1971 Plymouth Barracuda Base 340 4-barrel from North America
A good friend through the ages
Although I've done a number of planned repairs and upgrades to this car, the only unplanned failure was the original starter needing to be replaced in 2008.
After I first bought the car, I replaced the wheel cylinders, brake shoes, and master cylinder. I completely rebuilt the engine, while adding a matched Edelbrock Performer intake manifold and camshaft, as well as installing the Mopar Performance electronic ignition kit to replace the original mechanical distributor. I also had to replace the original radiator because the Monterey, California salt air had promoted rust of the cooling fins.
When I first bought the car, I installed a new AM/FM/cassette stereo, although I now wish I'd kept the original AM radio. In the early 2000s I replaced the shock absorbers.
I bought my 1971 Plymouth Barracuda in June 1987 just before my 19th birthday for $900. I had arrived at the old Fort Ord in March after driving my 1964 Dodge Polara across the country and was on the lookout for a nice California Mopar. I lusted after a '69 or '70 Plymouth GTX, but when I saw the ad in the paper for this Barracuda in Carmel, I rushed over. I really fell in love with this car at first sight. The old man who owned it had two Cadillacs, so the Barracuda was just a runabout to him. He had a big, fuzzy steering wheel cover and fuzzy seat covers on it, had painted the original white vinyl top black, and said if he couldn't sell it, the grandkids would get it. Sorry, grandkids, but I bought "your" car on the spot!
The car is a base model and came with a 318 2-barrel, single exhaust, 4-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, and a standard single drive wheel differential. And yet, it also came with factory hood pins. I've always loved the foot-pump windshield washer and the dash illumination lights that are recessed under the dashboard, so you don't have to remove the instrument cluster to change a bulb. From the first test drive, I felt like the coolest guy in the world with this car, and it always has made me feel happy just to drive it down the road, even nearly 30 years later. The 1971 Barracuda is distinctive among the E-bodies as being the only model with 4 headlights and has the "shark's teeth" grille. I didn't know any of that at the time, I just knew it was the car for me. After growing up in a small town where the debate was always Ford v. Chevy, neither of which did anything for me, I had never even seen examples of Mopars, and this Barracuda just blew me away.
The original Carter 2-barrel carburetor always was cold-blooded and liked to stall when cold. It wasn't long before I installed a Holley 600 CFM on an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold with dual exhaust, and that woke up the 318 to some extent, at least it felt like it after driving my Slant 6, 3-on-the-tree Dodge.
Within a year, I had blown the head gaskets (I was 19, you will remember) so I was looking to do a rebuild. On the advice of a friend, I went to the junkyard to buy an engine to rebuild while the original stayed in the car so that the chassis wouldn't have to be stored while the rebuild was underway. They had a 1972 Barracuda 340, and I thought, why not get this 340 for my rebuild? The original 318 2-barrel was later overhauled and went into my 1973 Charger, where it still resides. I had the heads rebuilt by a shop, had the block cleaned, magnafluxed, checked for warping, and bored the cylinders 0.30" over. The connecting rods are massive in these 340s, fully double the thickness of a 318 or 360. And they come with a windage tray in the oil pan, the theory being to keep the oil from pooling where the oil pump can't reach it under hard acceleration. I rebuilt it with the 1971 10.5:1 compression pistons, although the intake valves on the 1972 340 are not the huge "coke can" valves of the 1971. I installed a high-volume oil pump, double sprocket timing chain, Edelbrock cam and lifter set to match the Performer intake that was held over from the 318, new pushrods, main and rod bearings, the whole bit. The only mistake I made was installing a concave washer backwards that holds the fuel pump drive eccentric onto the end of the camshaft, which left me sitting in the parking lot all night after an AC/DC concert on the car's post-rebuild inaugural run. A very kindly couple picking up aluminum cans drove me to an auto parts store the next morning, where I bought an electric fuel pump to get me home and correct the eccentric.
I had not realized what the 340 was, and was amazed to find the entire car wreathed in tire smoke the first time I tromped it at a stop light. I thought I was going to race an El Camino, and when the light turned green, I lost my nerve to floor it on a new engine, but just tromped it halfway. The El Camino took off amid a squeal of tires and after several seconds, I realized the Barracuda was just sitting there with the tire spinning and the El Camino hadn't actually done anything.
I drove the car from California to Wisconsin, then from Wisconsin to Texas and back, drove it briefly in college, and then from Wisconsin to West Virginia when I moved there, only to drive it back to Wisconsin for storage when I realized it was too valuable to put on the street every day. I instead used my 1973 Dodge Charger as a non-winter daily driver between 2001 and 2012. Mostly, the Barracuda sat in a shed on the family place, which is ironic considering that was the car I really loved. That's why in almost 28 years of ownership I've put barely 20,000 miles on it. And yet it has always been dependable.
The last few years, I've watched it begin to deteriorate slowly with the mice getting at it, corrosion appearing, an engine fire in 2012 that required a new Holley 600 with automatic choke (so much better than the old 600 with manual choke and floats that you had to set yourself) and new wiring harness (Year One sells great ones). So in December 2014 I decided that the car is beginning to deteriorate at the same time I'm approaching 50, so the time has come to enjoy it. I drove it 960 miles from to my current home over 2 days and the Barracuda ran perfectly, getting 20-23 MPG.
They look nice sitting in museums, but these cars were meant to be driven and enjoyed. It makes me happy to drive my Barracuda and Charger, and I think it makes at least a few people happy to see them going down the road, like an unexpected rainbow over a dreary, drab field. Most of the modern commuter cars that represent the metaphor in that dreary, drab field handle, brake, and accelerate better than the Barracuda, although that wasn't the case until about 10 years ago. I'll always remember having the speedometer buried 3 inches past the 120 mph mark and smoking the tires off, but the car hasn't seen 75 mph in years and will probably never smoke the tires again. It's just a reflection of an owner who's in his late 40s instead of his late teens.
Buying this car is one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me, and keeping it all these years has really been an honor. Plans now are for weekend drives in good weather, and finally after all these years, a trip to the body shop to restore the original white vinyl top and Tor-Red paint.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 21st December, 2014