In the early nineteen sixties, the runaway sales success of Chevrolet’s sporty Corvair Monza coupe established a healthy market niche for sporty compact coupes that forced competitors to take notice. Seeing the potential of a new car dedicated to this market, Ford cleverly re-bodied its dowdy Falcon compact to create what looked like an entirely new car, the Mustang. Thinking along the same lines, Chrysler went halfway, grafting a radical fastback roofline and sporty interior onto its Valiant compact and calling it Barracuda.
Hitting the market just two weeks before Ford's game-changing Mustang, Plymouth's Barracuda suffered from bad timing. Mustang mania raged hard enough to all but obliterate any notice of the Barracuda's launch. Coming from a company known for engineering advances, Chrysler’s Barracuda offered a legendary Slant 6 engine coupled with a push-button automatic transmission for the Barracuda's first year with a mild V-8 available as an option. At least the Barracuda could boast one innovation; its backlight, developed in cooperation with Pittsburg Plate Glass, was the world's largest piece of auto glass.
While Ford's re-bodied Falcon set blistering sales records, the Barracuda's lukewarm half-graft bodywork didn’t scare up such mojo. The Mustang became one of the biggest successes in automotive history as the Barracuda struggled along with mediocre sales before finally evolving into a fierce muscle car that earned it popularity. Their springtime introductions saw the Mustang far outselling the Barracuda, moving 126,538 units to the Barracuda’s paltry 23,443 sales. Today that means the fish remains far scarcer than the pony.
Starting in 1965, a Formula S package was offered that included larger wheels and tires, a V-8 engine, suspension upgrades, and a tachometer. Barracuda featured styling updates and a new dashboard for 1966.
Today, the later, muscle car era Barracudas remain high dollar collector cars, while first-generation cars languish as a forgotten footnote, frequently considered little more than a Valiant under glass. Such judgment might be overly harsh as 1964-'66 Barracudas are smoothly styled little rarities that are seldom seen at car shows, still awaiting the notice that’s always seemed just out of reach for the first generation of Plymouth’s pony car.
Written by Jim Cherry