1969 Plymouth Barracuda 383/440

Plymouth committed itself to Barracuda performance hook, line, and sinker in 1969. It began by using the ’Cuda name officially to denote a new enthusiast package. Sold with the 340 or 383 engines in fastback or hardtop, the ’Cuda tag basically meant an appearance group with Formula S underpinnings. A pair of non-functional hood scoops, two black hood stripes, black lower-body paint, and ’Cuda fender decals were its styling cues. The Formula S package could still be ordered on any body style. Cast-aluminum wheels were a new option across the line. The 383 was increased to 330 horsepower and finally was available with power steering.

But the baddest ’Cuda of all came in on a wave that crested mid-year. Feeling pressure again from rival big-block pony cars, Plymouth abandoned all restraint and stuffed MoPar’s 375-horsepower 440-cubic-inch four-barrel V-8 into the Barracuda. The results were mixed. On the positive side, Plymouth now had bragging rights to the largest-displacement pony car up to that time. And the 440 sure did get the ETs down, usually into the high 13s at around 104 mph. But there were problems.

The engine bay was once again too crowded to allow a power steering pump. And with 57 percent of the ’Cuda 440’s 3400 pounds over the front tires, that was as much a drawback as it had been with the original 383. Neither was there enough room for a booster that was needed to energize the front disc brakes that were standard on other ’Cudas. So the 440 did without those as well, to the detriment of stopping distances.

Finally, MoPar engineers feared that a four-speed manual transmission would encourage speed shifts that would destroy the 440 ’Cuda’s rear-end hardware. So this muscle fish came only with the TorqueFlite. Though it turned a respectable 14.01 at 103.81, Car Life magazine said it was disappointed in the 440 ’Cuda’s drag-strip performance. It was difficult to get the rear tires to bite off the line, and the TorqueFlite—lifted from Plymouth’s family sedans—didn’t shift with a racer’s crispness. The magazine said the 440 ’Cuda was at its best on the highway. There its abundant power reserves afforded effortless passing, its steering and braking shortcomings were minimized, and its firm Formula S suspension made it feel secure. Car Life recommended that performance enthusiasts fishing for more than acceleration alone cast a line for the 340 ’Cuda. “Indeed,” it advised, “there are such obvious discrepancies between the superb way the ’Cuda 440 goes, and the way it does other things (like, for example, stop) that in many ways it is a disturbing automobile.”

Plymouth wasn’t finished with big-block Barracudas, however, not by a long shot. Production of the MoPar compact dipped to 31,987 in this, the last year before a wholesale change would reshape the Barracuda for 1970.

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