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The Plymouth Barracuda was the first pony car, debuting two weeks before the Ford Mustang. It was quickly eclipsed by the Mustang and the Camaro/Firebird due, but would make a name for itself in 1970 when it was available with an engine its competition could only dream of, the Hemi.
Initially a lame coupe version of the Valiant rushed to market to beat the outcoming Mustang, Plymouth finally got the performance angle right for 1970. The Barracuda was moved over to the E-body platform, which it shared with the new Dodge Challenger. The Barracuda rode on a two inch shorter wheelbase than the similar Dodge Challenger, even though its overall body dimensions were the same. The performance models were called 'Cudas and featured five different V8s, the 340, 383, 440, 440+6, and the almighty 426 Hemi. The 440s and the Hemi cars received a special high performance suspension to put all that power to the road. Standard Barracudas came with a flat hood, while 'Cudas came with standard dual non-functional hood scoops. Optional on all 'Cudas (and standard on Hemi's) was a very functional shaker scoop, so named because it attached directly to the engine, and poked up through a hole in the hood and thus "shaked" whenever the engine did. The Hemi cost $871 and was installed on just 652 hardtops (out of 17,242) and 14 convertibles (out of 550) copies. It sported hydraulic lifters and was easier to tune than in previous years. The 440+6 was a bargin at just $250 and could keep up with the Hemi till about 70 mph. Both engines were tricky to drive: the 440+6 vacuum-actuated front and rear carbs came on with little warning, while the Hemi's stiff throttle linkage sometimes snapped all eight barrels open at once.
Plymouth also built a special model for 1970: the Plymouth AAR 'Cuda. AAR was taken from Dan Gurney's All-American Racers, which raced 'Cudas in he Sports Car Club of America Trans-Am racing series. But whereas Ford and Chevrolet built special models (Boss 302 Mustang and Camaro Z28) meant to mimic the race cars, Plymouth built a street rod. Along with the similar Dodge Challenger T/A, the AAR 'Cuda sported a unique 340 cid V8 with 3x2 carbs that pumped out 290 bhp. The exterior was definitely unique with a matte-black lift-off fiberglass hood, through body-side strobe stripes, tri-colored AAR shield, and standard black ducktail spoiler. The AAR 'Cuda also had special shocks and recambered rear springs which raised the rear end 1 3/4 inches over the regular 'Cuda which allowed clearance for exhaust pipes that exited in front of the rear wheelwell (after routing through the standard muffler beneath the trunk). It also permitted the use of larger tires in the rear, one of the first uses of wider rear tires on a production automobile.
The Plymouth Barracuda continued into 1971 with minor styling changes, including a segmented grille with twin headlamps, dummy front fender vents, and segmented tail lamps. A full range of engines were available and the top performance models were once again called 'Cudas. The AAR 'Cuda was no longer available. To deal with increasingly strict emission laws, Plymouth was forced to detune some of their engines, resulting in a drop in the power ratings. Only 115 Hemi 'Cudas were sold and Plymouth decided to retire the Hemi engine before it had to be detuned to meet the new emission standards. Therefore, the Hemi would end its reign as the most feared and possibly most influential engine of the muscle car era.
Sadly, tightening emission constrains further strangled the life out of the Barracuda. 1974 was the last year for the true Barracudas, which continued with just the 318 and 360 engines. The Barracuda would never return again as a true performance vehicle.