Plymouth has been dead since 2001, which means in most parts of the country, there isn’t a trace of the brand left to be seen. It spent its last decade or so becoming increasingly irrelevant, and was the first in a wave of iconic brands that was swept into the dustbin of history in the 2000s. There aren’t many late-model Plymouths left, and in a few years, there won’t be many Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Mercurys, or Saabs left either. But Plymouth’s demise would’ve been inconceivable half a century ago, when it was one of the best-selling automakers in America. What’s more, it could’ve changed the course of history, if Ford hadn’t had the same idea.
The Plymouth Barracuda was released on April 1, 1964, as a sporty coupe designed to capture the growing youth market. Sixteen days later, Ford introduced the Mustang, capturing (and defining) the segment. The Barracuda would languish throughout the decade before going out in a brief, brilliant blaze of glory in the 1970s. Plymouth’s final Barracudas would go on to define the peak of the muscle car era, and leave such a mark that the modern day Fiat Chrysler may even be bringing the nameplate back.
In the early 1960s, a growing youth market began to demand smaller, sportier cars with long options lists to help them personalize their cars. By 1963, Plymouth felt its compact Valiant would provide a perfect platform for such a car, and set to work designing a sporty body for its otherwise pedestrian offering. From the windows down, the Barracuda looked like a two-door Valiant, but it had a massive wraparound rear window, at the time the largest piece of glass ever used on a production car.
Unfortunately, the Mustang just captured the public’s imagination better, with its more elegant styling, longer options list, and range of powerful engines. The Barracuda’s base engine was the venerable Chrysler Slant Six engine, and its range-topper was a 180-horsepower 273-cubic-inch V8. It was an interesting car, but it wasn’t enough to make a splash in the opening days of the muscle car wars.