History might not remember it quite that way, but the Plymouth Barracuda actually arrived on the market a few weeks before the Ford Mustang in 1964. Here’s the story behind the sporty Mopar coupe.
When the Ford Mustang was officially introduced on April 17, 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, it became one of the most successful new car rollouts in Motor City history. Truly an overnight sensation, the Mustang sold more than 121,000 units in its first few months of production and established a whole new vehicle category among American car buyers, the pony car.
Nearly lost in all this hoopla was the introduction of a similar sort of car by the Plymouth division of the Chrysler Corporation, the Barracuda, on April 1, only a few weeks earlier. While the original Mustang and Barracuda are rather different products—the Barracuda was not a true pony car, many will say—they were targeted at the same audience and they do share some interesting similarities.
Both the Mustang and Barracuda were based on conventional compact car packages: the Mustang on the Ford Falcon and the Barracuda on Chrysler’s A-body Plymouth Valiant. However, while the Mustang employed all new exterior sheet metal to produce a long hood, short deck profile—the pony car hallmark—the Barracuda was essentially a Valiant from the belt line down, sporting only a few minor trim changes. To generate a different look, Chrysler stylists went to the rear of the 106-inch wheelbase platform and created a sleek fastback profile that stretched to the trailing edge of the deck lid. The huge rear glass, nearly 15 square feet overall, was developed in partnership with Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG).
Mechanically, the Barracuda was essentially a Valiant as well, with the same drivetrain choices: 170 CID and 225 CID Slant Sixes and at the top of the lineup, a 273 CID V8 with a two-barrel carb and 180 hp. (The high-performance options would come the following year.) Transmissions included a four-speed manual box with floor shifter and a three-speed Torqueflite automatic. Regarded by Chrysler as a Valiant in 1964, not a stand-alone model, the Barracuda carried both Valiant and Barracuda badges on the exterior and interior.
The sporty cabin was trimmed in deluxe vinyl in a choice of black, blue, gold, and red, with bucket seats in front and a folding rear seat that could carry three in a pinch, as shown above. With the rear seat in the folded position, a nicely carpeted, chrome-trimmed cargo floor was created, which Plymouth called a “seven-feet anything space.” However, with no lifting hatchback, only a small deck lid, access to the storage area was limited.
Extra-cost options included a wood-rimmed steering wheel, simulated-mag wheel covers, and a pushbutton radio—a typical range of equipment choices, but far short of the extensive list of options that allowed Mustang owners to virtually design their own vehicles. The modest advertising campaign launched with the Barracuda focused on the fastback roof, seating for five, and a list price under $2500.
So on paper at least, the Barracuda’s features and specs stacked up well against the Mustang, but in the marketplace it wasn’t much of a contest. Plymouth’s sporty coupe racked up over 23,000 sales in the first model year, a respectable number but not in the same league with the Mustang, which outsold the Barracuda by five to one. Plymouth would eventually get a real pony car with the second-generation Barracuda, but that would have to wait until 1967.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
General Motors styling boss Bill Mitchell had a taste for drama in automobile design, and few were more dramatic than the boat-tailed 1971 Buick Riviera.
The flamboyant styling of the 1971 Buick Riviera is formally credited to Jerry Hirshberg of the Buick advanced design studio (later, chief of design at Nissan) but the inspiration and driving force behind its radical look was GM design vice president Bill Mitchell. “It was his baby,” former GM design director David Holls told Collectible Automobile magazine in 1990. The ’63 Corvette Sting Ray was Mitchell’s favorite car, Holls explained. “He felt that cars were getting kind of ordinary and bland, and he wanted that kind of drama in a larger car.” The result, introduced on September 22, 1970, was the memorable ’71 Riviera.
Plans were originally laid to base the Riviera on the stretched-intermediate platform shared by the Chevy Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix. But in the end, the car got a full-size chassis with a 122-inch wheelbase and a full perimeter frame, discarding the cruciform frame used on previous Buick E-bodies. This GM studio model from April 1968 (above) exhibits all the key styling elements of the eventual production car in exaggerated form—note the deep checkmark line in the greenhouse and rear quarter panel.
Even in toned-down production form, the Boattail Riviera, as it shall forever be known, made a radical fashion statement. The giant two-door coupe was highly controversial even within the halls of the GM styling studios, but that was of no concern to Mitchell. At more than 218 inches, the Riverboat was nearly as long as a four-door LeSabre sedan, but without even a nod to packaging efficiency. The Riviera was above all an exercise in style.
The two-door hardtop, model 49400, was the only available body style, with a base price of $5,253, and while the standard equipment list was long, the list of available options was equally lengthy, including Cruise Master and GM’s vaunted thumbwheel Climate Control. One forward-looking $91 option was Max Trac, an early form of electronic traction control. Interior choices were many, all luxurious (below). Buyers who chose the bucket/console combination got a neat boat-throttle shift lever to command the standard Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission and 455 cubic-inch V8.
Despite the bombastic styling, or maybe because of it, the new Riviera was less than a sensation in the showrooms. Annual sales slipped to around 33,000 units in 1971, the worst year for Riviera to date, where they remained for 1972 as well. For ’73, the final year of the production cycle, the boattail styling was squared up and smoothed down a bit, in part to meet tougher federal impact standards, but sales remained planked in the 33,000 range. Mitchell’s boattail Riviera proved to be polarizing in the GM styling studios, polarizing in the Buick showrooms, and from what we hear around the campfire, the styling remains polarizing to this day. But for our part, we like it.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
More than once, General Motors played with the idea of transforming the sporty Corvair sedan into a real two-place sports car. Here’s the first official effort, the 1961 Sebring Spyder.
Among other things, GM styling boss Bill Mitchell was a sports car enthusiast. And like any sports car guy, he could see that Chevrolet’s Corvair sedan provided all the necessary components to create a real two-place sports car: air-cooled flat six, a rear transaxle, a light and compact chassis. Eliminate the back seat, add some authentic sports car styling elements, and there you have it—the Corvair Sebring Spyder, a proper sporting two-seater.
Carrying the internal GM designation XP-737, the Sebring Spyder was created by shortening a production 1961 Corvair floor pan some 15 inches, eliminating the rear seat region and shortening the wheelbase from 108 to 93 inches. (This same shortening technique was used on another GM two-seat concept around that time, the Pontiac Tempest Monte Carlo we featured here.) Racy split windscreens and a fiberglass tonneau section with a center divider and twin headrests closed out the upper bodywork.
Racing car accoutrements included a custom dash with full instruments, wire wheels, rear brake ducts, and petite split bumperettes front and rear. Initially, a Paxton centrifugal supercharged was installed, but when the turbocharged Monza Spyder engine became available for ’62, a substitute powerplant was swapped in. Wearing a bright coat of candy apple red paint with white racing stripes, the Sebring Spyder made the rounds of the auto shows and appeared at the annual June Sprints at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In November of 1961, the Corvair two-seater appeared on the cover of Car and Driver magazine.
The Sebring Sprint was scrapped in 1966, the official story goes, but it launched a string of similar Corvair-based sports car and GT concepts starting with the Sebring Super Spyder of 1962. (The Super Spyder still exists and can be found at the GM Heritage Collection.) Meanwhile, the Sebring Spyder’s split bumperettes found immortality of their own. Cal Custom, the famed Los Angeles hot rod parts purveyors, offered knockoffs of the attractive design (below), and the pieces are highly prized by Corvair enthusiasts today.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.