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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Fishy Story Or How Plymouth Got The Jump And Lost The Race To Ford.

By Miguel Caparros
The 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang was the first Pony Car. Chrysler Plymouth did their best to try to steal the thunder of the April New York Worlds Fair Introduction, by releasing the Plymouth Valiant Barracuda on April first, two weeks before the opening of the Fair. Chrysler did a great job incorporating the large glass fast back onto the mundane Plymouth economy car and actually created a niche for the car.  It was not until 1965 with the introduction of the "S" package that the Barracuda was actually taken seriously as a performance car. Plymouth was ahead of the curve in SCCA Road Racing and the Barracuda was always in the running in the early Trans Am Series.
It was not until the 1967 introduction of the second generation A body Barracuda that the car was taken seriously by the enthusiast. With a truly fresh design and the addition of a coupe and convertible to the fastback, sales were brisk but nothing in comparison to the Mustang and the Camaro Firebird duo from GM. For such a low production numbers, Chrysler gave its buyers every thing from the legendary 225 six to the ground pounding 2 four barrel 426 Hemi V8.
In my opinion the best balanced of all the "Cudas" was the1968-69 340 powered fastback. Find a nice one of those with the S package, a "6 pack" intake and carburetors, some modern tires and suspension and you would have a butt kicking very usable street, track and show car. Although the 3rd generation of cars with the big block power are very celebrated today. The second generation A bodied cars were the most graceful with well designed lines with little or no gimmicks.

1970 saw the introduction of the 3rd generation Barracuda along with its brother for Dodge, the Challenger. By far the most aggressively designed of all the pony cars, they were also the biggest. The need for space for the big block motors led Chrysler to build their new Pony cars on the "E" platform shared with the full size Belvedere and Coronet. In racing Dodge and Plymouth Super Bird aero cars were the cars to beat in NASCAR and on the drag strip that duty fell to the Cuda, and Challenger. In 1970 the hottest racing series was not NASCAR, it was the SCCA's Trans Am Series. With the win on Sunday Sell on Monday mind set all the manufacturers had official and un-official road race teams. The crowds were huge with some venues having as many as 70,000 attendees. The #48  Plymouth Cuda AAR (All American Racing) with Dan Gurney, Sweede Savage and Sam Posey. A friend of mine bought the ex Dan Gurney/Sweede Savage car and I had the opportunity to flog this car at Infineon Raceway (formerly known as Sears Point, California) My first reaction was, "my god, this thing is huge" and that it was. It felt wider than any thing I ever drove on  road course and only exceeded when I drove Ken Epsman's 1963, Mercury Marauder with no power steering. Check out Sam Posey's Road & Track article of his reunion with the sister to the car I drove and his original 1970 race car.

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