Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974 compiled by R.M. Clarke
Published 1995, by Brooklands Books Ltd.
140 pp., paperback
ISBN: 1 85520 259X
Acquired from private seller on kijiji.ca
I grew to love musclecars reading Car Craft and Musclecar Classics magazines, and I enjoyed reading about new cars in Car and Driver, Road & Track and Motor Trend. I wasn’t around to read about musclecars when they were new, so I missed those reviews in C/D, R&T and MT. Nowadays, it’s possible to find old magazines on the internet. But in the 1990s, Brooklands Books set about collecting and preserving articles on a huge variety of makes and models. They compiled them into over 700 titles across a number of series. Recently I was able to acquire one such title, Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-74, which includes 34 articles about Plymouth’s pony car, lifted from over a dozen contemporary sources.
Most are aware of the story of Ford’s Mustang. Introduced April 17, 1964, it was an instant hit. What some may not know is that Plymouth launched the Barracuda about 2 weeks before the Mustang debuted. Word got out Ford was about to bring a new car to market based on its Falcon. Plymouth grafted a fastback onto their compact Valiant to create a what they hoped would be a sporty car to compete. The Barracuda wasn’t a bad car, but it got left in the dust as Mustang set sales records.
The fact Barracuda faced stiff competition from Mustang is hinted at in the first reprinted article, a loose recounting of a 1964 phone conversation between a C/D writer and a Chrysler employee. The company man wants to know why the magazine didn’t completely love the Barracuda. When the writer explains they expected a little more, the man responds that Chrysler feels the Barracuda has ‘broad appeal’, despite Mustang’s extensive options list and popular styling. That broad appeal didn’t quite materialize (Mustang outsold Barracuda by 5 to 1 in model year 1964). But make no mistake, while the Plymouth didn’t sell like hot cakes, the reviews bear out that for the most part Barracuda was a very credible car that improved as Chrysler played catch up.
The articles follow chronologically, the first 10 or so covering the 1964-66 series, the next dozen covering 1967-69, another dozen covering the E-body 1970-74. The final 3 reprints are from the 1980s – reviews by Special Interest Autos on the 1965 and 1970 (a car owned by Richard Carpenter), and a one page feature from Car Craft on the 1970 Hemi Cuda.
I found the reviews seemed to fit a pattern. The 1964-66 cars are generally praised for their roominess, utility of the rear storage/fold down seat and the great handling of the Formula S package (introduced 1965), but the lack of power from the 273 engine is notable. The resemblance to the Valiant line is also noted, which was in contrast to the Mustang’s all-new bodywork. The 1967-69 cars get good marks for a restyled body, the addition of coupe and convertible models, and high praise for the 340 engine, introduced in 1968. The availability of the 383 engine was also good, though reviewers noted that this Cuda did not handle very well with the 383 or 440, largely due to the heavier engines’ distributing so much weight to the front and precluding the offer of power steering, power brakes or air conditioning. The 1970-74 reviews begin positively, as styling caught up to the popular long hood/short deck aesthetic of the competitors, and there was a well-rounded range of options available. The lament however was that while the car was good, the muscle car craze had begun a steep decline. By 1974, the high performance 340, 383, 426 and 440 engines were gone, as was the convertible. The Barracuda would not survive in to 1975.
Reviews from these magazines are often quite detailed. There’s a significant amount of information explaining the design and equipment revisions, as well as how that translates to the handling and performance numbers. As I read, I realized having these articles would come in handy if I were contemplating buying a Cuda. To be able to read about not only options such as the Formula S package, but also having multi-year reviews, would likely be a great help in deciding what car would be right for me. It’s great to be able to compare the full range of model years, giving a great overview of Barracuda.
Among the articles is a 1967 R&T comparison test included, pitting a 273 Barracuda against a 289 Mustang and a 327 Camaro which was interesting to read as a direct comparison. There’s a neat article from Car Life featuring Swede Savage and his SCCA Trans Am Cuda. But I think my favourite reprint was a two-page MT Guide laying out all the engine and performance options for the 1971 Barracuda, including a list of racing parts available from Chrysler. I love that kind of information which now could be used to identify how a car may have originally been configured.
In 11 model years, Plymouth sold almost 400,000 Barracudas. Having read the reviews, it’s clear the Barracuda wasn’t a bad car. In fact, many reviews picked out traits such as handling (in the Formula S and later models) and the 340 motor as among the best in the pony car arena. Yet, by comparison, Chevy sold 1.25 million Camaros (in only 8 model years), while Ford managed to find homes for almost 3.5 million Mustangs between 1964 and 1974. On the other hand, this makes the Cuda rare by comparison, surely a factor as the Plymouth commands higher prices as a collector car today.
For owners and fans of Plymouth‘s musclecar, this portfolio is a great read. the articles give an honest contemporary assessment of the pros and cons of the Barracuda. And, it took me back to those days as a kid, reading about the hot cars I longed to drive.
Pros: great collection of hard-to-find comteporary articles about the Barracuda; good, fairly detailed info documenting year-to-year changes to the car
Cons: completely back-and-white (likely the articles were originally printed this way)
Where to find it: maybe eBay and Amazon, private collections