By Jim Benjaminson
Plymouth’s muscle-car era reached its zenith with its 1970 Rapid Transit System of five high-performance cars. Aside from the hot Duster 340, to be covered later, the company had the ’Cuda, Road Runner, GTX, and the Sport Fury GT.
The Barracuda was Plymouth’s new car for the year. No longer Valiant-based, it had its own E-body chassis. For the first time Barracuda was a long-hood/short-deck sporty car of the Mustang/Camaro genre; but, unlike its competitors, was not built on a compact car platform. Instead, Chrysler engineers shortened the B-body chassis so that it would more easily accommodate the big engines and heavy-duty axles, brakes, and suspension components the market was now demanding.
The grille was a simple design in argent finish with a single vertical divider. Genuine driving lights flanked the license plate of the ’Cuda. A flat inset valence panel, housing the plate and ribbon tail/back-up lights, was finished in body color on the Barracuda; flat black on the ’Cuda and argent on the Gran Coupe. Protruding through the under-bumper pan were large rectangular exhaust tips on the ’Cuda.
As a regular Barracuda, the car could be docile enough, powered by a 225 Slant Six or 318 V8; some also went for the optional 383 two-barrel engine.
The ’Cuda engine lineup began with a choice of standard 340 or 383 four-barrel V8s and optional 440 and 426 Hemi engines. The engines were identified by numbers on the dual simulated or “shaker” hood scoops, and by optional “hockey stick” stripes on the rear quarters. The fabled Hemi ’Cuda, especially the extremely low-production convertibles, has long been the darling of collectors and extremely high priced, one of the few Mopars to go into seven figures.
Another Barracuda offering was the Gran Coupe, a luxury version with high-level interior appointments and exterior trim. It could be ordered in conjunction with standard or high-performance engines.
A springtime offering was the AAR ’Cuda. Named for the All American Racers company of Dan Gurney, hired to race ’Cudas on the Trans Am circuit, the car was powered by a three two-barrel 340 engine and marked by side-dump exhaust pipes, large rear/small front E70 tires, flat-black paint on the hood and fender tops, and special strobe stripes.
The mid-sized Plymouths, in the third and final season of a styling cycle, bore a few more sheet metal changes than did the previous year’s model.
An “upside-down telephone receiver” loop grille forecast what was to appear in more dramatic fashion the following year. Behind the doors on the coupes were simulated air scoops. A new taillight panel was installed with inward-pointing arrow-shaped tail lamps. The deck lid now opened from above this panel rather than the bumper.
The GTX offered optional stripes that began at the headlights and exited into the rear fender scoop. As a bit a whimsy, the Road Runner bird “ran” out of the scoop, leaving a dusty circular trail all the way to the front of the car.
The muscle models featured a “power-bulge” hood. Optional was the Air Grabber, a functional scoop that opened by vacuum power when needed.
Four-speed manual transmissions were coupled with Hurst shifters topped with an unique pistol grip.
Simply “fantastic” was the Road Runner Superbird. Dominated by a huge rear wing and pointed nose, it could not be missed. A limited production of 1,920 were built (on a one-to-two dealer ratio) to qualify it for NASCAR competition. Actually, it was a Dodge Charger body modified to accept Plymouth pieces such as the side scoops and taillight panel. Still, its wing and nose cone were different from those found on the similar Dodge Charger Daytona. Standard power was the 440; optional was the 426 Hemi. The car enjoyed success on NASCAR tracks, including a Daytona 500 win, before such special bodied cars were virtually banned.
The standard-size (as the line was first called in 1969) Plymouth featured a few changes for the second year of its fuselage body. Grille/bumper and taillight/bumper combos were in style, and Plymouth joined the fashion parade. The loop bumper gave the ’70 Furys a stronger frontal appearance. Headlight doors hid the lamps on the upper trim models. The rear bumper was moved up, and the taillights down, to become a single unit. The modified hood featured twin bulges. On high-performance models, the engine's cubic-inch size was displayed on the bulge edge.
New models included a (contradictory) Sport Fury four-door sedan and the Fury Gran coupe. The latter, a once-lowly two-door-post sedan was fitted with premium appointments. Of the last full-size Plymouth convertible, just 1,952 copies were made.
The new version of the Sport Fury was the GT. With standard 440 and optional 440 six-barrel power, it was marketed as a gentleman’s hot rod in the tradition of the Chrysler 300. For those who wanted the GT look but not necessarily the power was the S/23. It could be ordered with engines ranging from the 318 to the two-barrel or four-barrel 383s.
The fuselage style came to mid-size Plymouths in ’71. Called the Satellite series, it actually was comprised of two mid-size Plymouth lines. The two-door hardtop coupe with a 115-inch wheelbase and the four-door sedan with a 117-inch span where two different cars sharing not one piece of sheet metal.
The dramatically styled coupe was dominated by a huge “telephone receiver” loop bumper. The C-pillars were integral with the rear quarter panels. Large bulges reached out to cover the tires. Inset into the rear bumper were rectangular tail/backup light units.
The Satellite, Sebring, and Sebring-Plus represented the lower to upper trim levels of the standard power coupes. The Road Runner and GTX, likewise, for the high-performance cars. The latter two boasted hoods with non-functional dual inset vents on which the number size of the engine appeared. Optional was a “power-bulge” hood with a functioning vacuum-opening Air Grabber scoop.
The GTX featured wide dramatic stripes flowing out of the standard hood vents and down to the wheels on both sides. Additional strips outlined the lower body character line, up and over the wheels, from front to back. The Road Runner could be had with strobe stripes running over the roof from rear wheel to rear wheel.
Minus a mid-size convertible for the first time, Plymouth offered the coupes with optional sliding-panel sunroofs.
The 383 four barrel, 440 four barrel, 440 six-barrel, and 426 Hemi comprised the Road Runner engine list. The GTX offered all but the 383. The other coupes could be had with 225, 318, and 383 two-barrel and four-barrel engines.
The sedan, a fraternal twin to the coupe, was similarly styled but actually different. Most notably the grille, which hinted at the coupe grille shape, sat above, not within, the bumper. Trim levels ascended from Satellite to Custom to Brougham.
The top wagon received Regent nomenclature. All wagons were styled after the C-body wagons.
The Barracuda received numerous add-on trim changes, causing some detractors to dub it the “J.C. Whitney ’Cuda.”
Some critics had complained that the ’70 Barracuda grille appeared too docile for a performance car. Perhaps overreacting, Plymouth designers created a grille comprised of three D-shaped openings per side to suggest barracuda fish teeth. Flanking the openings were Barracuda’s first and only quad headlights. The grille pan itself was painted argent on most models; body color on others.
Flanking the cowl were chrome simulated inset louvers that suggested fish gills. The tail/back-up lights were changed slightly into two separate units per side.
Optional on ’Cudas were large flat-black decals that covered almost the entire rear quarter panel, ending on the doors where the engine size number was incorporated into the design.
All body styles and engine choices offered in 1970 were repeated for ’71. This was the last year for both the convertible and the Hemi engine. Only 1,014 Barracuda and just 374 ’Cuda convertibles—the very last Plymouth droptop—were sold.
The Barracuda lines took a precipitous fall from a combined production total of 54,799 in 1970 to just 18,690 for 1971.
The standard-size Fury carried on with minimal sheet metal changes. The pillared coupe—almost a hardtop already—was given the standard hardtop roof. A wider C-pillared “formal” hardtop was offered on upper lines. All Furys had ventless side glass. The twin “power bulges” were gone from the hood. The open-headlight grilles slanted in from top and bottom to leave a narrow opening that stretched from side to side. The “headlight door” grille was comprised of four sets of twin ovals with vertical insets. Only 375 Sport Fury GTs, identified by large “GT” letters on the hood, were made. Most popular was the Fury III hardtop sedan.
Plymouth’s first captive import was brought in to engage the Vega and Pinto in the sub-compact wars. A rebadged British-built Hillman Avenger, the Plymouth Cricket appealed to very few buyers over the three years it was offered — fortunately for Chrysler, given its build quality.
The Barracuda, reflecting its drop in sales, was drastically cut in both models and engines. Just the Barracuda and ’Cuda remained, in coupe form only. Engine choices were limited to the 225 and 318 for the plain Barracuda and the 318 and a detuned 340 for the ’Cuda.
The grille returned to a design similar to that of 1970. Simulated driving lamps again served as parking lights. Tail/back-up lights became twin round units—Camaro-style—set within the rear valence panel.
The Satellite series changed little from ’71. Grille textures were different, especially on the Road Runner which seemed to have a ’70 ’Cuda grille installed inside its loop bumper. A new rear bumper exhibited dominant sideways-D shaped taillights.
The slow-selling GTX was dropped, leaving the Road Runner as the sole performance car (other than Duster 340). It was available with the small-block 340 for the first time, although the new 400 (which replaced the 383) was considered the standard Road Runner engine. Optional were 440 four-barrel and six-barrel engines.
The remaining coupe, sedan and wagon lineup remained basically unchanged.
The Fury fuselage body received a major revamping as the hood, fenders, and quarter panels were all redesigned. The latter featured forward-slanting rear wheel bulge sculpting that extended to the rear bumper. This bulge was sculpted from both the front and the back on the “informal” two-door hardtops only.
Dramatic twin-loop front bumper/grilles dominated the front. Both open-headlight and hidden-headlight grilles were available.
The Gran Fury replaced the Sport Fury. The remainder of the model lineup was similar to the previous year but with reduced model offerings.
The standard engine was the 318 with a 400 two barrel and a 440 four barrel as the only options until mid-year when the new 360 small-block V8 was introduced. Chrysler’s new electronic ignition, which saw limited installation on certain ’71 models, was optional on early ’72 cars and was later standard on all V8 engines.
Plymouth toned down the frontal appearance of their mid and full-size offerings by lopping off the loop bumpers in favor of the more conventional grille-over-bumper arrangement. The change was due more to government requirements for energy-absorbing bumpers than style considerations.
The Satellite coupes received new front sheet metal with slightly slanted back headlights surrounded by a bright rectangular bezel. Between was a grille consisting of a double row of rectangles with parking lights set in the lower outer corners. The result was a completely different front end look, more aggressive than the standard Satellites.
The window edge of the C pillar was moved into a nearly vertical position. The lower body character ridge was eliminated. The taillights still resided in the rear bumpers but as inset ovals.
The Road Runner had a large “power bulge” with simulated vents on the forward corners. Stripes on the sides identified the engine size. When a 440 engine was installed, the stripe read “440 GTX.” Although the separate GTX model was dead, its name lingered as the 440 package for the Road Runner.
The Road Runner engine selection ran from the 318 through the 340, 400, and four-barrel and six-barrel 440s. The horsepower ratings of all were down due to emissions and fuel economy considerations.
The Satellite sedans were given a new grille inset. A surface-level, argent-colored panel had a center oval cutout for an egg-crate-patterned grille that was deeply recessed at the ends. The effect was of a more formal appearance.
The tail/back-up lenses were altered into a rectangular pair per side. Flanking the license plate were heavy rubber bumper guards.
Although extensively restyled the previous year, the standard-size Fury received a new hood, grille, bumper, and fender caps. For the first time in five years, hidden headlights were not an option. Each quad light had its own bright bezel and was set in a body color panel. A wide radiator-shape grille resided between them. Its fine, horizontal-bar texture extended into bumper cutouts. To add some character to the much plainer front end was a prominent wide arrow-shaped raised center section stamped into the hood.
The taillights were changed significantly to vertical elongated teardrop-shaped units arising out of the bumper corners. Somehow, they brought to mind 1957. A single-unit rectangular back-up light resided in the upper center of a massive chromed bumper.
As in 1972, the Fury was a V8-only series. The 318 was standard on all models except the Suburban in which the 360 was standard. Other engines available were the 400 two barrel and 440 four barrel.
The Fury I was limited to a single four-door sedan. Fury II had only the sedan and the Suburban wagon. The largest line was the Fury III with the sedan, hardtop coupe, and sedan, and two and three-seat Custom Suburban wagons. The Gran Fury came as a hardtop coupe and sedan as well as two Sport Suburbans.
The Barracuda was still around as base and ’Cuda hardtop coupes and the same selections as 1972. The grille and taillights were unchanged. The side marker light positions were slightly changed. About the only other visible difference was a ’Cuda body-side stripe that had a flat bottom edge.
An all-new Fury greeted the Plymouth buyer for 1974. Unfortunately, following the 1973 gasoline shortage crisis, it was not a good year to promote a large car. With the usual three-year lead time in car development, it was more from lack of luck than foresight that they had a brand-new full-sized car and a seven-year-old compact on the market at the time.
The conservatively styled car was elegantly attractive with square lines and straight sides. Its frontal appearance—forecast by the ’73 Fury—included a grille made up of narrow horizontal bars set between quad lights in bright rectangular bezels. Rectangular “ribbon” taillights dipped into slight recesses in the rear bumper.
Body styles consisted of a four-door sedan, a hardtop coupe, sedan, and two and three-seat wagons. The mid-1970s opera window fad hit Plymouth that spring as the Gran Fury hardtop coupe was modified with vinyl-covered panels in which the small side windows were set.
The 225 six was again available on base Furys. The 360 was the base V8 but cars could be ordered equipped with the 318. The 400 two barrel became the Gran Fury and Suburban standard engine.
The Satellite coupes were only slightly changed with a similar patterned grille that was more recessed than in 1973. The rear bumper lights were triple-square lens unit, the inside lenses serving as back-up lights.
The Sundance was spring special coupe. The Aztec gold or spinnaker white body was set off by ornate filigreed gold stripes that incorporated a sunburst design on the C pillars. This special package lent its name to a Plymouth model some 13 years later.
The Satellite sedans received a new cross-hatch-designed grille insert. All Satellites except the Road Runner came standard with the 225 six. The V8 selections included the 318, 360 four barrel, and 400 four barrel. The big 440 four barrel remained a Road Runner-only option.
In its tenth and final season, Barracuda bowed in with a continuation of its 1973 cars with a couple of changes. The rear side windows on the base Barracuda were fixed, making it a coupe like the Duster. The ’Cuda—now with a 360 replacing the 340—came with a color-keyed grille. With a production of 11,734, the Barracuda became history.
The market was going in a different direction, causing Plymouth to reenter the “truck” market after a 33-year absence. The Voyager and Trail Duster were rebadged renditions of the Dodge Sportsman “window” vans and Ramcharger sport-utility vehicles. Both carried the Plymouth name boldly across blacked-out grille centers. More on these in the next segment...
This book is reprinted with the permission and cooperation of Jim Benjaminson, who holds the copyright to the text and to his photos. Also see his book Plymouth 1946-1959.
Plymouth Commercial Vehicles
Top Ten List and Club Directory
Plymouth 1946-1959: Introduction • Turbines • Diesels • Christine • Dream Cars • Print version1924-1945 • 1946-48 • 1949 • 1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 DeSoto and Plymouth Buyers’ Guide: DeSoto 1929-39 • DeSoto 1940s • DeSoto 1950s • Exports
Plymouth 1928-29 • 1930-34 • 1935-39 • 1940s • 1950s • 1960s • 1970s • Valiant/Barracuda
Acknowledgements • Introduction • Top Ten Lists and Clubs
The compact A-vansThe cutest commercial vans and campers ever seen in the US
DeSoto Buyer’s Guide: the 1930sThe first chapter in Jim Benjaminson’s Illustrated Plymouth and DeSoto Buyers’ Guide
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