Brian Henniker, courtesy of Gooding & Company

• The most celebrated Mopar muscle car

• One of only 284 4-speed examples built for 1970

• Highly optioned and finished in classic Rallye Red

• Just three California owners from new

• Carefully maintained in unrestored, original condition

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1970 Plymouth Hemi ’cuda
Years Produced:1970–71
Number Produced:781
Original List Price:$5,361.85
SCM Valuation:$150,000-$235,000
Tune Up Cost:$300
Distributor Caps:$22.58
Chassis Number Location:VIN plate on the driver’s side instrument panel behind windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad located on the right side of the block to the rear of the engine mount
Club Info:Plymouth Barracuda Owners Club
Alternatives:1970–71 Dodge Challenger Hemi, 1974 Pontiac Firebird Super Duty, 1969–70 Ford Mustang Boss 429
Investment Grade:A

This Hemi ’Cuda, Lot 31, sold for $170,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 17, 2014.

Pony Cars were originally based on compact cars intended to be powered by thrifty sixes or small V8s. But throughout the 1960s, the buying public was hot for horsepower, and the Big Three were tasked with cramming ever larger engines into places they were never designed to go. Chrysler was able to stuff the huge 383 and 440 “raised block” engines into the Valiant-based Barracuda, but there was no room left for power steering, power brakes, or air conditioning — all nice things to have.

Then there were the truly massive engines that no assembly line could handle. When Ford forced the 429 “Blue Crescent” monster into the Boss 429 Mustang to meet NASCAR production requirements, they had to turn to one of their favorite race-car contractors, Kar Kraft, to build the heavily modified street machines. Likewise, Chrysler had to turn to Hurst Industries to build the limited-production 1968 Hemi Dart and Hemi Barracuda for NHRA Super Stock drag racing.

Building it bigger

The 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, and its Dodge Challenger sibling, had a different approach. Basically, Chrysler engineers took the width and height of the fabled 426 Hemi and worked around it. Instead of starting with a compact car, Chrysler engineers reworked the mid-sized “B-body” platform. The Plymouth GTX/Road Runner and Dodge Coronet/Charger already housed the Hemi just fine, thank you, so they morphed the Barracuda/Challenger from this architecture. Nine inches from the floorpan, a few inches off the cowl, a bob of the tail, a new roof, and a whole new beast emerged — the “E-body” platform.

Low and wide

Wrapped around that skeleton was one of the prettiest bodies to come out of Detroit during the muscle-car era. John Herlitz, who was only 27 years old at the time, is credited with much of the Barracuda’s style. Years later, Herlitz told Muscle Car Review magazine: “I wanted to pull the rear quarters as high as possible and spank the roof down as low as possible and just get the very high-hunched look in the rear quarters, allowing the front fenders to become the long, leading design element that ran out past the power plant to give a very dynamic thrust.”

Early in the car’s development, things didn’t look quite so promising. Elwood Engel, the head of Chrysler design at the time, was notorious for walking through the design studios on weekends to view the progress of projects. Apparently Engel didn’t like the progress of the ’70 Barracuda. “I came in on a Monday morning, and there’s a hatchet in the side of the car, the (clay) model. And that was not a good sign,” Herlitz said. But by the time the Barracuda neared production, Engel was a believer.

Herlitz remembered,“Elwood was the first one to drive one of the early prototype cars off the elevator on the third floor of Building 128. And it was a Hemi. A green Hemi ’Cuda. And he got it angled around into the hallway that led down to the design auditorium, and he nailed that car on this parquet floor and just left these two black tracks down the hallway.” With nearly 500 horses under that long hood, who can blame him?

Big-money Hemis

By 1970 the performance-car market was clearly waning, yet Barracuda sales were almost double that of the previous year. Brock Yates summed it up well: “It was a breakout car for Detroit and certainly Chrysler. They were slick, fast and cute.”

But the Hemi ’Cuda was an expensive car — the engine option cost $871 on top of the ’Cuda’s $3,164 base price, and that, along with being a little late to the muscle-car party, meant that few were ordered. Of course, that has only made them more desirable to today’s muscle-car collectors — especially those in the market for what’s considered to be the baddest Mopar ever built.

Today, good ’Cuda 340 and 383 cars can bring $60k or more, while ’Cuda 440 cars can cross $90k, especially the Six Pack models. But the Hemi ’Cuda takes love to an extreme.

Only 14 Hemi convertibles (nine automatics, five 4-speeds) were built in 1970. One sold for $2,160,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale in 2006 (ACC# 40279), another at Russo and Steele’s Scottsdale sale in 2011 for $1,705,000 (ACC# 168636).

In total, 652 Hemi coupes were produced in 1970: 368 automatics and 284 4-speeds. Barrett-Jackson sold a high-quality restored Hemi 4-speed in pre-recession 2006 for $486,000 (ACC# 40389), but as recently as 2009, Russo and Steele sold a similar Hemi, albeit with some celebrity ownership connections, for $440,000 (ACC# 119315).

Originality and options

Our feature Hemi ’Cuda is a heavily optioned example dressed in code FE5 Rallye Red with the preferable 4-speed gearbox. It’s also equipped with power front disc brakes, bucket seats, center console, elastomeric bumpers, Trak Pak rear end, Rallye instrument cluster, rear-window defogger, and a solid-state radio with stereo tape deck.

The long list of factory options required two data plates in the engine compartment and resulted in a then-staggering $5,361.85 sticker price. It’s had just three California owners from new and showed 49,537 miles at auction time.

What’s not to love about this Hemi car? Compared with other ’Cuda coupes that have sold for stratospheric prices, this car, to me, is so much more desirable. It was claimed to be unrestored and original with great documentation, and exceptional original Hemi ’Cuda coupes are almost as rare as those seven-figure Hemi convertibles.

With Hemi ’Cuda clones still selling for over $100k, I think the final price of this red 4-speed car was under the money, considering its paperwork and condition. The buyer got a great deal on a piece of Mopar muscle legend with a lot of curb appeal. Call it very well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.

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