Let’s say I posed the question to you, “what was the outright quickest factory muscle car of the ‘60s and ‘70s?” How would you answer? The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro COPO ZL1? The ’70 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 LS6? Or maybe the 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1?
All very good, educated guesses of course, but you would be wrong on each count.
While there were many cars of the era that aspired to hold that title, and a fair number that came close, there could only be one, true apex predator amongst them.
In actuality, the most brutal, quickest-accelerating car of the Golden Age of muscle was an extremely low-production vehicle issued by Mother Mopar in the most halcyon year of the American sixties.
Figured it out yet?
Well, if not, I’m here to tell you that the title goes to the 1968 Plymouth Barracuda B029 Super Stock. And in this chapter of Rare Rides, we’re gonna take a deep dive look at this all-conquering, lightweight missile of a muscle car. So let’s get to it!
While many car aficionados assume that the 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang started the pony car craze, the truth is that the Plymouth Barracuda was released roughly two weeks before it.
Styled by Irv Ritchie, the original Barracuda was a fastback based on the company’s successful A-Body Valiant. It borrowed the Valiant’s hood, doors, quarter panels, bumpers, and windshield, but featured a different, and quite odd-looking front end, a new trunk section, and a wraparound rear window that was the largest ever produced at the time.
Drivetrains included three engine choices, ranging from a base, 170 cubic-inch, 101 horsepower Slant-6, an intermediary 225 cubic-inch, 145 horsepower Slant-6, and a top-of-the-range 273 cubic-inch V8 that churned out 180 ponies.
Transmissions included a standard three-speed manual, a four-speed manual, a push-button TorqueFlite, and the brand-new A904 TorqueFlite.
Performance was adequate, with 273 cubic-inch four-speed cars capable of 9-second runs to 60 mph, and 17-second quarter-mile times.
Perhaps because of its unconventional aesthetics, and/or the fact that the public largely dismissed the Barracuda as a fastback version of a plebeian family car, Plymouth only managed to sell 23,443 examples of it in an abbreviated model year. In the same time frame, Ford was able to move 126,538 Mustangs.
With the pony car wars now in full swing, and the lead firmly in Ford’s favor, Plymouth executives set their sights on a fully redesigned and improved Barracuda, slated for release as a 1967 model.
For this all-important reimagining, Plymouth enlisted the talents of John E. Herlitz, Dick McAdam, and John Samsen as chief designers. Although still based on the Valiant’s A-Body platform, the ’67 Barracuda would be a bespoke model designed from the get-go to be a true, sporty pony car. Reflecting this was the fact the car would be made available in coupe and convertible form in addition to the fastback, something that had proved critical to the Mustang’s success.
For starters, the Barracuda’s wheelbase was extended to 108-inches, some 2 inches longer than the first-gen car, in an effort to improve handling and stability.
Exterior styling was far more conventional on the new model. Up front was a handsome, aggressive-looking face, dominated by twin grill pods that contained the headlights and turn signals. The rear bubble window of the earlier car went the way of the Dodo, replaced by smaller, more restrained glass on fastback models.
The Barracuda’s flanks were bequeathed contemporary Coke-bottle contours and larger wheel openings. The car’s trunk was elongated, something that bucked the trend of long hood/short deck proportions established by the Mustang and many European sports cars.
Under the hood, the 225 cubic-inch six-cylinder was now the base engine, with the two-barrel version of the 273 continuing as the cheapest V8 option. A four-barrel Commando version of that engine, previously the top performance motor in 1965 and ’66, was now relegated to second best, usurped by Chrysler’s powerhouse 383 cubic-inch V8, which offered 280 ponies and a stump-pulling 400 lb-ft of torque.
The big-block 383 was a tight squeeze in the engine compartment and consequently suffered a 45 horsepower drop in its migration from the bigger Mopar cars like the Plymouth Belvedere and Fury due to more restrictive exhaust manifolds. The size of the engine also eliminated air conditioning and power steering from the options list due to packaging issues. Nonetheless, it provided ample power to help match the Mustang.
Backing those lumps was a choice of three- and four-speed manual transmissions as well as two versions of the three-speed TorqueFlite slushbox. Rear axles were dictated by the front-end drivetrain, and could be as big and mean as a Chrysler 8-3/4 -inch unit sporting 4.11:1 gears with a Sure-Grip limited-slip differential (LSD) on 383 cars.
Suspension was largely standard Mopar stuff of the time, with unequal-length control arms, torsion bars, and tubular shocks up front and six semi-elliptical leaf springs with tubular shocks out back. On 383-equipped cars, Plymouth wisely made the Formula S Package, which added thicker torsion bars, a front anti-sway bar, and heavy-duty shocks as mandatory equipment.
For slowing down, four-wheel drums were standard. 11.4-inch ventilated front discs could be added for an upcharge. Wheels were 14-inch steelies with styled covers optional. Wider Rallye wheels and performance redline tires were available.
On the inside, the new Barracuda had a more plush interior than the outgoing car. A split-back bench seat was standard, with buckets available for additional money. Such niceties as wood grain accents, carpeting, and a deluxe dash treatment were standard touches. Options included a performance steering wheel, a center console, a comprehensive sports gauge package, a choice of radios, and a deluxe interior package that yielded map lights, pedal trim, and rear armrests with ashtrays.
These wholesale changes yielded a vastly improved car over the previous generation. Performance was now robust, with 383-equipped Formula S models capable of a 6.8-second 0-60 burst and a 15.4-second quarter-mile at 92 mph. Not quite Shelby Mustang numbers, but certainly on par with standard hi-po Mustangs, as well as the Camaros and Firebirds which just came to market.
Perhaps more importantly for Plymouth, sales jumped to 62,554 cars. This was admittedly few compared to the 472,121 Mustangs built that model year, but it constituted a solid increase over the 38,029 Barracudas sold in 1966.
Now that Plymouth had a strong foundation to build from, they could, and would, focus on increased performance moving forward. Thusly, in 1968, the majority of changes to the Barracuda occurred under the hood.
The two-barrel version of the 273 was replaced as the entry-level V8 by Chrysler’s more powerful 318, while the new, free-revving 340 was added to the roster. What’s more, the top-of-the-line 383 was upgraded to a 300-horsepower “Super Commando” version by way of receiving the Roadrunner and Super Bee’s intake, cam, and heads.
While these were positive performance additions to the Barracuda line, Plymouth brass would ultimately have something way tastier for ’68.
The impetus for what was to come for Plymouth’s fish was twofold. In addition to the indignity of having the Mustang, now joined by the Camaro, outsell the Barracuda by orders of magnitude for the past four years, executives at Plymouth had also watched the drag strip dominance their cars once enjoyed in the early 1960s erode.
As result, many of them became desirous of having their very own speed demon. Within the company, it was felt that the A-Body Barracuda would be a prime candidate for transformation into such a car, as its compact size and weight would hold advantages over the competition.
So it was that in February 1968, corporate headquarters issued a document to all Plymouth dealers stipulating that they intended to create a factory racing version of the Barracuda for Super Stock competition. The plan was to equip the car with a race-spec 426 Hemi V8 and outfit it with bespoke lightweight elements and high-performance parts.
Enthusiasm for the proposition was high, and Plymouth engineers quickly set to work. They made an agreement with Hurst, a company with considerable racing know-how, to modify the Barracuda into a fire-breathing race car.
Hurst started with the most difficult task: cramming the massive 426 Race Hemi into an engine bay it was not intended to inhabit. This engine, featuring a gargantuan iron block, had a bore and stroke of 4.25-inches x 3.74-inches, a .484/.475-inch lift camshaft, and sported a 12.5:1 compression ratio. Breathing was courtesy of dual, 735 cfm, four-barrel Holley carbs residing atop an aluminum crossram intake. Hooker headers and lightweight, side-exiting, glass packs handled the exhale.
To make the “Elephant Motor” fit, Hurst engineers had to cut the inside of the car’s shock towers to provide the necessary room.
Added to the Hemi were a high-capacity oil pump, dual-breaker distributor, a Prestolite transistor ignition, metal core type ignition wires, unsilenced air cleaners, deep groove fan drive pulleys, a heavy-duty radiator, and an aluminum seven-blade fan equipped with viscous drive.
Next to be installed was the buyer’s choice of transmission – either a synchronizer-less A833 four-speed with a heavy-duty clutch, a steel bellhousing, and a Hurst Competition shifter, or a modified A727 TorqueFlite three-speed with a high-speed torque converter and Hurst shifter. Manuals came with a heavy-duty driveshaft and a Dana rear with 4.88 gears. Slushbox cars packed a 4.86:1, 8-3/4-inch differential.
A heavy-duty rear suspension was installed, and owing to the tremendous speed the car would be pulling at the end of a quarter-mile strip, the stock front drum brakes were tossed, replaced by four-piston discs with 4-½-inch bolt circles. Special-offset 15-inch wheels graced the rear.
To keep weight at an absolute minimum, Hurst made extensive modifications to the Barracuda’s body. A fiberglass hood, with five hold-down pins allowed for full removal from the car and featured a massive scoop that fed fresh air to the Holleys. The fenders were likewise made of fiberglass.
Acid-etched, lightweight steel doors lacked mirrors and had strap-operated manual windows manufactured from .080-inch thick, Dow-Corning Chemcor instead of glass.
The ultra-stripped-down interior had thin-pile carpeting, and non-adjustable bucket seats fastened to the floor via aluminum brackets. Anything non-essential, including a heater, rear seats, and sound deadener was deleted.
So obsessive was the attention to weight savings, that the cars were delivered unpainted, wearing only grey primer with black gelcoat on the front fenders and hood.
When all was said and done, the Hemi Barracuda, internally known as the B029, weighed a mere 3,100 pounds. The 426ci engine, while publicly rated at a laughable 425 horsepower, was actually capable of roughly 170 more ponies than that. This yielded an extraordinary power-to-weight ratio and helped the B029 to be the fastest factory muscle car built at that time.
So prodigious was its performance though, that Dodge sold the car with a sticker that stated it was only to be used for drag racing or “supervised acceleration trials.” What’s more, the cars came with no factory warranty whatsoever.
So just how prodigious was the performance? How about a low-ten-second quarter-mile at roughly 130 mph straight from the factory?!
Although exact numbers are not clear, it is thought that only 50 to 70 1968 Plymouth Barracuda B029 Super Stocks were made, and most lived very hard lives. Today, the exact number of survivors is unknown. B029s come up for sale very rarely, and when they do, fetch low- to mid-six figures.
Pretty understandable for one of the world’s fastest Rare Rides, though. Don’t you think?