By on May 13, 2010

Pity the poor Barracuda. It beat the Mustang to market in 1964 by 16 days, but was utterly trounced by that seminal (and genre name-giving) pony car. In their first full year (1965), the Mustang outsold the ‘Cuda by 9 to 1. Well, despite that huge glassy fastback, it was hard to fool anyone that the Barracuda was anything other than a Valiant Signet with a fishbowl grafted on. That hardly made it an inferior car per se, and the fold down rear seat and resulting flat floor made it highly practical for certain uses. But the distinctive long-hood short-deck proportions of the Mustang instantly became iconic and a must-have; a glass-back Valiant just wasn’t going to do the trick, unless of course you found yourself in the right position to fully appreciate the Barracuda’s unique qualities.

The idea for what became the Barracuda had been tossed around in various forms at Chrysler for years (didn’t all of them?) But when word of the Mustang’s development was out, a project to compete was put into overdrive. And contrary to what might be assumed, the rear glass idea didn’t originate with the 1963 Corvette, but with some styling concepts for a proposed Super Sports Fury Coupe for the still-born 1962 models, that were never built due to the disastrous last-minute downsizing. I can’t find a picture of the fastback clays, but one can see a hint of the the direction even in the production 1960 Valiant rear window.

The Barracuda’s rear window was the biggest piece of automotive glass  (14.4 sq.ft.) produced to date. Combined with the fold down seat and the opening hatch into the “trunk”, a seven foot long cargo area was available. And since the Barracuda had the same upright seating dimensions as the Valiant, it was a (semi) legitimate five seater; certainly much more so than the Mustang.That led to the Barracuda being marketed as much for its practical purposes as its sporty pretensions.

To start with, its sporty aspirations were fairly modest: a choice of slant sixes or the new 273 cubic inch LA V8 that put out 180 hp. That already was less than the Mustang’s 200 hp 289 base V8, never mind the 225 and 271 hp versions.  For 1965, that was partly rectified with the Formula S package that included a 235 hp four-barrel version of the 273, along with suspension and steering ratio upgrades. A substantial improvement, and the ultimate A body setup for that generation, but still not exactly what it would take to get someone’s eyes off a Mustang GT.

The 1966 Barracuda had a new squared-off front end, which was mostly shared with the Valiant again. Other than that, there wasn’t too much new, except that sales slumped even further: now the ‘Stang outsold the ‘Cuda 16 to 1! A new Barracuda arrived in 1967, still sharing the new-for ’67 Valiant architecture and high cowl, but with at least its own unique sheet metal. It also came in two distinct hardtop styles, a (less glassy) but handsome fastback, and a rather unusual coupe with a roof line that evoked more than a bit of a gen1 Corvair coupe.

The ’67 Barracuda, in Formula S form, finally came into its own as a renowned performance machine thanks to its handling, now considered the best of the pony cars. That is, if one could put up with the little 273, and resist the optional and heavy 383 that was being shoehorned in as an option. The fit was so tight, power steering wasn’t even available. Big blocks in pony cars were great for the strip, but the heavy metal on their compact front ends created inevitable results in handling.

In 1968, that was resolved in a most satisfactory manner: the superb new 340 LA V8, which was no heavier than the 273. With its excellent breathing, it was underrated at an insurance -friendly 275 hp. The 1968 -1969 340 Barracuda S was the most balanced all-round  performing car in its class. Of course, a cheaper Dart Swinger 340 was essentially the same thing.

The spacious rear compartment made for lots of creative possibilities. One of them was to put a blown hemi under it, creating one of the seminal wheelie-mobiles, the aptly named Hemi Under Glass (“A Rolling Research Laboratory”).  Well, I never got to experience that stand-up creation, but I do have a very vivid and sweet Barracuda memory. And it has nothing to do with its handling or performance prowess. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have ever happened in a Mustang or Camaro, thanks to the Barracuda’s rugged and practical Valiant origins and that seven foot cargo area.

Feel free to jump a couple of paragraphs ahead ahead if you’re sick of my hitch-hiking stories. It was 1972, I was nineteen, and returning to Iowa after a several months-long thumbing trip up the West Coast. I got picked up in Cheyenne by three college kids in a ’65 Barracuda, late in the day, and they offered to put me up. I hit it off with the sweet young driver of the plain hand-me-down slant six automatic ‘Cuda, anything but a sporty car, and spent a few days with them. She suggested a camping trip (for the two of us) into the rugged high country to some geographic feature, which I only vaguely remember.

She had a dog, a brown medium sized mutt of particularly calm demeanor. I soon found out why: it demanded to be “run” for miles on end, following the Barracuda down the rugged gravel and dirt roads. I vividly remember looking back through that window, seeing it running along behind for miles on end, while we bounced along the rocky rough roads. The purring slant six instilled the highest degree of confidence as we headed up into the rugged hills. And the tough suspension was up to anything Wyoming could dish out, even way back in Marlboro Country.

It was already well into May, but the weather was getting colder and cloudier by the mile. We didn’t see another car all day. By by the time we got to our destination, it was drizzling and close to freezing. I have  a vague memory of heating something in a can over a fire (Chef Boyardee, most likely). We quickly cleared out that seven foot long cargo area and kept each other warm back there, as well as watching the rain turn into snow as the flakes swirled down and collected on that big glass pane. And by the next morning, that window was solid white, under a couple of inches of fresh snowfall. Love under glass beats hemi under glass any day in my book, especially in that setting.

Back to the present: this ’66 Barracuda has obviously been well attended to, and probably isn’t used as an impromptu camper in the Cascades. Its also not exactly typical CC fare. But I missed out on shooting a raggedy ’65 that a tenant had sitting in her driveway; it went away just before I started hunting old cars. So this nicely restored one will have to do, as old Barracudas aren’t exactly so common anymore on streets, even in that time-warp of Eugene.

It has the original 180 hp two-barrel 273, automatic, and no power steering; an interesting combination. It seems to me that that slush boxes usually tended to come with slush steering, and sticks more likely had manual steering. Someone probably ordered it this way, maybe a former thrifty Valiant driver looking more for a practical rear “cargo area” than a cramped Mustang. The Barracuda may not have been a sales success, but I’m glad Chrysler decided to make it nevertheless. The back seat of a Mustang would have been a bitch on that long, cold night in the mountains of Wyoming.

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52 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1966 Plymouth Barracuda...”

  • avatar

    Great story on an an car that has been overlooked and underrated for many years. The 1968-69 models with the 340 were great all-around drivers.

    I often wonder what would have happened if Chrysler had released the Barracuda in conjunction with the all-new Valiant in the fall of 1962 (as a 1963 model). It would have had some time to establish itself, without being immediately overshadowed by the Mustang.

    That big glass rear window was supposed to be used on a special version of the 1962 full-size Plymouth. As originally envisioned by Virgil Exner, Chrysler Corporation’s full-size cars were to be all-new for 1962. They were to feature curved side glass and a “speedboat” hood that rose to meet the windshield. In many ways, they were very advanced – the two-door hardtop coupes featured rooflines like that of the 1965 full-size Chevrolet, while the greenhouse of the four-door hardtops looked a lot like the one used on GM’s 1971 Chevrolet Impala/Pontiac Catalina/Buick LeSabre/Oldsmobile Delta 88.

    The “Super Sport” version of the Fury would have used this type of rear window (this was before Chevrolet used the name). The greenhouse of the Super Sport Fury even looked like that of the one used on the Barracuda (although the Super Sport wasn’t a full fastback – it had a trunk lid).

    When Chrysler decided to downsize its planned 1962 models, and scrap the Super Sport variant of the Fury, the big rear window wound up on the Barracuda.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      geeber, Yes, you’re quite right about the fastback being a version for the still-born Fury for ’62. I can see them in my mind’s eye, but I was really crunched for time last night and couldn’t do the proper research. I will fix it right now. Thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      I am sort of thankful that the Barracuda did NOT beat the mustang. I can’t imagine a world with a “guppy-car” segment…

  • avatar
    N Number

    Excellent CC installment. I lived in southeast Wyoming til 2006 and went to school there and still return regularly. The method of dog exercise you mention is still a common practice in this day and age. I spent so much time in the high country in that part of the world. Your camping trip sounds so familiar to my experiences, spring snow and all. Brings back some good memories of my old Blazer.

  • avatar

    I have always found these to be interesting, bold statements in design with that glass. But also wondered what you do if it gets broken? Can you find a replacement?

  • avatar

    So all that was memorable about that glass was the snowfall on it? Nothing else happened under it other than a good nights sleep? Your wife is reading this site religiously now isn’t she, Paul? (Com’ on, you are a red blooded American male.)

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I said “we hit it off” and it “was highly memorable” . No secrets from my wife; she’s heard most of the stories already. No need to go into the obvious details.

    • 0 avatar

      The focus of the story is on the car and the memories associated with it. In this case, less is more.

    • 0 avatar

      I always appreciate your writing, Paul. That piece you wrote about the Camaro CC was beautiful and wonderfully descriptive.

    • 0 avatar

      The memories of enjoying “all” the aspects of “classic” cars are shared with the people we love, as they usually are the ones we have the memories with ~ if not, they understand the passion in the memories now is all about the car! ☺

  • avatar

    My greatgrand father had one of this. I still remember what felt like sitting under that huge window.

    History repeats itself… the Impulse I have has a similarly (if not as big) rear glass.

    • 0 avatar

      Stingray, I figured you had an Impulse from yesterday’s comments on the Alfa article.

      When I replaced the ’75 Scirocco, I wanted to get an Impulse, but the turbo was not yet available here, so I went with an ’84 Chrysler Laser Turbo, which could in a way be said to be a descendant of today’s Curbside Classic – Chry Co. product, two doors, a big flat cargo floor (with the rear seats down) under a big glass hatch, and it also had 180 hp.

    • 0 avatar

      My grandfather bought a ’66 too that got handed down to my parents. As a kid, I remember riding along in that car at night, flat on my back, looking at the stars through the glass. We held onto that car just long enough for me to drive it a bit, too (Dad started me really early. He was one of those farm kids that got a license at 12 or 13 and didn’t see any reason for me to wait any longer than that–plus he really liked bending the rules).

  • avatar

    It did have at least one admirer/copier in the Sunbeam Alpine Fastback (and I believe also the Sunbeam Rapier Fastback coupé). Based on the Arrow sedan it was quite similar especially at the rear. I only remember seeing one but they show up for sale occasionally.

    The Jensen Interceptor must have beat it out for shear size of the rear window.

  • avatar

    That’s a beautiful car; great find, great story!

  • avatar

    Certainly, a remarkably clear design. In the sixties Fiat had a coupe, too, with a big greenhouse rear window, although not as a hatch (c.f.
    Perhaps Chrysler and Fiat can team up and build something light and airy again?

  • avatar

    I had one of these, as a used car. I wasn’t all that impressed. I didn’t handle as well as the Valiant coupe I had, it had a lot more rattles with the folding seat hardware, a lot more road noise ’cause the wheel houses were in th epassenger compartment. I also thought it looked ungly and fat, even compared to a Valiant coupe.

    And of course these cars had all the usual Chrysler cheapness, like door handles and window cranks that were put on with a visible screw.

    This was close to the time that I finally grew disenchanted with Chryslers.

    It took the 72 Imperial for the divorce to become final.

    I guess there is a partial reconciliation, since I now have a 60 New Yorker in the garage. At least the New Yorkers don’t have screws holding on the door handles.


    • 0 avatar

      @ And of course these cars had all the usual Chrysler cheapness, like door handles and window cranks that were put on with a visible screw.
      I always thought of it as honest engineering. Fords used a screw too, but covered it with a glued-on metal disc that would eventually fall off. Or there was the GM Way ™ that used a blasted hidden clip that required a special tool to remove, but then you got an instrument cluster sans temp and ammeter guages. Now THAT, in my book, is cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      All of the 1960s domestic compacts were built to a price – some more than others (the Rambler American, for instance, was obviously a VERY cheap car).

      If anything, I always got the impression that Chrysler put more into its compacts, relative to its other products, than GM and Ford did. An Imperial never seemed – to me anyway – as being all that better built than a Valiant. Moving from a Chevy Nova to a Cadillac, on the other hand, was like moving to another universe.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      Exposed screws were the norm for the times. At least Chrysler used Allen screws in their door handles…I was 12 when my older sister bought her first car, a beige 1965 Valiant with the 273 (and a strange engine lope I remember hearing someone say was a blown head gasket…I was very interested in cars (mostly GM, but I was young) at that early age, and even then I had learned that light brown sludge in the oil meant a blown head gasket…but it soldiered on for her for three years–then she got the 1963 Catalina with the weirded out ‘Slim Jim’…) and it was peppy as hell, even with that lope. And those screws in the door handles never bothered anyone, even though I noticed my dad’s Pontiacs never had screws in the cranks or handles. But I liked the screws. I actually thought they were stylish. But I mainly remember the peppiness, even though I never got to drive it on the street, only in our driveway. It was peppy.

  • avatar

    I was thinking the same thing, but I think Paul is just being discrete. You and I know what happened under the snow-covered glass. Or at least we’re pretty sure… except where were the other two college students? (Hard to imagine sleeping four in the ‘Cuda though.) But it’s obvious from the hints that have come in that Stephanie has no insecurities.

    Anyway, of course this thing, nice as it is by today’s standards, didn’t do well. The original Mustang was a styling tour de force, with artistic integrity, and absolutely wonderful details. I mean, they got everything right, which I took very hard at the time, being a Chevy man.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Haven’t you heard of a four-way hook-up?
      That would have been a bit of a challenge even in the Barracuda. Actually, the other two weren’t invited on the camping trip part. And I’ve changed the text so that there’s no more need to guess about the obvious.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, there was that time in a tent on the shores of Lake Superior. Summer though it was, a cold front rolled through and it got down to about 37 that night. We zipped our bags together and decided that generating some heat was more important than not having showered for days.

  • avatar

    The 64-69 Barracudas were nice cars to drive, even with the smaller V8, very solid feel and comfortable ride. Nice neat interior as well. Too bad Cry-co didn’t do a retro version of one of these instead of the Challenger. Its also interesting to notice how much difference there is in the body style there wasy between the Barracuda/Valliant and the Dodge Dart of the same vintage. Badge engineering hadn’t come to full bloom yet. I think if I were to get another collector car it would be one of these.

    Whoever owns this car should be proud, its a beauty.

  • avatar

    Supposedly, the original name for the Barracuda was ‘Piranha’ until some wag pointed out what the initials of the car would be.

    Regardless, it’s a shame Chrysler didn’t have the funds (or will) to significantly change the front end of the original ’65-’66 to something that wasn’t a virtual carbon-copy of the Valiant. Imagine how the Mustang would have sold if the front end had looked exactly like a Falcon.

    It didn’t help matters any that a convertible version of the original Barracuda could be had in the handsome Valiant convertible. Frankly, all things considered, the Valiant convertible was actually more ‘sporting’ (at least in appearance) than the first Barracuda coupes.

    But I don’t think the 273 engine ran that poorly. I’ve heard stories about those early 273 Mopars easily outrunning 289 Mustangs (including the ‘High-Performance’ versions). I think Ford was overly optimistic with their small-block horsepower ratings while Chrysler was more realistic (maybe even under-rating) the 273. They certainly under-rated the 340.

    Back then, the smart street-racers would opt for the 340 in lieu of the 383 big-block. Besides being faster and better handling, you could get options like power steering and A/C with the 340. There just wasn’t room for much else besides a big-block V8 in an A-body engine bay.

  • avatar

    Thank goodness the Mustang overshadowed the ‘Cuda; just imagine referring to Mustangs, Camaros and their ilk as “fish cars.” (Not that I don’t feel a little ridiculous whenever referring to my Mustang as a “pony car”….)

    There was red ’66 Barracuda with the 273 left rotting next to a barn down the street from my high school. I used to harbor teenage dreams of buying the thing for $500 and putting it back on the road. Of course, I also coveted the yellow P1800 ES Sportwagen idling away in my grandparents garage, so maybe I just had a thing for oddball, underdog cars back in those days. Or maybe it was just the imagined allure of driving something cooler than my stripper Civic with 70 hp and pizza slicer tires.

  • avatar

    Nice car, Chrysler probably could have sold a lot more of these if they didn’t have such a fugly grill. And apparently the market for 5-seat fastbacks with 7-foot cargo bays was fairly limited, although it sounds like a winner to me. I had a co-worker in the 70s that had a 65 or 66, didn’t do much for me then. I think the racing stripes help.

  • avatar

    My Mom had one of these as here very first car. She did not get her license until I was 7-8 years old, so the car was well used. Slant6, and brown as I recall. It threw a rod after about six months, so much for that legendary slant6. We only had one car for a few years after that (Dad’s ’77 Grand Prix), then she started a new career and started buying European cars. Older BMWs, a ratty 911 for a while, then Saabs and at one point a Lotus Esprit then a Porsche 944T. The 80’s was a good time to be in banking!

    But it all started with a rusty brown Barracuda!

  • avatar

    After having a number of very nice practical Valiants, I could never look at a Barracuda and see anything but another Valiant. Mustang? Yes, please! Barracuda? No, I have a Valiant already.

  • avatar

    Nice find Paul, a memory long forgotten. Used to have a Hot Rod magazine picture of Hemi Under Glass taped to my bedroom wall.

  • avatar

    I wonder what the ratio was of Mustang fastbacks to Barracudas? Mustang had a coupe and a convertible, which the Gen1 Cuda lacked.

    I always liked these cars. Chrysler put out some well-proportioned cars in those years, and this is one of them. Although, I always thought the wheels looked a little small.

    I also have long thought that the LA smallblock was the best of the American small block V8s. It performed every bit as well as the Chevys and Fords, but was more durable. Blue clouds were seldom seen following these cars around as they aged.

  • avatar

    Maybe Paul’s loving CC text was in part coloured by the memory of the snow covered window. My memory of a ’65 Barracuda is affected by an eerily similar experience, in the rain out in the wilds surrounding Kenora Ontario. For that reason alone the ‘Cuda is my most memorable “ride” of my misbegotten youth.

    I love quirky cars, and this definitely is a quirky car. The Marlin, the boattailed Riviera, the fugly Matador 2-door coupe…I love them all. Cars like that remind me of the discoloured runt in a litter of dogs – you’ve can’t help but love the unloveable sometimes.

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    So what if the Barracuda was based on the Valiant, which was the best of the domestic econoboxes, since the Mustang was based on the Falcon. Back in the mid-60s, I had one uncle in Milwaukee who had a Falcon and another uncle with a Mustang. The Falcon was by far the more useful car. Mustangs were hot sellers, but so was the Falcon before it, and the Mustang cannibalized Falcon sales.

    In the early 70s, when I was an organizer for the United Farm Workers, I put a lot of miles on mid to late 60s Valiants, all with the Slant 6. The UFW bought those used Valiants in bulk, and they were rock steady reliable.

  • avatar

    The back seat of a Mustang would have been a bitch on that long, cold night in the mountains of Wyoming.

    “Well, I used to go out in a Mustang, a 302 Mach One in green.
    Me and your Mama made you in the back and I sold it to buy her a ring”
    – Drive By Truckers

    A great, great lyric, but completely fictional. Not enough room in the back of a Mustang to conceive a child.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      Maybe not in a ’64-’68 Mustang…but I had many….adventures….in the back of my ’70 Boss 302 with the Pony interior, and my ’73 Mach I…with the long backlight nearly as big as the one on this ‘Cuda….

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      Au contraire, mon ami….I remember in my 1970 Boss 302 with the pony interior (fold-down back seat) with a particularly willing lass on some summer nights in 1976, well, let’s just say liftoff was achieved…..

  • avatar

    I always had a weakness for these Cudas ever since my sister’s friend brought her brand new 64 out to our place.After that I really got hooked on the 67-69 version.One of my least favorite memories was watching a buddy of mine trash a really nice 68 340 fastback during a long and stupid and really drunken night in 1975.
    Here’s a guy who has a really big connection to this era of Barracuda.

  • avatar

    Lots of cars had automatics with manual steering. I had several back in the day, a 1970 383 Charger 500, a 1970 383 Roadrunner, a 1963 326 Pontiac LeMans Convertible (my first car), a probably a couple of others that slip my mind

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I have always liked fast backs. I had a Valiant and a Dart and several of my buddies had first gen Baccarudas

  • avatar

    I remember my 3rd or 4th grade football practice coming to a complete halt as all of us boys ignored the coach to go see one of these that had just pulled up. Definitely as cool as Goldfinger.

  • avatar

    Maybe I have strange taste, and I won’t argue the point, but that ’67 coupe you linked is a looker. A nice reminder that Chrysler, once upon a time, put together some stylish rides.

  • avatar

    Amazing reference to the Valiant Signet.

    I much more respect the 70Barracuda.

  • avatar
    also Tom

    Paul, I believe there is a shared memory here. I used to back my ’67 into a drive-in space and lay out a mat in the cargo area. You know: visibility, comfort and all that. My now wife also enjoyed the…….view.

  • avatar

    My mother owned a red 65 barracuda, with the slant 6, for about 9 years. It was a great little car. The biggest gripe we had with it was that big window let in an awful lot of heat, cooking the rear seat passengers.
    I think it would have been a great looking car if chrysler had given it a decent looking grille.
    Jpcavanaugh, the reason that the chrysler small blocks were more durable and longer lasting than the ford and chevy engines was because the chrysler engines used more nickel in the blocks. The chrysler engine also used longer connecting rods, reducing side loading on the cylinders from the pistons. And in the case of the chevy, the head bolts were right against the cylinders, pulling the bores into a pentagon shape. the chryslers also had much wider cam lobes than the chevies, resulting in much longer cam wear. The fords also had wider cam lobes than the chevy, but not quite as wide as the chrysler design.

  • avatar

    An elderly couple in the upstairs apartment had a maroon-colored one of these back in 1975 — it had the slant-6/auto, and the old fellow only drove it a few times a month to take his wife grocery shopping. I made repeated offers to buy the car (with the intent of dropping a V8/manual tranny in it). No go, he was happy with it as it was, and probably would have cringed seeing his Valiant become a “‘Cuda”, parked one space ahead of his usual spot on 9th Ave.

    And if that color blue had existed in auto paint back then, that’s what it would have been – same as the pictured car – just awesome.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame the front end of this vintage Cuda had the Valiant look. With all the Mustang and Camaro talk, the Cuda is one of those old semi-muscle cars that us older guys forgot about – kinda like the AMC Javelin. Anyway, that was an excellent review of a true classic .

  • avatar
    Leif Vikingur

    The car pictured is a classic. I have one that is not restored in Australia. It is a 1966 factory V8 4 speed manual.Up to date nobody seems to be able to tell me how many were made and if any had the 318 cubic inch engine fitted. Shortly i will start to bring it back to new and will challenge myself to match the one pictured.Cheers

  • avatar

    Ah memories. My first car was a 67 Cuda Formula S fastback with the 273 4bbl. Settled for the slush box as the dealer didn’t have a 4spd on the lot and I didn’t want to wait for one. Also no PS which was a bit of a pain with what were then “wide” redline tires. Loved that car – handled great and could outrun small block Camaros and Mustangs, other than the high performance (275HP?) 289s. Hit 112 MPH once – assuming speedo was accurate. Only problem I had with it in 4 years was rust – which was an issue for most cars up north at the time despite the dealer applied undercoating option. Still say the 67-69 models were among the nicest designs ever from Chrysler. Never was a fan of the goofy looking first generation – or the third, so ended up with a 71 Duster. Huge mistake – a POS from the get go – corresponded with the start of Chrysler’s decline.

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