The Plymouth Barracuda->ke1486 saga began in 1964 as a fastback coupe based on the Valiant. The first-generation Barracuda was mostly famous for its distinctive wraparound rear glass, but also for being Plymouth’s->ke1483 first sporty, compact vehicle or “pony car.” No match for the popular Ford Mustang, the Barracuda was redesigned for 1967, when notchback and convertible versions joined the already familiar fastback. Although still Valiant-based, the second-gen Barracuda received new sheet metal and larger engines, including Chrysler’s 7.2-liter, 440 Commando V-8 and the 7.0-liter, HEMI 426 V-8. The Barracuda reached its popularity peak in the early 1970s, as the heavily redesigned, third-generation model joined the muscle car wars. Longer and wider, the 1970 Barracuda renounced its Valiant roots and adopted an image of its own, while sitting on Chrysler’s->ke21 new E-body platform.
The third-gen Barracuda also marked the demise of Plymouth’s main weapon against the Ford Mustang. As the oil crisis struck and compression ratios were reduced in performance engines, the nameplate died altogether after the 1974 model year. Fortunately enough, the short-lived HEMI Cuda, sold only in 1970 and 1971, made a huge impact in the muscle car->ke507 world, enabling the Barracuda moniker to sit alongside the like of the Mustang, Camaro->ke248 and Challenger at the top of the pony car kingdom. Although the original HEMI died 50 years ago and Plymouth got the ax in 2001, the HEMI Cuda lives on as one of America’s most prized collectible car. Read on to find out what makes the Cuda a special muscle car.
Updated 09/23/2014: A 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda just popped up at RK Motors for a price of $1,999,990.
Click past the jump to read more about the 1970-1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda
- Model: 1970 – 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda
- Engine/Motor: Hemi V8
- Horsepower: 475
- Torque: 490
Completely redesigned for 1970, the Plymouth Barracuda ditched its original fastback styling in favor of a more muscular, coupe body, joined by a convertible version. Underpinned by the same E-body platform as the newly launched Dodge Challenger, but slightly shorter than the latter, the Barracuda switched from being an economy pony to a full-time muscle car.
The 1970 HEMI Cuda’s design is highlighted by its large, split front grille with round headlamps, prominent rear fenders and horizontal, tri-bar taillights. The bumpers are now integrated into the body, compared to the second-gen Barracura, while the roof sits a tad lower, complementing the car’s lower and wider stance. The shaker hood option was present on all HEMI-equipped Cudas, along with race-inspired hood pins. Other visual features available for the HEMI Cuda included various decal sets and high-impact colors, including Lime Light, Tor Red, Lemon Twist, Vitamin C, In-Violet, Sassy Grass, and Moulin Rouge.
In 1971, a small facelift updated the Cuda’s front end with a new grille and four headlamps, while the rear fascia gained one-piece taillights. Plymouth also added four gills on the muscle car’s front fenders. The rubber bumper and the shaker hood options carried over unchanged.
Like most muscle cars of the era, the third-generation Barracuda came with a spartan interior. The simple, wing-like dashboard carried very few convenience features, mostly consisting of an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player, a cigarette lighter, and a glove box lock. A three-spoke steering wheel was standard equipment, but Plymouth also offered a sportier Rim Blow option.
Another check box on the options list enabled customers to replace the standard front seats with a vinyl, split-bench seat, a popular feature back in the day. Other interior highlights included a Rallye instrument cluster, floor mats, tinted windows, and an ignition switch lamp. Nothing fancy really, but the HEMI Cuda was more about the race-bred engine under the hood than luxury and convenience features.
1970 brought more than just visual changes to the Plymouth Barracuda. The third-gen Cuda also saw the introduction of a slightly revised engine lineup that included a slant-six mill and various V-8 powerplants. The iconic 426 HEMI powerplant, however, remained largely unchanged and generated the same 425 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 490 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. This race-bred engine made the HEMI Cuda the range-topping Barracuda of the third-gen model by developing more output than the larger 7.2-liter V-8, which was rated at 390 ponies.
Mated to either a four-speed manual or a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, the 426 HEMI enabled the Cuda to charge from 0 to 60 mph in only 5.8 seconds, an outstanding figure for the era. The 0-to-100-mph sprint stood at 13 seconds, while top speed was rated at 117 mph. On the quarter-mile strip, the HEMI Cuda was one of the fastest muscle cars available, needing only 14 seconds to complete the run .
Chrysler’s HEMI-powered coupe continued unchanged for the 1971 model year, which turned out to be the HEMI’s last year on the market. The automaker retired the 426 “Elephant” starting in 1972, when all manufacturers reduced compression ratios in their high-performance engines, leaving half a dozen Plymouths and Dodges without their most powerful units. No big-block V-8 engine would be offered on the Barracuda through 1974, when the nameplate was axed.
In 1970, the HEMI Cuda was the most expensive Barracuda available. The HEMI option cost $900 at the time, nearly a third of the standard vehicle’s purchase price. The 440 V-8 option, for instance, was priced at only $250.
The third-generation Barracuda is a collectible car today, with the high-performance HEMI versions commanding high prices at auctions. Well-documented and outstanding examples can fetch in excess of $200,000, with low mileage cars known to sell for more than $400,000.
Rare versions, like the 1971 example depicted here, which comes with only 2,010 miles on the odo, an original, unrestored body and original underpinnings, are sold for more than $1 million.
The Rallye Red model shown here commands $1,999,990 as of 9/23/2014.
Ford Mustang Boss 429
By 1970, the Ford Mustang had also grown in size. Once a pony, the first generation ‘Stang grew into a larger muscle car with the 1969 facelift. The car became 3.8 inches longer and a half-inch wider, and gained a more aggressive appearance. Much like the Cuda, the Mustang was sold with many engine choices consisting of smaller inline-six units or larger eight-bangers, but it was the Boss option that stood at the top of the range.
Available for both 1969 and 1970 model years, the 7.0-liter, Boss 429 V-8 engine was officially rated at 375 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, although some say the unit is cranked farther than that. For instance, it’s known for a fact that Ford’s Cobra Jet V-8 churned in excess of 400 ponies, although it was marketed as a 335-horsepower engine. Created to homologate the Boss 429 engine for NASCAR, the Mustang Boss 429 was essentially the best HEMI fighting option you could purchase from a Ford dealership.
Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
GM redesigned the Camaro for the 1970 model year, marking the vehicle’s first major overhaul since its introduction in 1967. The second-gen muscle car was longer, lower and wider that its predecessor, and received completely new front and rear fascias. While the 1970 Camaro retained its selection of engines, the SS model had its engine displacement increased from 6.5 to 6.6 liters. The L78 engine was rated at 350 horsepower. Although Chevy gave up on initial plans to launch 7.4-liter engines for the second-gen Camaro, it did come up with a new Z/28 model.
Using the same 5.7-liter, LT-1 V-8 powerplant offered in the Corvette, Chevy was able to deliver a range-topping Camaro that came with 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. The high-performance mill mated to either a four-speed manual or a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic 400 automatic.
Although the standard Plymouth Barracuda is often overshadowed by the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro, the HEMI Cuda is arguably one of the most desirable classic muscle cars you can purchase nowadays. Sure, the HEMI Cuda isn’t the only race-bred muscle car Detroit had to offer in the early 1970s, but the HEMI 426 engine and its rich motorsport heritage took Mopars to a whole new level. It’s not at all surprising that these vehicles are rare and expensive today. The pricy HEMI option prevented Plymouth from building too many of them and the demise of the high-displacement engine forced Chrysler to discontinue the 426 at the end of the 1971 model year. With only two years on the market, we can see why the HEMI Cuda became one of the most sought-after muscle cars of the 21st century.