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.