Driving a classic car – instant cool factor. The heyday of American muscle spanned from 1964-1971. There were certainly notable models before and after these years, but the majority of classic rides so heavily lusted after by enthusiasts and collectors alike were born during that time span. And names like Holley, MSD, B&M Racing and Performance Products, Edelbrock, and Comp Cams have done their part to keep this part of history alive and well. One such classic muscle is the Plymouth Barracuda.
While Chevrolet’s big block and Ford’s Boss 429 V8s produced impressive amounts of horsepower and torque, the race-bred 426 Hemi V8 found in Dodge’s (and its sister company Plymouth’s) sportiest muscle cars reigned supreme for many. And within Dodge and Plymouth, it was the 1970-1971 Hemi ’Cuda—short for Barracuda—that maintains the aura of a hero car to this day. ’Cuda variants packing 340 and 440 cubic inch engines also remain particularly desirable. “When other automakers were playing it safe with production plans that appealed to the masses, Mopar tapped into every boy’s inner rebel and boosted the HEMI to legendary status,” said August Cederstrand, a Regional Account Manager at Edelbrock. “Mopar’s intention was racing car first, passenger car second,” he continued.
Barracuda – Ugly Duckling Turns Into Looker
Before 1970, however, the Barracuda was not an exceptionally compelling machine. Introduced in 1964 as Plymouth’s response to Ford’s fast-selling Mustang, the first-generation Barracuda was sporty but nowhere near as attractive as its pony car competition. The second-gen Barracuda, launched in 1967, was a step forward for Plymouth. It included more appealing styling and a selection of engines that included 383 and 440 cubic-inch big blocks and—albeit in limited numbers—426 Hemis. Up to that point, however, the Barracuda still didn’t sell well relative to other carmakers on the market. To improve its third-generation pony muscle car, Plymouth switched from the compact corporate A-body vehicle platform—shared with the Valiant economy car—to a shorter and wider version of its sportier B-body platform, which was dubbed the E-body.
In 1970, this new third-gen Barracuda (high-performance versions got the ’Cuda moniker), shook off its Ho Hum perception in the muscle car/pony car category thanks to new attractive lines and no-nonsense performance. Although a 1965 Hemi Barracuda—campaigned at drag strips under the name “Hemi Under Glass”—helped give the car a more serious performance image, it was a pair of 340 small-block-powered ’Cudas championed by Swede Savage and Dan Gurney in the 1970 Trans-Am Series that really gave it legit credibility within competition. And when equipped with Hemis and fitted with either stock tires or drag slicks, ’Cudas commonly topped magazine quarter-mile and acceleration tests, making them desirable additions to driveways and drag strips.
Third Gen Takes the Crown
For 1972, the Hemi was no longer offered due to increasing emissions and efficiency regulations. Subsequently, muscle car sales began to decline because of rising insurance costs and increasing fuel prices. The first two generations of Barracuda were a mixed bag. But the 1970-1971 third-gen examples ticked all of the boxes that make up a muscle legend. They were beautiful to look at, packed potent engines, and had plenty of power for drag strips and road courses. Put all those together, and you have a muscle car that will likely remain a coveted platform for generations.