American society experienced a number of earth-shaking changes in the 50s and 60s. Perhaps the most significant of these was the growing affluence and influence of young people. Teens and twentysomethings not only began speaking their mind, they also attracted the attention of Detroit’s Big Three. To reach the burgeoning youth market, automakers unveiled a series of sporty, powerful, affordable models beginning in 1964.
The Barracuda the earliest example— hitting the market two weeks earlier than the famed Ford Mustang. It borrowed the Valiant’s wheelbase, hood, headlight bezels, quarter panels, A-pillar, bumpers, doors, and windshield. This significantly reduced Chrysler’s development costs, allowing the company to get the car to market in record time.
The ’64’s powertrain was the same as the Valiant’s as well. This included the legendary slant-six engine in both 2.8-liter (170 cu. in.) and 3.7-liter (225 cu. in.) versions. Plymouth also offered a 4.5-liter (273 cu. in.) V8 configuration. That first year was also the last time the company offered a push-button version of its TorqueFlite automatic transmission in the Barracuda.
The slant-six engine is still spoken of with reverence by old-school wrench-turners. It’s one of the best motors Detroit ever turned out. A slant-six can run virtually forever with only minimal maintenance. Its straightforward engineering makes working on it a piece of cake, even for shade tree mechanics with a few basic tools.
The ’64 Barracuda’s most distinctive characteristic, though, was its massive rear window. Covering a total of 14.4 sq. ft., the huge piece of glass was a joint effort between Chrysler designers and a Pittsburgh company.
Towards the end of ’66, Plymouth made an effort to pull the Barracuda off the Valiant nameplate. In 1967, the new redesign would prove a serious competitor in the segment.