Collectible Plymouth Barracuda '67 To '69
by Bob Hagin
April 9, 2001
As a brand, Plymouth is now a thing of the past, which is a fact to be lamented. The marque has a long and interesting history in almost all segments of the American auto business and at the peak of the Muscle Car era that ended in the early '70s, it was a leading contender. Muscle Cars were intermediate-sized two-door sedans that carried enormous (up to 450 cubic inches and more), powerful engines. Their sales `battleground' was the NASCAR Grand National circuit, where major manufacturers fielded factory teams and it was in this crucible that the expression "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" was first coined. Thanks to the wins of its Road Runner Superbird, the Plymouth name was one to be reckoned with at the high-bank tracks of Daytona, Darlington and the rest. Plymouth Muscle Cars were good sellers.
The other automotive phenomena of those days was the American Pony Car. These were basically American compact sedan chassis with sporty two-door coupe bodies that bore little or no resemblance to their humble siblings. Most were V8 powered, but it was their 'sportiness' that made them popular with the 18-to-35-year old unencumbered Americans that were the targeted buyers. The legendary Ford Mustang of 1964 was the original Pony Car (hence the name) and the other American auto makers quickly followed the Mustang formula.
But in the Pony Car market segment, Plymouth never really hit the mark. Its aim was to jump the gun on the introduction of the Mustang but being that development money was in short supply at Chrysler, it was decided to simply redesign the plebeian Plymouth Valiant compact coupe with a hatchback "bustle" that was, in essence, a slanted back window that was (and still may be) the largest single piece of glass on any passenger car in the world. Unfortunately, the car went contrary to the successful long nose/short tail Mustang formula and its profile was just the opposite.
But it hit did get the jump on its Ford rival and the Plymouth Barracuda got on the market a few months ahead of the Mustang.
The '64 Mustang shared its basic mechanicals with the Ford Falcon, and the Barracuda did the same with the Plymouth Valiant. The Barracuda could be had with a straight-six cylinder engine, the famously reliable "slant" six that commonly displaced 225 cubic inches, or a 273 cubic inch small-block V8 that could be had in tuned form to put out 235 horsepower. Since the original Barracuda was basically an economical Valiant coupe with a big back window, a few of them even had the grossly underpowered 170 cubic-inch slant six that put out only 101 horses. The company quickly found that Barracuda buyers weren't of the 'economy at any cost' genre and few were sold with this engine.
Although sales of the original single-model Barracuda were OK by Plymouth standards, they were paltry compared to the smashing success of the Mustang. Added to this, in 1967 General Motors was scheduled to introduce two Pony Cars of its own, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird. Although they were basically the same car, these GM brands had their own followers and extensive company research showed that both would do well.
In self defense, Plymouth engineers came up with a new body style that hit the mark very well. The '67 Barracuda had a slightly longer wheelbase and an all-new design that bore virtually no resemblance to the Valiant sedan of the same year. And since the body was a ground-up change from the previous model, Plymouth engineers designed a convertible and an interesting pillarless hardtop coupe for the mix along with the prerequisite fastback. All three were outstanding designs, especially the coupe. I recently came across a '67 Barracuda coupe and even though it had seen better days and lacked hubcaps, it stood out in a parking lot full of automotive look-alikes.
The same parameters were used in the second-series Barracuda as in the first with a couple of exceptions. The new version could be had in standard form, which meant that the chassis and power train were purely Valiant. But the Formula S performance package was also available with stiffer torsion bars, tuned shock absorbers, a limited slip differential and other performance goodies. The ubiquitous slant six was once more the basic powerplant but again the small-block V8 was the mostly popular engine. In addition, performance-minded Plymouth aficionados could opt for a 340 cubic-inch V8 which was a better match for the Formula S package. And for those who wanted to be the first away in most stop light drag races, there was also a top-line Barracuda that could be had with a 383 cubic-inch powerplant that put out as much as 330 horsepower. I'm told it was an ill-handling road car but for many buyers, it's drag race performance was worth it.
The Plymouth Barracuda Pony Car never enjoyed the sales successes of the Ford Mustang or the Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird twins. Only in its later and last form did Plymouth engage in the then-successful SCCA Trans Am racing series, but the effort was a complete failure.
Now Plymouth is gone and will only be remembered by contemporary car enthusiasts car as the brand that produced the street-rod look-alike Plymouth Prowler. What a shame the Chrysler parent company didn't put the historical Barracuda name on it.