Chrysler didn’t reach very far when it created its sporty small car in the spring of 1964. The Barracuda was pretty much a Plymouth Valiant from the roofline down, and pure Valiant in power and suspension. It had its own grille, fastback roof, and the rear-end sheetmetal.

But these changes weren’t enough to emulate the wholesale personality change that Ford accomplished when it rebodied the Falcon as the wildly successful Mustang. The Ford overwhelmed the Barracuda in sales, a snub made worse because the Plymouth actually beat it to the showrooms by a couple of weeks. The scenario was repeated when Chevrolet reskinned the Chevy II as the sleek and successful Camaro in 1967. Barracuda may have been more functional than these pony cars, but it lacked their sexiness and sales appeal.

1965 Plymouth Barracuda 273
The 1965 Plymouth Barracuda 273 used the four-barrel
Commando 273-cid engine, which had a 10.5:1 compression and 235 bhp.

The first Barracuda actually carried Valiant emblems and was in fact called the Plymouth Valiant Barracuda. It was a five-passenger two door equipped as the top-line Valiant Signet, though it had a fold-down rear seat and a larger cargo area. Built on a 106-inch wheelbase, it came standard with a 225-cubic inch six, but about 90 percent were ordered with the optional 180-horsepower 273-cubic-inch V-8. It cost $2496 and weighed 2905 pounds in base V-8 form. But it was no match for the Mustang, which offered a trio of V-8s, including the 271-horse High Performance 289.

Chrysler fought back in ’65 with the four-barrel Commando 273. A hotter camshaft and Carter carburetion bumped horsepower up to 235. A three-speed manual transmission was standard with the 273; a four-speed or TorqueFlite automatic was optional. Axle ratios varied, but most customers opted for 3.23:1 gears behind their 273s. These Barracudas started at a modest $2571, but the best they could manage were quarter-mile times in the mid- to high-17s.

To Plymouth’s credit, it recognized that not all performance is measured in straight-line acceleration. Thus, Barracuda’s optional Formula “S” sports package. It included the Commando 273; a tachometer; heavy-duty shocks, springs and sway bar; and Goodyear Blue Streak tires on wide-rim 14-inch wheels (replacing the usual 13-inchers). Front disc brakes could be installed by dealers. Circular “Formula S” medallions on the fender identified the package, and many were ordered with the racing stripe that was a regular Barracuda option.

Barracuda production nearly tripled in ’65, with 64,596 ready to find customers.

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