Curbside Classic: 1970 & 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda – Woulda And Shoulda

In the pony car wars of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Ford won the first round. Then GM got a bite at the apple a couple of years later with the Camaro and the Firebird. Chrysler fumbled and dithered for a while, but they finally got it right, first with the (rather large) Dodge Charger in 1968, then with the right-sized 1970 Barracuda and the Challenger, just as the pony car fad was waning. Better late than never.

But with a 440 under the hood, surely this 1970 ‘cuda should be referred to as a muscle car rather than a pony car? Ah, the eternal debate on automotive semantics… Do have at it in the CComments section, if you are so inclined.

I guess the 440 makes it a muscle car by default. Generous displacement (7206cc, for us metric folk), tons of torque, well over 300hp – real ones, not the gross kind – to play with, as well as an enviable reputation for reliability: the ideal V8 for the ‘cuda?

Yeah, they called the high-performance version ‘cuda. They even badged it like that, apostrophe and lower case and all. Lose the Barra, hail the ‘cuda. Half of me likes the shorter name. Four letters and you’re done – perfection, PR-wise. Plus, the usual florid cursive was blissfully eschewed in favour of a more appropriately modern script. But on the other hand… that ‘cuda moniker is trying a bit too hard to be hip. A bit cringey.

The interior is definitely not my favourite part of this car. And judging by what CCommenters wrote in other posts dedicated to this generation of ‘cudas, that sentiment is pretty widely shared.

No, what really makes the ‘cuda the ultimate Mustang-killer is the styling. The Ford, then entering its Fat Elvis period, had lost its mojo; Chrysler were in the throes of their divisive fuselage era, which wasn’t exactly light either, despite the name.

However, the Mopar stylists must have known that it would not translate well to a shorter car, so they went for something slightly more Coke-bottley and aggressive – and it worked a charm.

So much so that they saw no reason to modify anything fundamentally. Not that they would have, given how recent the reskinning was. They did manage to make the ‘71s pretty distinctive, with that grille and the quads. Not the best idea ever – the ‘72s reverted to something less fussy.

Same deal with the profile: the only difference is the superfluous four-bar faux inlets tacked onto the front fender. I’m not against fake air intakes per se, provided they look like they fit the rest of the car. These are just too vertical to add anything to the design.

Just add some new taillights and Bob’s your uncle, the 1971 ‘cuda is ready for prime-time. I hope the designers didn’t request any overtime for this “refresh”.

It’s a bit difficult to tell if anything changed inside, given how modified this car is. At a glance though, it looks like there were no major improvements. Boy, that big plastic (or is it vinyl? Some sort of petrochemical, anyway) thing on the floor hump is really ugly. And pointless, too – if you’re going to do a console, do a console. This is just a waste of vinyl.

Despite the fussier styling, the ‘cuda still had the upper hand in 1971, in terms of aesthetics. Unless you consider the Challenger, perhaps.

Performance-wise, though, emissions controls were already starting to have an effect on the ‘cuda. I don’t know for sure what this one has under the hood – could be the 340, 383, 440 or (highly unlikely) the Hemi. But if it’s a 440 like its orange-coloured older sister here, said 440 features ten fewer hp than it did a year earlier.

So was the ’71 ‘cuda not as good as the ’70? If production numbers are any indication, the answer is yes. All models combined, including 6-cyl. models and convertibles, 1970 was a good year for the plucky Plymouth, totalling just shy of 49,000 units. In 1971, only 16,492 ‘cudas were made. Yikes.

To be fair, the ‘cuda stayed at 1971 levels for the rest of the nameplate’s life, which ended in 1974, so perhaps it was more about the end of the pony/muscle car era than anything else. Well, at least Chrysler ushered it out with a bang.

I’m not sure how to relate to cars like these, to be honest. They’re a great time capsule, what with the orange and the yellow, the decals and the hood air intakes, the huge V8s and the cheap interiors. It’s just hard to take these seriously. Sorry ‘cuda. I shoulda, and if you were a bit less extreme I woulda, but as it is, it’s just Plymouth ‘couldna for me.


Related posts:


CC Capsule: 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda Convertible – Fancy Some Bubbly?, by T87

Car Show Classic: 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe – The Broughamiest ‘cuda Around, by Tom Klockau

Cohort Sighting: 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda – The Last And Most Famous Hemi, by PN

Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1970 Plymouth Barracuda – Having The Last Laugh, by PN