Most any automotive enthusiast can affirm that finding an original A-body, first generation Plymouth Barracuda is somewhat rare. Finding one in a completely factory stock configuration – and in showroom condition – is almost impossible.
However, sitting in the garage of a retired aircraft mechanic in Tampa, Florida, is just that: a first generation Barracuda that looks like the day it did when it came off the showroom floor.
Derrick Howard, or as his friends and family call him, Dee, is one of the most personable type guys you could ever meet. The permanent smile and his infectious laugh convey the personality of a man that is just, well, happy.
He’s a husband and father, an accomplished musician and a lifelong motor head. When he’s not sitting behind his drum kit knocking out a perfect tempo, you will find him behind the wheel of his extra sweet, solar white, 1966 glass back Barracuda cruising the streets in and around Tampa.
Originally from the island, Howard grew up in the town of South Hampton, New York, on the eastern end of Long Island. His addiction to the automobile he credits directly to his uncle Paul. “My uncle Paul would take all of us kids to Riverhead Raceway every Saturday night,” Howard fondly recalled, “I just got hooked.”
Howard’s involvement in the sport never went past the spectator stage, but even as a youngster, he had the bug. While the other boys were building models of airplanes and ships, Howard was building models of race cars and custom cars.
When Howard turned sixteen years old, he successfully passed his driver’s exam and was issued a State of New York operator’s license. This would do two things for the young man: being able to drive strengthened his love of the automobile, and it made him one of the more popular kids within the student body at South Hampton High School.
Howard admits at the time he wasn’t really impressed with the Barracudas. “I just really didn’t care for the car back then,” Howard relates. “My girlfriend’s brother had a new 1964 Barracuda, and while he was off to college he had asked Kris, my girlfriend at the time, to drive the car from time to time instead of having it just sit.”
Howard, and his girlfriend Kris, would take the car to the drive-in or out to get something to eat on occasion, but Howard never really developed an attachment to the car. “I don’t know, at the time the car just didn’t do anything for me,” Howard chuckled. However, Kris really enjoyed the car, and the two of them just celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary. Congratulations to the happy couple.
After high school, Howard enlisted in the United States Air Force where he was taught the skills necessary to build and repair a jet engine. Following his time serving our country, Howard returned home and enrolled at the National Aviation Academy.
Upon graduation, Howard was awarded an FAA airframe and power plant license. With this license in hand, Howard secured employment with Pall Aero Power, and began a 40-year career with the aerospace giant, retiring late in 2009.
After retirement, Howard was still making music and his love of the automobile was still as strong as it ever was. “After I retired I started thinking about buying a classic car, something I could use as an occasional driver, something I could take to a car show now and then,” Howard said.
With this in mind, Howard began searching for his classic show car/occasional driver. He scoured the local classified ads, talked with people he met at the local car shows, checked Craigslist, and even spent time looking over the selections on eBay. “I started looking for a Camaro, or a Chevelle, but just didn’t see anything I thought was worth the money,” Howard offered.
After searching for over a year, Howard had a revelation of sorts. “Our band had been playing a lot of local cars shows and I began to notice, for whatever reasons, I never saw any Barracudas. There were always a bunch of Fords and Chevys, but I never saw any Barracudas,” he said.
With this in mind, Howard started looking for a Barracuda that would fit the bill when he came across the car on E-Bay. “The car was in Michigan, it looked pretty good, and the price was acceptable, I called the owner and we agreed to a final price, to include shipping, and I sent the payment.” Howard grinned.
When the car arrived in Florida, Howard was somewhat shocked. “The car didn’t look anything like the pictures on E-bay; it was going to require more work than I originally thought it would,” Howard stated as he slowly shook his head.
As is common with this type of purchase, Howard spent a good deal of time cleaning the car, and insuring it was safe to drive. Once he was satisfied the car was road worthy, Howard drove the car to a number of local shows, and cruise-ins. “I just wanted to drive it,” Howard smiled.
After driving the car for over a year, Howard decided it was time to restore the car. He employed the services of the crew at Running Great Auto in Tampa to do the restoration, and Steve Carroll would be charged with the related paint and body work. Howard’s only instructions were to retain the numbers matching drive train, and keep the car in its original stock configuration.
Although the first Barracudas were heavily based on the Plymouth Valiant, Plymouth executives wanted them to be perceived as distinct and separate models. Originally destined to be named the Plymouth Panda, the designers were unhappy with this choice and suggested the car be introduced as the Barracuda. The wrap around rear glass was collaboration between Chrysler designers and Pittsburg Plate Glass, the rear window was the largest window ever installed on a standard production car at 14.4 square feet.
The same process took place on the rear suspension as well; the original leaf springs were retained, but as with the front end, every bushing, every nut and bolt were rebuilt or replaced. The original drum and shoe brakes on all four corners of the car remained to supply the stopping power, while keeping with the concept of keeping the car as original as possible.
The 273 ci engine was removed and totally rebuilt to original factory Commando specifications. This upgraded package included slightly domed pistons, a more aggressive camshaft, hydraulic lifters, and a Chrysler four-barrel carburetor. This package increased the engine’s output to 235 horse power.
The original Torqueflite automatic transmission, was removed and rebuilt to the original factory specifications, a standard Chrysler 8¾-inch differential with a 3:55 drive gear moves the horses to the 15-inch Cragar SS wheels, and Stinger GT radial performance tires.
The exterior of the car fell under the capable hands of Steve Carroll of Steve Carroll’s Paint and Body, also in Tampa. Steve completely stripped the car to the bare metal, removed several areas of rust in the rear quarter panels, and hand fabricated new metal sections to replace the damaged panels.
The car was primed, given two base coats, and finished with the original Chrysler WW-1 Solar White PPG paint. The taillights, parking lamps, and all exterior trim was removed and refurbished, meaning the car is as close to the original day it rolled off the showroom floor as possible.
The interior of the car is still the original vinyl that came in the car when it was built, with the exception of the front seats. Although the front seats are still the original vinyl, the foam in the seats had to be rebuilt, due to deterioration over the years.
The gauges and instrumentation are stock Chrysler, to include the optional dash mounted kill switch offered as a theft deterrent feature for the 1966 model year. The Air conditioner is a replacement system from Classic Auto Air in Tampa.
After just a one-year build, the car returned home to Howard’s garage. It had turned out exactly as Howard had envisioned: the car was still a numbers matching, nearly original, 1966 stock Barracuda.
“I’m just so pleased with the final results,” Howard beamed. Today Howard uses the car just as he intended: an occasional driver and classic show car. Now when Howard attends a local show, he knows there will be at least one original Barracuda there for all to enjoy.