The Barracuda: first to the party & one of the last to leave
As With Nearly Every Notable Pony Namesake, the History of the Plymouth Barracuda Starts by Talking About the Ford Mustang
Prior to 1964, Ford had launched a campaign to build a small, quick, attractive sports coupe based on the Falcon. The Mustang was born, and after some 500,000+ copies for 1964-65, it was an absolute sensation – the likes of which the automotive world would never see again.
The folks over at Chrysler Corporation got wind of this and decided to squeeze out a small sports coupe of their own before the Mustang could get to the public. The idea was to replicate the ideas Iacocca heard and give Chrysler a leg-up on the new-model race. They succeeded… but only partly.
The Plymouth Barracuda was born some two-weeks before Ford’s Mustang. Built as a fastback off of the already-successful Valiant line, the car was 188 inches long (some 7 more than the Mustang) and over 2900lbs (some 300lbs chunkier). Unfortunately, the size was only the tip of the iceberg for Chrysler’s woes. The car was far too close of a facsimile to the Valiant. As you can see from the comparison below, the new car wasn’t the breath of fresh air, but more like a slight freshening.
What happened next was inevitable. The completely-new Mustang sold in such record numbers that it steamrolled over the Plymouth – out-selling the Barracuda SIX-to-one. The Barracuda, however, did manage to sell some 85,000+ copies (in 64½-65) and it was the start of a line that would last into the mid-70s. Sometimes a loss is still a win for the other player and Chrysler was still moving on with its prized fish.
The first-generation Barracuda look is an odd one. Not that the car is ugly, but it does seem to be a sort of Frankenstein’s monster. The fastback look and overall shape give a sporty/muscular feel, while the dainty grille and ‘57-Chevy-like taillights harken back to larger, classic cruisers. The lack of vents, louvers, and scoops of any kind also gave the wrong idea. So close yet so far.
Barracuda was not without some goodies, however, and even some things the other Pony car couldn’t match. The car had a good helping of quality engines including a 225ci I6 (better than anything in a Gen-1 Mustang) and a really good 273ci V8.
The interior, though less sporty, is considered more comfortable than that of the Mustang and the luggage room beats it hands down. The fastback had proven itself to be more than just a pretty face.
Again, not quite its own beast, the Valiant’s interior still looks comfortable and tidy. Push-button AM/FM radio, 3-speed Torqueflight automatic transmission, wood-grain steering wheel, and some serious trunk space were just some of the options you’d find.
Try to get that 7’ surfboard into the Mustang? Good luck! The Barracuda would fit it with ease. You’d have a pretty impressive cargo space with the seats down and still have a separate trunk for wet items. Again, the competition would’ve been pulling at their neck-line.
1964 to 1966 Plymouth Barracuda Engines
The engine line for the Barracuda was stout as well. Starting with the 170ci I6, the small car would be huffing a bit, but with the 145hp 225ci, the Barracuda would be pretty comfortable to drive. Not that it could keep with anything short of the base Mustang, but it would still get you there in a jiffy.
The final step in the Barracuda engine line would be the 235hp, 273ci V8. This Commando engine would give the car a sub 9-second 0-60 and the boost of performance it needed. It couldn’t, however, compete with the 289ci H/O engine from the Ford boys. Their much lighter pony with some 50 extra horses would be running low-to-mid 15 second quarters and leaving the fish to flop on the freeway. It would be 1967 before the fish had real teeth.
Size (cu. in.)
273ci V8, 4-barrel – 235hp
0 to 60: 8.6 – 9.1 seconds*
0 to ¼mile: 16.4 – 17.5 seconds @ 88-90 mph*
*Source: Car&Driver 1965 & Hot Rod 1965
1964 to 1966 Plymouth Barracuda Production Numbers
Sales for the first year and a half were fairly moderate – with almost 65,000 sold in 1965. 1966 saw a massive decline after the love affair wore off and it would indeed be time for a fully new iteration of the namesake.
Be that as it may, the first series Barracuda sold over 100,000 units and started America’s love for the fishy speedster.