1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda and Barracuda Convertibles
In the 1970s, anyone could walk into a Chrysler and Plymouth showroom or a dealership in the USA to purchase any number of Hemi Barracuda Convertibles as much as they needed. There were no limits or any shortages either. Chrysler made only 25 Hemi-powered Barracuda convertibles between 1970 and 1971. Only 14 cars in the 1970 model year and 11 more in 1971. Two cars made in 1970 were used as of press demonstrators or as promotion cars and were sold later than used cars. So, only a dozen Hemi Barracuda Convertibles were purchased by customers in 1970 and 11 in 1971. Due to this reason alone, these cars are considered among the most valuable American cars built in the US. Why they only made 25 Hemi-powered Barracuda convertibles?
Joe Oldham, an automotive generalist, and an enthusiast claimed in “The All-American Muscle Car” that nobody wanted to be associated with a car like that due to poor build quality and mechanical problems. He worked as a writer for Hi-Performance Cars and Speed and Supercar magazines back in the 1960s and early 1970s. He looked at the cars as an industry insider, not as a consumer or a collector at the time. It was his job to drive the cars and to review the new cars of the day whether it was a Hemi Barracuda, Pontiac GTO, or an Oldsmobile 4 4 2, they were just cars for him back in the day.
According to his expert opinion Chrysler couldn’t sell the Barracuda Convertibles in quantities they wanted to sell were due to a simple reason. They were terrible to drive and too poorly built to use as everyday vehicles. In “The All-American Muscle Car” he recalls that he dreaded the very feeling of having to drive a Mopar muscle car, specifically the Hemi-powered cars
He claims that performance-wise, the Plymouth and Chrysler cars powered with either Mopar or Hemi engines could hold up with the rivals like the Pontiac GTO, the Oldsmobile 4 4 2, Chevrolet Chevelle, or high-performance Ford Mustangs. They had excellent low-end torque and decent acceleration. But they were crudely built compared to the cars from Ford and GM divisions. The Plymouth and Chrysler made cars were known for cheap plastic interior, knobs that would break with even a slight touch, windows that kept rattling when driven around due to not sealing properly when closed, loosen up carpets, missing nuts, and bolts, etc.
The Hemi Cuda, Dodge Chargers, Dodge Coronet R/T, Plymouth GTXs, Plymouth Road Runner, and all the Mopar models with Hemi engines were even worse. The Hemi engines were weighing 200 pounds more than the Mopar and these Hemi engines were notorious back in the day for being unreliable.
The Hemi engines were originally developed for the NASCAR and NHRA competitions and were introduced in 1964. The engine was designed to run at full throttle on a track at 6800 rpm max. Due to this reason, it barely made any low-end torque.
In 1968, with the introduction of Federal emission controls the Mopar and Hemi engines with the modifications they received to comply with the rules were proven to make things even worse. It was widely known that a team of Mopar experts and tuners lead by Al Kirschenbaum, then manager of the high-performance division at Plymouth, accompanied the car reviewers on every Mopar track test.
The four-speed Chrysler 1833 transmission units were extremely hard to shift unless you had the muscle to do so. The pistol grip shifter proved to be a little better when compared to the four-speed transmission unit. So, many of the buyers opted for a three-speed TorqueFlite Automatic transmission unit.
The Automotive related news publishers at the time were very vocal about these issues. Some of them even received death threats due to the negative feedback they provided regarding the Mopar and Hemi powered cars. Due to low demand only limited specific Hemi-powered cars were made by the Chrysler though the total production of Hemi-powered cars was thousands in the 1960s.
Ex – Chrysler built only 166 Hemi-powered Dodge SuperBee cars in 1968 due to the low demand.
Due to the widely known mechanical issues, poor build quality, and negative press releases, people avoided the Hemi-powered or four-speed cars like the plague unless they were fanboys or were interested in track racing. The street racing enthusiasts opted for the 440 cubic-inch Wedge engine with the three-speed TorqueFlite Automatic due to cost-effective and reliability concerns. The Hemi engine was $800 extra and $200 more for the four-speed gearbox proving that it was too expensive of a choice for an average street racer. Also, the 440 cubic-inch Wedge engine performed better in its stock form.
Of course, all these faults were fixed over-restored and over-engineered by the Plymouth and Chrysler enthusiasts during the last few decades.
All the car companies built limited numbers of certain engine body combinations to get qualified to compete in specifically sanctioned racing events. For example, The Super Duty 421 aluminum engine powered Swiss Cheese Catalinas, aluminum engine 427 z-11 Impalas, ZL-1 Camaros, and 429 Super Cobra Jet Torino Cobras are some famous and most sought-after collectibles.
Another reason for the low demand was the cost of these limited production cars. For example, the 427-aluminum engine installed in ZL-1 Camaros and 427 Z-11 Impalas, took more than 16 hours to get assembled by hand. For this reason, the engine was offered as $4000 extra. Nobody wanted a $4000 engine on a car with a base price of $2000- $2500.
1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda Convertible
Other than the aforementioned quality control, mechanical, performance reliability, and poor build quality, there was an even more serious problem.
The main problem plaguing the 1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda Convertible was the lack of body rigidity. The Chrysler unibody muscles cars lacked chassis rigidity even in coupe form. Removing the roof and the top made it even worse. The car was called a rolling spring by some automotive reviewers.
Joe Oldham, who got to review the car on behalf of the Magnum Royal Publications, got a chance to sit on a 1970 Hemi Barracuda Convertible. It had the 426 Street Hemi engine. The transmission slipped badly all the time he drove it on the street. Transmission fluids were leaking as well. When they tried to race the car to record 1/4-mile times, it blew off the transmission cooler line dumping fluid everywhere over the start line.
After a week later, they got the car back for testing after going through repair at the hands of Plymouth engineers. The transmission unit was still leaking and shifted not so smoothly.
However, with a little tweaking of the engine, Oldham was able to get the Hemi Barracuda Convertible to run the quarter-mile in 14.30 seconds at a top speed of 97 mph. This time matched the Hemi performance at the time, yet it was slower than the 340 V8 engine Barracuda.
Several weeks later, Kirschenbaum and his team delivered the car to Oldham with several modifications to the carburetors and newly installed colder plugs. These modifications made the car superbly tuned and at the Raceway Park, they achieved a 1/4-mile time of 13.90 seconds at 103mph top speed.
Though it was plagued with reliability issues such as the flexible convertible chassis wound up the same way Chrysler’s torsion bar suspension in corners, it turned out to be a superb handling car for a Mopar at the time. The interior and finish and the materials used for it were also above the average Mopar as well. Due to these reasons, Joe Oldham was impressed with the car nonetheless.
In 1989, he encountered the car again. The transmission leak was still there to his amusement.
In 2006, 35 years later, he had another encounter. This time he got to drive it. They were able to record mid 14 second quarter mile runs and eventually recorded a 14.32 second best at 99 mph, which is almost identical to the times that they recorded 35 years ago.
Also, the prices of these convertibles have been skyrocketed over the last few decades. In 2006, a 1971 Hemi Barracuda was sold for $2 million. After all, only 14 cars were made for the 1971 model year