The Big Three weren’t slow to cash in on the Sixties’ youth boom. Ford couldn’t keep its Mustang project secret and the Chrysler Corporation desperately wanted a piece of the action. But it had to work fast. It took its existing compact, the Plymouth Valiant, prettied up the front end, added a dramatic wrap-around rear window, and called it the Barracuda.
It hit the showroom carpets in April 1964, two weeks before the Mustang. A disarming amalgam of performance, poise, and refinement, Plymouth had achieved a miracle on the scale of loaves and fishes—it made the Barracuda fast, yet handle crisply and ride smoothly. The 273cid V8 made the car quicker than a Mustang, but that bizarre rear window dated fiercely and Mustangs outsold Barracudas 10-to-one. Plymouth believed the long-hood-short-trunk “pony” formula wouldn’t captivate consumers like a swooping, sporty fastback. Half a million Mustang buyers told them they’d backed the wrong horse.
The greenhouse interior got hot on sunny days but was well detailed and enormously practical. Standard fare was bucket seats and bucket-shaped rear bench seat. Instruments were matte silver with circular chrome bezels. The padded dash was a $16.35 extra, as was a wood-grain steering wheel.
Power brakes were standard, with big drums front and rear.
Optional was Chrysler’s new Hurst-linkage manual transmission.
In ’67 a convertible was added with power hood and real glass window.
New Sure-Grip differential was offered as an extra to buyers.
ACRES OF GLASS
The fastback glass wrapped down to the rear fender line and was developed by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company; it was the largest use of glass in any production car to date. As a result, visibility was epic.
Massive window earned the ’Cuda top marks for safety.
Compared with the Mustang, the Barracuda’s front was busy, cluttered, and lacked symmetry, but it was a brave and bold design. Had the Mustang not been launched in the same month, things might have been very different.
Remote-controlled outside side mirror was a $12 convenience option.
Prismatic day-and-night mirror could be adjusted to deflect annoying headlight glare at night.
SELLING THE WHEEL
The ’Cuda brochure insisted that the optional wood-grain steering wheel “gave you the feel of a racing car.”
Interior colors available were gold, blue, black, or sharp red.
The Barracuda was a Plymouth Valiant from the roof line down and shared its power and suspension.
Road and Track magazine said, “for sports car performance and practicality, the Barracuda is perfect.”
The rear seats folded forward to produce an astronomical cargo area that measured 7 ft (2.14 m) long. Based on the mass-market, best-selling Valiant, the Barracuda was aimed at a completely newmarket—rich young things with a desire to look cool.
Bucket seat could be adjusted into six positions.
Bumper guards were an $11.45 option.
THE FORMULA S OPTION
The ’Cuda’s base engine was a 170cid slant six. Other mills were the 225cid six and two-barrel 273cid V8. Despite the fact that the Formula S offered a V8 block plus race trimmings, this was still rather tame by Plymouth standards. The ’61 Fury, for example, had a 318cid unit that pushed out 230 bhp.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Plymouth Barracuda (1964)
PRODUCTION 23,443 (1964)
BODY STYLE Two-door fastback.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINES 170cid, 225cid sixes, 273cid V8.
POWER OUTPUT 101–235 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed manual, optional four-speed manual, and three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: torsion bar; Rear: leaf springs.
BRAKES Front and rear drums, optional front discs.
MAXIMUM SPEED 100–110 mph (161–177 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8–13 sec
A.F.C. 16–22 mpg (5.7–7.8 km/l)