Plymouth Barracuda – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review - Muscle Car

Plymouth Barracuda – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

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Written by Elise

15th October 2020

Plymouth Barracuda – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review
Blog   >    Car Models   >   Plymouth Barracuda – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

Plymouth Barracuda – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

By Charlotte Iggulden

Barracuda [ber-ə-ˈkü-də]: A large, predatory fish found in warm water. Fast and slender, it has an aggressive appearance and behaviour.

Reflected in its logo, Plymouth Barracuda and its aggressive incarnation ‘Cuda are frequently cited alongside the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro as a legendary pony car and iconic muscle car. To find out why, here is our short car review, looking at the model years and specs that made this car one of the most popular American classic cars to this day. 


History and Background 

The early sixties were a time of economic plenty and optimism, with the ‘Big Three’ American automobile manufacturers Chrysler, Ford and Chevrolet, competing to dominate the youth market with affordable, mid-size performance cars. 

Introduced on 1st April 1964, the Plymouth Barracuda was the first pony car, launched two weeks before Ford’s long bonnet, short-rear Mustang

Due to Chrysler’s limited budget, the Barracuda was a hardtop two-door fastback version of their compact car, Plymouth Valiant, with the largest rear window glass ever fitted to a production car. 

Characteristic of the burgeoning muscle car era was Chrysler’s range of performance ‘tick-box’ options, giving a custom-made appearance. 


First-generation (1964-66) Barracudas had 106inch wheelbase, small-block engines, and powertrains (power-generating components ie engine and transmission) identical to the Valiant’s. The highest performance option in ‘64 was the popular 273 cubic inch displacement (cid) LA V8, making it faster than a Mustang

Mopar (Motor Parts) muscle power culminated in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with special performance packages and 440cid, transforming the Barracuda into rear wheel drive coupe and legendary muscle car. ‘70-74 ‘Cuda’s had a Chrysler E-body, sharing a similar design to the Dodge Challenger R/T and the same 383 engines.

Barracudas and ‘Cudas were not interchangeable. Barracudas did not have a hemi engine with hemispherical-shaped combustion chambers. The ‘Cuda was the high-performance derivation with 426 hemi big-blocks, or ‘426 hemi’. The 426 Super Stock hemi was the notorious power behind 26 drag racing records in one season and 11.39 second ¼ mile time, alongside Richard Petty’s ‘67 NASCAR Championship win.


Muscle car marketing was full of entertaining bravado, with Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and Plymouth flexing their muscles. Chrysler’s advertisements for the ‘70’s hemi ‘Cuda was: “our angriest body wrapped around’ ol King Kong himself.”

Plymouth Barracuda Specs

The 1964 Plymouth Barracuda included two versions of Chrysler’s inline Slant-6 cylinder (I6) engine, with standard 170cid (2.8L), 100hp, and optional 225cid (3.7L), 140hp. The new 273cid (4.5L) LA V8 (wedge-shaped chambers with overhead valves) produced 180 hp, 0-60mph in 8-13 seconds. 

Four-speed manual was standard from 1964-66, with ‘64 offering the first and last year for push-control on optional Torqueflite automatic transmission. Base price $2,512. 23,443 produced.

The 1965 Plymouth Barracuda base engine was a 225cid ‘six pack’ in the US (170 in Canada). The 273cid was upgraded to a Commando V8, increasing power output to 235hp. The inaugural Formula ‘S’ package included the Commando, with heavy-duty springs and shocks, and wide-rim 14-inch wheels.

The 1966 Barracuda was available as 170cid; 225cid and 273cid. 


The ‘67 Barracuda had a base 225cid, with the choice between two-and-four-barrel 273cid. Convertibles were introduced with the aggressive Formula S 383cid (6.3L) B V8, 280bhp. Second-generation models had a 108-inch wheelbase.

Fifty 1968 fastbacks had 426cid (7L) Hemis for Super Stock drag racing. 225cid and 273 were replaced by a 318cid 5.2L LA, 230hp engine, and new 340cid 5.6L LA lightweight four-barrel. The 383 Super Commando had Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Super Bee intake manifolds, camshafts, and cylinder heads, but was restricted to 300bhp. 0-100mph in 14.5 seconds.


The new 1969 ‘Cuda package, based on the Formula S, was limited to performance variants with 340, 383, and the 440cid, four-barrel Super Commando V8, a result of Plymouth’s collaboration with Hurst/Campbell. The 440 boasted the largest engine displacement of any pony car before, producing 375hp at 4600 rpm and 480 torque at 3200 rpm. 

The 1969 ‘Cuda was ‘shoehorned’ into fastbacks and coupes, overcrowding the engine bay and preventing the inclusion of power steering and power brakes. Instead of a four-speed manual, engineers fitted Torqueflite from Plymouth’s family cars. 57% of weight over the front axle meant poor manoeuvrability at low speed. 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds, with 14.01 second ¼ mile at 104mph. 

The 1970 ‘Cuda’s standard 383cid Magnum matched the Dodge Challenger R/T, Super Bee and Plymouth Road Runner. Other V8 choices included 340cid, 275hp and wedge-shaped RB engines: 440cid 375hp and 440+6 390hp. 

The ‘70 Hemi ‘Cuda 426cid produced 425hp at 5000 rpm, and 490 lb-ft torque at 4000 rpm. 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds, with a fast ¼ mile time: 13.41 seconds at 104.6mph. 652 produced. $5400.

Both the 1970 AAR Cuda and Dodge Challenger T/A were built to qualify their Trans Am racing versions. 

The street AAR (All American Racers) were true muscle cars, with 340cid 290 bhp at 5000 rpm and 345 torque at 3400 rpm. It handled well in straight lines: 14.4 second ¼ mile at 99.5mph, and 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds, but vulnerable to understeer, with 56% weight on front. Track AARs had 305cid, 440bhp four-barrel V8s at $4340 with 2,724 produced. 

Performance engine compression ratios were reduced in 1971, except for the 426cid and 440 RB V8s. It was the last year for the 426 hemi, with no AAR Cuda made that year. Increased emissions and safety regulations meant only small-blocks were offered in ‘72 until the Barracuda was discontinued in 1974.

Plymouth Barracuda Model Variants

First-generation ‘64-66 Barracudas were based on the reliable ‘50s four-door family sedan Plymouth Valiant. Plymouth utilised Chrysler’s A-body platform and chassis, changing the front end. Wraparound glass made the car extremely hot but ensured great visibility. Bucket seats were standard. Its similarity to the Valiant may have influenced its 23,443 sales in ‘64, compared to the Mustang’s 126,538.

The 1965 exterior matched the ‘64. 1966 Plymouth Barracuda had slight restyling, with egg-crate grilles, special blue streak tires, new taillamps and Barracuda fish logo. 

Second generation

1967 Plymouth Barracuda shared the Valiant design but also sported John E. Herlitz and John Samsen’s coke-bottle contours and smaller rear glass panel. Convertibles were produced, with power hoods.

’68 had round side lamps. ‘69 models had non-functional hood scoops, available as two-door hardtop coupes, fastbacks, and convertibles. The Plymouth Duster succeeded the sporty Valiant-Barracuda.

Third generation

The 1970 Plymouth Barracuda was redesigned on a Chrysler E-body. No longer Valiants, they shared the Dodge Challenger’s styling, aside from the latter’s two-inch longer wheelbase. 

70-71 models were base Barracudas, luxury Gran Coupes and sporty Cudas. The performance variant was a mean ‘Cuda within the ‘Rapid Transit System,’ boasting engine displacements on the hood scoop. The 426 Hemi simply said ‘hemicuda’. 


‘70s Cudas were striking: 440s had optional inverted hockey sticks, functional shaker hoods and black or blue interiors. With High-Impact colours like Lemon Twist, Sassy Green, In-Violet or ‘Plum Crazy,’ Blue Metallic, Tor-Red, and Lime-Light, the Cuda’s non-conformist image guaranteed its owner stood out from the crowd. 654 hardtops (of 17,242 built) and 14 convertibles (of 550) were hemis. 


The 1970 AAR ‘Cuda had bucket seats, Hurst pistol-grip or slap-stick shifter and wood-grain steering wheel. Its exotic exterior included a liftoff fibreglass hood, functional hood scoop, side stripes, and oversized rear tires to clear the side exhaust pipes. 


1971 hemi ‘Cuda had shaker hoods and pins, fender gills and lights, pistol/slap-stick grip, and four headlights. 374 convertibles built, with 5 automatics. Eleven convertibles had the 426 hemi, with three having 4-speed manual. 


1972 and 1973 Plymouth Barracuda had new grilles and round taillights, remaining the same until new stripes were added in ’74.

1970-1974 Cudas and limited production convertibles are the most valuable. A numbers-matching (original engine with body), four-speed blue 1971 hemi ‘Cuda convertible reached a record $3.5 million at Mecum Auctions in June 2014, becoming the most expensive hemi ‘Cuda ever sold. In 2019, a rare ’70 yellow hemi ‘Cuda convertible sold for $1.98 million.

Plymouth Barracuda in Popular Culture

Nash Bridges

A yellow 1971 hemi ‘Cuda convertible with white interior lends a macho presence to the 1996-2001 television series, bequeathed to San Francisco police officer Bridges by his brother, who is deployed in Vietnam. Simultaneously aggressive and sunny, the flashy ‘Cuda is “probably the finest muscle car ever made on the planet,” projecting Nash’s assertive personality and amateur magician skills.


Did you know? Five 1970-1971 ‘Cuda and Barracuda convertibles, plus an FX ‘73 coupe-turned-convertible, were transformed into ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles for the series. All had 318-440cid engines, rather than hemis.

Actor Don Johnson, of Miami Vice success, revealed that USA Network was developing a two-hour Nash Bridges film, though it’s not clear whether the ‘Cuda will return. 

Fast and Furious

A modified black 1970 Plymouth AAR hemi ‘Cuda is seen parked on Toretto’s driveway in the sixth instalment. In the seventh, Letty uses it to win a quarter mile drag race at ‘Race Wars’ against an Audi R8. Its good looks and angry grunt give it an imposing presence on both the street and track.


|| Fun fact: The film’s ‘70 ‘Cuda was built by Dave Salvaggio in the ‘90s, with additional horsepower. 

2021 Dodge Barracuda: Unconfirmed rumours suggest the car’s return under the Dodge brand, with the look of the original. 



Buying advice: The Barracuda and its performance variant ‘Cuda can be identified by their VIN code (vehicle identification number). Barracuda VINs begin with BH (Barracuda High) and Cuda VINs begin BS (Barracuda Special).

Initially a heavily-disguised Valiant, the Plymouth Barracuda resulted in depleted sales. However, its efficient small-block and performance packages enabled its transformation into the aggressive 1969 ‘Cuda 440cid: the largest displacement engine ever for a pony car. It achieved muscle car status in the ‘70-71 model years, with Mopar’s infamous 426cid hemi and distinctive looks. 

This car review can assert that all Barracudas are collectable classics, with first generation models relatively affordable and their engine parts readily available. Both variants are sold as low as five or six figures through private sellers, auction-houses, car dealerships, or publications like Hemmings. 

The car’s enduring legacy is reflected in popular culture. As Nash Bridges would say in his Official ‘Cuda Rules: “No eating, no drinking, no smoking, no profanity, no sweating, no disrespect of any kind, while you’re in or around the ‘Cuda.”

Author: Charlotte Iggulden

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