Featured Muscle Cars


1964-1966 Plymouth Barracuda

by Jeff Melnychuk

Pop quiz: What was the first "pony" car to be introduced to the general public? If you said the Mustang, you'd be off... by about two weeks.

In a move designed to steal some of the Mustang's thunder, Plymouth brought its Barracuda to market just ahead of Ford's brash new attention getter.

Initially, the sporty Barracuda was designed to offset the successful V8-equipped Ford Falcon Sprint and Chevrolet Corvair Monza. But the incredible pre-launch buzz for the Mustang made the Chrysler brass rethink its marketing objectives. As a result, the car with the fighting-fish name wound up going toe-to-toe with Ford's wild stallion.

But, when all was said and done, the Barracuda's impact on Mustang sales turned out to be minimal at best.

The confusing thing about the Barracuda was that it wasn't really a separately designated product. The car's proper name was the Valiant Barracuda, meaning it was an offset of Plymouth's popular traditional-looking compact. Unlike the Mustang, which was a thoroughly new body and interior perched atop a Falcon chassis, the Barracuda was pure Valiant from the doorsills down. On the inside, the car featured a premium interior, much of which was lifted from Valiant's premium Signet 200 series.

But the roofline was a different story. The Barracuda's rear glass consisted of one of the largest single back windows ever installed on a passenger car. Referred to as a glassback, this item became the car's distinctive love-it-or-hate-it feature. A small trunk lid allowed access to the rear that, with the back seat folded, provided a pass-through cargo area that was seven feet long.

Only the single glassback body style was available on the Barracuda. If you wanted a convertible, you had to opt for the Valiant Signet droptop model, which of course lacked any sporting pretense that came with the Barracuda hardtop.

The Barracuda's base engine/transmission combo was Chrysler's mom-and-pop 145-horsepower "Slant Six" engine and "three-on-the-tree" manual shifter. But available for the first time was a 273 cubic-inch V8. This all-new small-block powerplant generated 180 horsepower and could be hooked up to either a three-speed automatic transmission (with push-button controls), or a four-speed manual.

More performance was in store for the 1965 model year. The Barracuda, by then a separately-designated Plymouth model, could be ordered with a Rallye Pack option that included a stiffer suspension and a more potent 235-horsepower Commando version of the 273. Then there was the Formula S package that added 14-inch wheels, Goodyear Blue Streak tires, in-dash tachometer and a Hurst shifter.

By the end of the 1965 model year, Plymouth had sold about 88,000 Barracudas, a paltry number compared to the 680,000-plus Mustangs produced during that same period.

Plymouth still had one more year to go before launching an all-new Barracuda. As a last gasp, the first-generation version received some minor sheetmetal changes plus a new grille and taillights for 1966 that, by popular accounts, made the car appear less attractive than the 1964-'65 models. Front disc brakes also became an option for the first time.

The Barracuda's older, more mature core buyer seemed disinterested in the optional performance goodies available for the car. As a result, comparatively few were sold with either the four-barrel V8 or four-speed manual option that were major staples of the more youthful Mustang buyers. Total sales for 1966 remained below the 40,000 mark, or about seven percent of Mustang sales that year.

In 1967, Plymouth totally revamped the Barracuda, offering coupe, fastback and convertible versions. Along with new pony car arrivals such as the Mercury Cougar, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, these models finally gave the Mustang a run for its money and ushered in an era of serious all-out horsepower battles that were to last for another five years.

Today, first-generation Barracudas generate only a modest level of interest among collectors, even though there are far fewer around that early Mustangs. It's a case where being rare doesn't necessarily translate into being desirable. Along with its controversial styling, many saw the car as nothing more that a warmed-over Valiant, which of course it as. But, properly equipped, the Barracuda was a neatly turned-out package that, along with its sunroom-like rear window, could still turn heads, as well as bake the scalps of anyone who happened to be sitting in the back seat on a hot, sunny day.

courtesy of Wheelbase Communications


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