Detailed Introduction And History

Part two: Barracuda 1967-69

Having invented the muscle car in 1964, GM decided to build bigger and more powerful versions of the "Pony Cars" that Ford and Plymouth had developed.

In 1967 it planned to release the Camaro and Firebird, both which would have a large engine range available up to 396 and 400 cubic inches.

Ford and Plymouth needed to make room in their engine bays to accommodate engines of this size. Both companies redesigned their cars, making them larger in the process. Ford was also releasing the Mercury Cougar, which was bigger, more up-market, than the Mustang and could be had with a 390ci engine. In order to challenge this competition in 1967 Plymouth completely revamped the Barracuda, making it longer and wider. The car no longer shared the Valiant's platform and now came in three body styles, fastback, coupe and convertible.

Milt Antonick was responsible for a great part of the design.

This October '64 clay proposal of his was turned down but became very influential to both Plymouth and Dodge designers and you can see elements of the design in the Dodge Charger as well as the '67 Barracuda.

This second design was mostly the work of John Herlitz, who had just joined Plymouth from GM. There is a lot of GM type styling in this one and it led to a strong phone call from GM to the Plymouth design studio. The split grille however was very Plymouth and was used in the design of the production model.

The final design was as you see here.

The fastback now had a more simple shape to the rear glass, which was flatter. On the coupe models the roofline was different, with a backlight that swept down gracefully to a long deck area. A convertible with a power top rounded off the model line up.

To keep up in the horsepower wars, Plymouth now had four engines on offer. Two of these were high performance Commando V8s. The first was the 273ci engine which was much the same as the previous year. The other was the 383ci big block rated at 280hp. This power level was down compared to the 325hp levels in other Chrysler models mainly because of the restrictive exhaust needed in the engine bay, which was still too tight despite being two inches wider than in the old model.

The 383 powered the Barracuda to mid 14s at 97mph on the drag strip.

Despite the intense competition from Ford, and now GM, the Barracuda held on to an important share of the market, and at 62,534 units, accounted for 10% of all Plymouth sales in 1967.

The engine line up was changed yet again for '68. The 383, now rated at 300hp thanks to better heads, was still offered but the new 340ci small block made a better handling package. Chrysler rated the 340 at 275hp but NHRA officials factored it at 290hp! This lightweight but powerful engine turned the Barracuda into a real little screamer with a broad torque range and high rpm capability. The 273ci engine was replaced with a 318.

On the drag strip, the racers had been stripping down Barracudas for years and fitting huge 392 and 426ci Chrysler Hemi engines. Race cars like these had been very successful so Chrysler, with the help of Hurst Performance, decided to build factory Hemi Barracudas to fight in the highly competitive Super Stock class.

The 1968 Hemi Barracuda is an awesome machine.

To get the 426 Hemi into the car, the right shock tower and the brake master cylinder were moved and the battery relocated to the trunk. The cars had fibreglass hoods and fenders and lightweight steel doors and front bumper. The interiors were stripped almost bare and the cars were sold through dealers with a "sold as seen" understanding and for "drag race use only" with almost no warranty whatsoever. Ronnie Sox was one of the first to get one. He fitted a deep oil pan and a pair of slicks and ran 10s at 130mph right off the trailer!
There were just 70 Hemi Barracudas built.

Ford had not been napping in the horsepower department and had released the 428ci Mustang onto the streets in '68. This made Plymouths 340 and 383 Formula S cars seem inadequate. So for 1969 the 'Cuda model was released. This was to be a Road Runner type of car for the drag racing types. The shortened 'Cuda name had been hip slang for the Barracuda for years amongst young men. For the 'Cuda, the 340 was virtually unchanged but the 383 was given a more aggressive camshaft which generated 330hp at 5,500rpm and 410 lbs.-ft of torque at 3,600rpm.

It was felt though that this was not enough so in April 1969 the 375hp 440 'Cuda was released which (although handling like a cow) could hit 60mph in 5.5 secs and run 14.10 at 104mph in the quarter mile.

There was just no room under the hood of this car for things like power steering or power brakes and all that weight, that far forward, made the car understeer badly.

The '69 340 Formula S however was even more refined than the past models and was a dream to drive on winding roads. It could still pull its weight on the strip too, Hot Rod Magazine clocked 14.32 at 99.7mph in one road test. It remains one of, if not THE best handling American cars of the 1960s. However, sales for Plymouth were down across the board and they sold only 17,788 fastbacks, 12,757 coupes and 1,442 convertibles in 1969. A total redesign was needed to remain competitive.

As the '60s drew to a close, pressure was being brought against high powered cars by the insurance companies and the safety zealots they sponsored. When legislators in Washington started looking into the matter, the car companies quickly decided to drop the high performance cars. However a new generation of cars had already been designed and were ready for introduction in late '69 so the muscle car still had one last moment of glory to come in the beginning of the new decade. 1970 was to be the year all the stops were pulled as the big blocks became the Kings of the Streets. Find out about the birth of the Challenger and the third generation 'Cuda in the next instalment.

PART THREE 1970-1974