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The Plymouth Barracuda: First Pony (Fish?) Car

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From an article by Doug Zwick with material by Allpar and by Lanny Knutson.

The Barracuda beat the Mustang to market by two weeks (April 1, 1964). A Valiant-based A-body from 1964 through 1969, it was replaced with the larger E-body version for 1970-74. (Development rationale and details.)

The Valiant Barracudas (thanks, Jim Deane, for additions)

Irving Ritchie, in the design studio, had the idea for making a sporty fastback version of the Valiant; it wasn't just a copy of the Ford Mustang, essentially the same idea applied to the Falcon, and at the same time.

Unlike the Mustang, the 1964 Plymouh Barracuda was considered a Valiant, with a base 225 slant 6 and optional 180 horsepower (gross), 273 cubic inch V8. The V8 Barracudas would run 0-60 in 12.9 sec, and the quarter mile in 17.8 @ 72 mph, with an automatic (Car Life, July 1964). Gas mileage was 16-19. While most Valiants were sixes, 90% of buyers 1964 Barracudas were ordered with the V8.

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1964 was the only year that Barracuda had Plymouth, Valiant, and Barracuda badging. It also had the Valiant symbol used throughout instead of the later fish. Despite strong reviews for the Barracuda, the inexpensive, more clearly unique (as opposed to sedan-based) Ford Mustang outsold the Valiant model by 8:1.

See the end of the page for 1965 specifications and a Plymouth Barracuda ad.

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By the end of the first generation (after the 1966 model year), the Commando 273 V8 - introduced in 1965 with the Formula S - was producing 235 HP. With 3.23:1 gears it would propel the Barracuda to 60 MPH in 10.3 sec, with the quarter coming up in 17.7 @ 79 MPH. (Road & Track, March 1966). Car & Driver got 0-60 in 9.1, and 1/4 mile in 17.6 @ 81 MPH (C&D, June/66). Both test cars had automatics.

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The Barracuda Formula S made a name for itself with its ability to corner better than most American (and European) cars; it provided a nice balance of acceleration and handling, with a European feel. Introduced in 1965, the Formula S had stiffer springing, front anti-roll bar, special badging, and most importantly, the 'Commando 273' engine, putting out a 'conservative' 235 hp. (Jim Deane wrote that most engine simulation programs put the Commando 273 at much higher levels.)

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Engines were the same in 1965 and 1966. The 4 speed was available from the introduction.

Motor Trend tested an 1965 model with 3.55 gears and a 4-speed at 0-60 in 8.0 seconds, and the 1/4 mile in 16.1 @ 87 (MT, Jan/65). Though roughly the same as a 1995 Neon stick, these were excellent times for the day, when 0-60 in 12 seconds was considered pretty good (despite all those muscle cars, which were by no means what everyone drove).

The first separate Plymouth Barracuda cars

Deeper into the 1967 Plymouth Barracuda

For 1967 the Barracuda was completely redesigned, and no longer shared any sheet metal with the Valiant. A coupe and convertible were added to the line. The engine bay of the A body was enlarged, so the 383 would fit (and fit it did, starting in 1967), and the 340 could be made optional in 1968. The 225 CID six would generate 0-60 times of 13.6 sec, and 1/4 mile in 19.4 @ 69.8 mph. The 273 V8 did 0-60 in 9.2 sec, quarter-mile in 16.9 @ 85.6 mph. Both test cars were automatics and 3.23:1 gears. (Car Life, March 1967)

Because the engine bay was not that large, the 383 ended up with just 280 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, down from the 325 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque seen in the bigger Belvedere and Fury.

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The new Barracuda, the product of the design team of Plymouth Chief Stylist Dick McAdam, was Chrysler's first application of the flowing-curves style introduced by General Motors in 1965, largely because Barracuda didn't have a sedan to compromise its sporty styling. The new Barracuda seemed purposely designed for the fastback style and, in a reversal of 1964, the hardtop and convertible seemed to be afterthoughts.

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With the three body styles, Barracuda matched Mustang, which had been marketing
hardtops, fastbacks, and convertibles since 1965. However, Plymouth decided
not to match Mustang's long-hood-short-deck dimensions that had also been
adopted by the new-for-1967 Cougar, Camaro and Firebird. Ironically, Plymouth had championed the long-hood/short-deck
style on its 1960 Valiant and 1962 Plymouth, but had quickly abandoned it.

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When Barracuda finally adopted the accepted sporty car
dimensions in 1970, its profile appeared similar to that of the 1967 Camaro
while, in another irony, the new 1970 Camaro sported a fastback roof that
seemed to be a direct copy from the 1967 Barracuda.

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Thus, for all its new good looks, the Barracuda suddenly seemed a bit out of style. A driver sat higher in a Barracuda than in its competitors, comfortably practical but not as sporty.

Restrictive exhaust manifolds (due to the tight engine bay space) helped keep the 383's horsepower down to 280, compared to its 325 hp counterpart in the bigger Plymouths. (The 325 hp version apparently did become available in the Barracuda later in the model year.) The big engine left room for neither air conditioning nor the power steering that would have been especially welcome in such a front-heavy car. Changing spark plugs on a hot engine was difficult. On the other hand, a relatively stock 1968 383 Barracuda ran the quarter in 14.20 @ 100+, using 3.23:1 gears and a 4-speed (Performance for the Chrysler Car Enthusiast, March 1992).

The 340 cubic inch engine used starting in 1968 provided the best of both worlds: relatively light weight with amazing speed. A 1969 road test clocked the 340 A-fish at 7.1 sec 0-60, and 14.93 @ 96.6 in the quarter.

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The big news for 1968 A-bodies was the Super Stock 426 Hemi package, available in the Dart and Barracuda; around 50 of the latter were produced. This was a drag race only package, featuring a race-tuned Hemi and a seriously lightened body with acid-dipped doors, Lexan in place of glass, factory delete of anything not essential to life on the drag strip (e.g. back seat, sound deadener, window cranks). Lightweight van seats on aluminum brackets were used in place of the factory bench. They had a little sticker which indicated that the car was not for use on public highways, but for "supervised acceleration trials" only. It ran the quarter in the mid 10s in '68. Today [well, in the mid-1990s, when this paragraph was written], these cars dominate the top NHRA Super Stock classes (SS/A and SS/AA), and have broken into the eights! (Mopar Muscle Apr/94, Mopar Action Dec/93, Mopar Action Apr/94, Chrysler Power Mar/94). Spaulding Dodge also produced some 440 Barracudas in 1968, but these weren't true factory packages, even if they did masquerade as a "dealer installed option."

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Closer look at Rich Rinisland's 1969 Plymouth Barracuda.

1969 saw the first appearance of the 'Cuda designation for a performance Barracuda package. A limited number of 440 Darts and Barracudas were produced. Car Life tested the 'Cuda 440 at 0-60 in 5.6 sec, and 14.0 @ 103 in the quarter mile. They were disappointed; they just couldn't get the car to hook up, it kept spinning the tires instead of racing down the track. (Car Life, June/69). Another period road test, reprinted in Musclecar magazine, backs up the 14-flat quarters, but they also tried it with ten-inch slicks, and ran low 12s. Modern street tires are better than those slicks ...

The final Barracudas kept numerous reminders of their Valiant roots, in their basic exterior dimensions and dashboard shape, as well as a considerable amount of small hardware, but they were differentiated far enough that casual buyers would probably not see the similarities. Their place as "sporty Valiants" was taken over by the much more successful Plymouth Duster; while their name was applied to a much bigger car, one that could easily handle a 426 Hemi or 440 Six-Pack. Those Plymouth Barracudas or 'Cudas are in the next section... (click here)
1970-74 Plymouth Barracuda and 'Cuda
Dodge Challenger2016 SRT Barracuda?


Hot rod builder George Poteet piloted his 1969 Blowfish Barracuda, powered by a Mopar 4-cylinder Midget engine and a Mopar Performance P5 Hemi head, to a new record in the Blown Fuel Competition Coupe/Sedan Class F with a run of 255.7 mph in August 2006. The pass bettered the previous record of 230 mph, set in 1990, by 25 mph.

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The Blowfish Barracuda project was first conceived during the 2004 Autorama in Detroit by Poteet and fellow car builder Troy Trepanier. Trepanier, along with his father Jack, built the car at their shop, Rad Rides by Troy, based in Illinois. Dodge Motorsports engineer Terry Dekoninck worked on aerodynamics with the group, with Mopar Performance engineer Jim Szilagyi also helping on the build as designer of the Mopar 4-cylinder Midget engine used in the 1969 Barracuda.

The group, certain the record would fall entering the event, decided to run the car conservatively at about 950 horsepower but was confident another 500 horsepower could be added with slight modifications, enabling the Blowfish to run in the 280-plus mph range.

Barracuda feedback and reviews

1968 Barracuda 340-S (Steve Kokkins)

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I owned a blue 1968 Barracuda 340-S fastback from 1969 thru 1974. It had a 4-speed stick, 4-barrel Carter carb, a posi rear end, manual steering (!), and no A/C. I can personally attest to the great combination of decent handling (even with the Red Line stock tires) and power, although by modern standards it was fairly nose-heavy. Much better than the 383 which my buddy owned. I live in the Boston metro area, bought the car w/15K on it from Post Motors, a defunct Watertown MA Mopar dealer for about $2800.

The manual steering was very heavy for parking and the clutch was heavy also (needed to transmit the torque, which was prodigious.) I had to sell it when I developed kneecap tendon problems from too-zealous workout squats, and could not use the clutch for any length of time. The gas crisis of '73 was a factor too. It required premium fuel. I miss it dearly today, and I regret selling it 35 years ago with 85,000 on it (for $600, and it needed work at the time).

One thing not mentioned in your tech info was that it had a dual point distributor which wasn't easy (at least for me) to set up. One set determined the opening, and the other the closing; the dual points were needed, I think, to get enough current thru the coil. I still have some of the N9Y Champion plugs for it. I put on transistorized ignition to extend point life, although the rubbing blocks wore, requiring re-timing each year.

In the snow (weekend ski runs up to Vermont), studded snow tires were needed on all four corners. Back then, you could get studded front winter tires, which did not have the huge aggressive tread of the rears, so handling on drier roads was not too scary. I remember some coming out like pistol shots at 85 mph, but it was the usual rear-drive muscle car in its behavior, which required a sensible attitude. I had just started being a pilot then (still am, with the geezer part of the US Coast Guard), so a little snakiness in the handling at speed was valuable for developing a light touch on the controls. We slept in it too, folding the seats down. I was in SCCA driving a Turner GT in D-Production, so it towed the race car trailer fine.

1969 Barracuda 383 (Darrell Walls )

I'm 60 years old and the only new car I ever bought was a 1969 Barracuda Coupe with a 383 and 4 speed with 323 gears. I out run most every thing I run except one 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440. With his automatic trans he pulled me about a half car link and we stayed that way up to around 140 to 145 mph; we ran out of road and that was the only loss my Cuda ever handed me. Pound for pound, this was one hell-of-a-ride. I kept it 36 months and like a nut thought I needed something different. The only thing I ever did performance wise was to put a set of Mickey Thompson Super Scavenger headers on it. It was already fast, but this really helped, at least I thought it did. It also was a Formula S.


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/R38.5 / 36.837.4 / 35.837.4 / 35.7
Legroom F/R40.6 / 31.141.7 / 30.242.3 / 28.9
Hiproom F/R56.9 / 56.4
Seat Height F/R7.8 / 10.37.3 / 9.7
Max Tread55.957.4
Height53.5 - 53.852.650.9
Plymouth Barracuda Engines (1964-65)

Engine225273273 Commando
Horsepower (gross)145 @ 4,000180 @ 4,200235 @ 5,200
Torque (lb-ft)215 @ 2,400260 @ 1,600280 @ 4,000
Compression ratio8.4:18.8:110.51
Bore x stroke3.40 x 4.1253.625 x 3.313.625 x 3.31
NoteChosen by 90% of
buyers in 1964
Not available in 1964
0-6012.9 (auto, 2.73:1)
Quarter mile17.8 @ 72 mph
(auto, 2.73:1)
Plymouth Barracuda Engines (1968)

Engine size225318340383
Horsepower (gross)145 @ 4,000230 @ 4,400275 @ 5,000300 @ 4,200
Torque (lb-ft)215 @ 2,400340 @ 2,400340 @ 3,200425 @ 3,200
Compression ratio8.4:19.2:110.5:110.0:1

1970-74 Plymouth Barracuda and 'CudaDodge Challenger
Barracuda Books

Page updated/fixed David Zatz, January 18, 2021


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