Last week, at the automotive aftermarket’s annual SEMA gathering in Las Vegas, comes word from Ralph Gilles that, “There’s a lot of pressure on us to bring the ‘Cuda back.” Gilles is both Chrysler’s design chief and president of the Dodge division.
On April Fool’s Day, 1964, Plymouth introduced the Barracuda, actually beating Ford’s Mustang to market by two weeks. Based on the Plymouth Valiant, the Barracuda was an option package offering a choice of engines from the 225-cid Slant Six to a 180 hp V8. Ninety per cent of Barracudas that year were ordered with the V8 engine.
Redesigned in 1967, the Barracuda no longer bore any body panels from the Valiant sedan. Both coupe and convertible models emerged this year and an enlarged engine bay allowed for the 383-cid V8 to be fitted. So began a high performance period that saw the 340 as an optional engine in the following year, as well as 50 race-only Super Stock 426 HEMI cars. Spaulding Dodge even produced some 440 Barracudas that same year.
These would re-emerge in 1969 as the ‘Cuda, a factory-built model with 440 engine intact and the ability to turn in 14-second quarters, at 103 mph, on street rubber. Slipping on a set of drag slicks would take instantly deduct another two seconds from the ET.
With the 1970 model, the Plymouth Barracuda became a sibling to the Dodge Challenger. Visually similar on the outside, the Barracuda rode on a chassis having a two-inch shorter wheelbase. A wide range of engines became available with the E-body design, none being more memorable than the 440 Six-Barrel (three two-barrel carburetors) that delivered 390 gross hp and a whopping 480 lb-ft of torque at a street-friendly 2,300 rpm.
The performance addiction would run for another year, until market and regulatory pressures neutered all of the Big Three’s stables. The Barracuda, while never achieving the fame of the Mustang or Camaro, remained a deep favorite with anyone that had owned one.
So, with this background, what might brother Ralph be thinking about? The shorter wheelbase made the Barracuda more suited for drag racing and even exlcuded it from Can Am road racing in its day. The AAR-modified ‘Cuda didn’t do all that well in Trans Am racing either, but in the hands of Sox & Martin, legends were written at quarter-mile tracks across the country.
Currently, the only modern ‘Cudas available are through private garages like Mr. Norm’s, who is actively converting Challengers into variations of the multi-louvered ’71 ‘Cudas with supercharged HEMIs and, if so option, a Shaker hood and drop top.
But how would a latter-day ‘Cuda come about? Start with the new 392 HEMI motor, shorten the chassis a little, add the shaker hood scoop, some wild berry colors and kick butt graphics and we’ve got a new classic. On message boards, enthusiasts are OK with the thought of a Chrysler-branded ‘Cuda, just so long as the ‘Cuda comes about. I’ll bet I’m not the first person to think this through. Hopefully, we’ll see who else has in the near future.