In 1970, Chrysler launched the third generation of its Plymouth Barracuda. Originally developed from the Plymouth Valiant to challenge Ford’s success with the Mustang, the 1970 Barracuda finally got its own platform and exclusive styling. It had Chrysler’s new, wider and slightly shorter E-body. It was a frame for a pugnacious automotive warrior, but only two-door coupes and convertibles were made available, in standard and luxury (Gran Coupe) versions, and a high-performance version was marketed separately as the Plymouth ‘Cuda.
Until 1970 the limitations of the A-body had prevented Chrysler exploiting the dramatic power potential of some of its big block engines arid, although in 1968-9 the company had put its 7 litre Hemi into 50 fastback Barracudas, the cars were restricted to Super Stock drag racing — 0.25 mi (0.4 km) in just over 10 secs! The E-body had a bigger engine bay; for the first time, Chrysler could use the big-block Hemi in a street legal vehicle — the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda.
True to its deceptively relaxed styling, the Hemi ‘Cuda is no screaming racer. It powers up like an aircraft: you baby it through an accelerating glide to about 50 mph (80 km/h), floor the pedal so the featured ‘Torqueflite’ drops into second gear and the carburettors open, and take off with the effortless pull of a jet liner. Innocuous apart from the ominous `shaker hood’, the Hemi ‘Cuda’s styling belies this thrilling capacity to ‘haul ass and burn rubber’.
Much admired at the time, the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda is now legendary as a prince of American muscle cars. It lasted only two years before Federal emissions controls killed big block engines and tamed the beast. Just 652 Hemi ‘Cudas were made for 1970; and a mere 14 Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles. Surviving examples change hands for millions of dollars.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1970 (until 1971)
ENGINE: 7.0 I (426 cid) OHV V8
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 117 mph (188 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: 1970-71 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cudas are so rare and valuable that it’s not unusual for very cleverly disguised clones to be offered for sale. Caveat emptor— you’ll need to look well beyond ‘obviously’ matching parts’ serial numbers.