The muscle car arms race of the late sixties and early seventies saw American manufacturers battle with spiralling horsepower figures in order to win over customers. At it’s peak around 1970, the Plymouth Cuda became one of the muscle cars to have.
While the original Barracuda was released in 1964 - a ‘pony car’ released just two weeks before its greatest rival, the Ford Mustang - it wasn’t until 1969 that the ‘Cuda moniker introduced serious performance to the range. At its peak in 1970/71, the Cuda sported a 425bhp Hemi V8 and a sub-six second 0-60mph time.
Today the Cuda is considered a highly desirable muscle car, with values for rare, original examples reaching well into six figures. Just over 25,000 were produced between 1970-1971 - years regarded as the peak of Cuda production - with collectors most keen on the Hemi-engined models. While they are the most desirable, it’s worth bearing in mind that their shorter gearing and firmer suspension setup make them a little more wearing to drive than the regular ‘Big Block’ Cudas.
Which one to buy?
Though the Plymouth Barracuda was first released in 1964, it wasn’t until 1969 that the Cuda nametag appeared. Reserved for the most potent choices in the range, it was equipped with a 275bhp 340 V8 as standard, and optionally available with a 6.3-litre producing 330bhp.
1970 brought about significant changes. The Chrysler A platform used by the first two generations of Barracuda was ditched in favour of the all-new E platform. Shared with the Dodge Challenger, The E-body was significantly wider, allowing for Cudas to be equipped with a 425bhp 7.0-litre Hemi V8. Sitting just below the Hemi in the line-up were two variations of a 7.2-litre V8; the 390bhp ‘Six Pak’ (sporting three twin-barrel carburettors), and the four-barrel Super Commando, which produced 375bhp. A 335bhp 6.3-litre unit was the most common engine choice at the time.
The wider body also brought about completely revised styling. Available as either a coupe or convertible, ‘70 models featured a single headlamp units sat at either end of a wide front grille featuring the familiar Plymouth central divide, while at the back sat a chrome bumper below square, finned tail lights. A huge selection of exterior colours were offered, many of them retina-melting.
The Cudas competed in the Trans-Am series, picking up 3 pole positions and a best race result of 2nd in 1970. To mark the motorsport involvement, a road-going spin-off called the AAR ‘Cuda was created. It used a 5.6-litre block as a base, albeit with uprated carbs, valves and cylinder heads. Spoilers were fitted front and rear (the front spoiler was optional) and the hood was made from fibreglass.
In 1971, the peak of the line-up remained the Hemi, though below the ranged some minor tweaks to the line-up. The most significant changes came in the form of the styling. A new front grille featured several slats fanning out from the centre, and was now flanked by four headlamp units. The taillights were subtly tweaked, while the interior gained minor trim changes.
1970 and 1971 models are the most desirable among muscle car collectors, as these two years of production were the only to include the Hemi V8. Cars produced in 1972 and ‘73 featured the 5.6-litre V8 as the most powerful option, while the final year of production saw the introduction of a new 5.9-litre four-barrel lump. The front end design reverted to single headlamps, and the grille switched back to sporting one angular central divider (more prominent to the centre section of ‘70 models) At the rear, the square light units were replaced by four round lamps.
Performance and spec
Engine 6974cc V8
Power 425bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 490lb ft @ 4000rpm
Top speed 117mph
Fuel consumption approx 7.2mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
● The ‘Cuda is known to suffer from rust in several areas. Among the most crucial areas to look out for are the pair of torque boxes ahead of the firewall in the floor pan. As they bear the load of the engine’s torque, any corrosion here could cause damage to the chassis
● Other areas to check for rust include the torsion bar crossmember, around the hood hinges, door sills, the boot floor and rear quarter panels, and the leaf spring mounts, as well as the external body panels
● Given their desirability, it isn’t unusual for some owners to produce clones of the Hemi V8s. Some more unscrupulous sellers may try to pass these cars off as genuine Hemi Cudas, so the first point of call should be to confirm that all numbers are matching by checking that the VIN plate, door sticker and fender tags all correspond. It is, however, worth noting that these can all be reproduced, so an original factory build sheet is the best way to verify originality. If you’re looking to spend big money on a rare example, it’s best to bring a ‘Cuda expert.
1964: Plymouth Barracuda released
1969: Top-spec models of second-gen Barracuda feature a 5.6-litre V8, and gain the option a 330bhp version of big block. These performance models are dubbed ‘Cuda
1970: Third generation Barracuda released. 7.0-litre Hemi V8 offered at the top of the range. 2724 examples of limited-edition AAR model produced.
1971: Styling changes included four headlamps, new tail lights and minor changes to interior trim
1972: Cuda no longer available with Hemi V8, the largest engine choice reverting to the 340 V8
1974: 360 4-barrel engine replaces the 340. Barracuda production phased out at the end of the year.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
● www.moparuk.com - UK-based forum and owners’ club for a wide range of Chrysler Group vehicles
● www.cuda-challenger.com - US-based club dedicated to the Plymouth Cuda and Dodge Challenger
● www.pgclassic.com - Specialists in Mopar restoration parts. Based in Canada, but ships worldwide
Summary and prices
Value for most Cudas, whether based in the States or in Europe, tend to sit at £45-£65,000. The best examples of Hemis can fetch significantly more. A ‘71 Cuda coupe, completely original and un-restored, sold at the 2014 Kissimmee auction for £346,658.
The rarest - and therefore most valuable - Cudas are ‘71 Hemi convertibles. Only 11 were built, and the last time an example sold at auction (in Seattle, June 2014) fetched £2.07million.
Words: Alex Ingram