, with a four-speed manual (boasting a Hurst pistol-grip shifter and bulletproof Dana 60 rear axle) as an option; the TorqueFlite could outrun the manual.

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, the Barracuda got a new grille designed to suggest barracuda fish teeth; both the E-bodies had quad headlights. Simulated chrome inset louvers suggested gills. The rear lights were modified, and large, flat-black decals covering most of the rear quarter panels, with 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 sales. Production was much more disappointing than in 1970, faling from 54,800 to 18,690.

In 1972, 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.

There were just two engines, the 318 standard engine in both the Barracuda and ’Cuda, and a detuned 340 optional in both. Included with the 340 was a non-functional twin scoop hood. It could also could be ordered with a flat black pattern treatment.

Bucket seats were standard. A console and the Rallye Cluster instrument panel remained options. Standard ’Cuda (and 340) features were the scooped hood, heavy duty suspension, large tires, and a 7-blade Torquefan. 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. Two cars were made with 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.

First generation Barracuda

AAR ’Cuda

The AAR ’Cuda was an option package for the public to allow racing in Trans Am. A thousand cars, as required, were built and sold to the public. 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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