Roots of the Dart Dynasty and ‘Cuda Kingdom – Part 2

4 years ago Heritage

Growing From Strength to Strength

Second Generation Darts and Barracudas: 1967-1969

In part 1 of this three part history of the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda, we learned that both models were based on the same A-Body platform, which was first used beneath the 1960 Plymouth Valiant and 1961 Dodge Lancer, Chrysler Corporations’ first post-WWII compact car offerings. Though Dart and Barracuda were initially targeted at frugal, entry level buyers looking for economical transportation with a touch of flash, by 1966 the impact of the Baby Boom generation was being felt.

The offspring of returning military servicemen and women who had endured the struggle of WWII, in 1966 the first waves of Baby Boomers were old enough to drive – and buy – new cars. More importantly, this youthful bunch liked rock and roll, horsepower and muscle cars. But since the first generation A-Body platform of 1960-’66 was never intended to be a high performance muscle machine, its engine bay was physically too narrow to accept Chrysler Corporation’s big block V8 engines. That changed in 1967.

In addition to a total body and interior redesign for Dart and Barracuda, the A-Body’s front frame rails were spread apart 3 inches and the inner fenders and fire wall were tightened up. This was done specifically to allow easy installation of the B-Series and 383 big block wedge V8 on the regular assembly line. So while the frugal Slant Six and 273 small block V8’s continued to motivate the majority of new Darts and Barracudas, the stage was set for installation of any Chrysler Corp. big block, except the wider 426 Hemi. This big-engine-in-small-car combination was the recipe of the most successful muscle cars, and now Dart and Barracuda were true contenders.

The transmission tunnel was also enlarged to accept Chrysler’s legendary 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission. Previous 1960-’66 A-Body transmission tunnels were much smaller. That was good for passenger leg room but only allowed clearance for Chrysler Corporations’ medium duty A-904 automatic transmission. Though tough enough for the optional 235 horsepower 273 Four Barrel engine, the A-904 simply wasn’t designed to accept the higher levels of torque and horsepower generated by a big block. But after expanding the engine bay and transmission tunnel, the A-Body was poised for a high performance party

Though the very first retail 383 installations were performed by Grand-Spaulding Dodge, a well-known Chicago area dealership noted for emphasizing high performance models and marketing, the factory waited a few months and made the 383 option a mid-year offering aboard the Dart GTS and Barracuda Formula S.

Restrictive exhaust manifolds limited advertised output to 280 horsepower but refinements for 1968 increased it to 300 horsepower, then 330 for 1969. The 1967-1/2 383 engine option also brought the A-Body its first full-length dual-exhaust system. Previous 1965-’67 high performance 273 engines exhaled through a large diameter 2-1/2 inch single exhaust system tipped by a resonator and oversized rectangular outlet jutting out beneath the driver-side of the rear bumper. 1968 also brought the 275 horsepower 340 small block, an outgrowth of the LA series small block engine family. Combined with mandatory heavy duty suspension and brakes, 340 powered A-Bodies offered a near perfect blend of straight line performance and handling prowess.

At the top of the performance pyramid, 1969 brought something unthinkable to the originators of the 1960 Valiant, availability of the 440 Magnum / Super Commando, Chrysler Corp.’s highest displacement engine until the 488-cube Viper V10 of 1992. Unlike the 383, the 440 wasn’t de-tuned in any way for A-Body use and churned out the same 375 horsepower and 480 ft/lb of torque as when installed in a same-year Dodge Charger R/T or Plymouth GTX.

The only hitch was the lack of a manual transmission. While 340 and 383 Dart GTS and Formula S / ‘Cuda buyers could select a 4-speed stick or automatic transmission, 440 A-Bodies were all equipped with the 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission with a console shift handle. Precise totals are not known, but evidence suggests that about 1,000 440 A-Bodies were built in 1969 (640 Dart GTS and 360 ‘Cuda 440’s). Look for the letter M in the fifth spot of the VIN and trim tag code A13 for verification of any suspected 1969 440 A-Body (1967-’69 383 A-Bodies always carried engine code H in the VIN’s fifth spot).

Beyond the excitement under the hood, the other half of the 1967-‘69 Dart and Barracuda story focused on totally new body styling. Dart moved away from the rounded forms of 1966 toward design language focused on deltoid shapes and crisp folds in the sheet metal. Sales jumped from 112,900 (1966) to 154,500 (1967), a 37-percent improvement. The same assortment of 2-door, 4-door and convertible body styles continued with one big exception, for 1967, the Dart station wagon line was dropped, never to return. As Dodge’s entry level offering, variety was the Dart’s strength. From a Slant Six, 3-on-the-tree, radio delete Dart 170 2-door post for the frugal spinster to a 383 4-speed GTS for the recent high school grad, there was a Dart for every type of buyer.

At Plymouth, the 1967 Barracuda continued its mission as a sporty personal car. More than ever, efforts were made to separate it from its more pedestrian Valiant siblings. Styling was leaner with virtually no shared body panels from the Valiant parts bin. A deep set, divided grille with faux driving lamps doubling as turn signal indicators gave it a fresh look up front. As with the 1964-’66 run, there were no 4-doors but in a move meant to grab some Mustang sales, an expanded variety of 2-door body configurations was offered. For the first time in 1967, Barracuda buyers were offered convertibles and 2-door hardtops. On fastbacks, the previous massive glass backlite – which critics said looked too much like an afterthought – was replaced by a slightly curved glass panel. The B-pillars were then fully integrated into the shape of the fastback. The overall effect was a success. In its December, 1966 issue, Car and Driver magazine called the Barracuda Formula S fastback; “unquestionably the best-looking car out of Detroit in 1967”.

As with the refreshed 1967 Dart, Barracuda sales flourished in 1967 and 62,534 were built, a 64.4-percent gain over 1966. Of the three body styles, the sleek fast back was the strongest seller, consistently beating the hardtop (30,110 – vs – 28,196 in 1967, 22,575 – vs – 19,997 in 1968 and 17,788 – vs – 12,757 in 1969). Over at Ford, the opposite was true; the boxy Mustang hardtop always outsold the more attractive2+2 fastback.

The reason for this odd popularity reversal wasn’t price. The sleeker 2+2 was only $213 more expensive that the box-top coupe. The main objection to the 2+2 was its reduced seating capacity and narrow trunk compartment opening. Because Mustang’s interior stylists incorporated complex cabin vent ducts into the B-pillars, rear seat hip room was 43.2 inches, leaving room for only two rear seat passengers (the hardtop’s rear seat held three). So Ford wasn’t kidding when it named the fastback “2+2”, it’s a 4 seater, two upfront plus two in the back.

As for the Barracuda fastback, its B-pillars weren’t encumbered with ducting so its’ full width, folding rear seat offered 48.5 inches of hip room, almost a half-foot more than Mustang 2+2. A similar scenario is playing out today with the Dodge Challenger and its competitors in the pony car marketplace. Challenger is the only five seat pony car on the market. Camaro and Mustang only seat four. This can make a big difference to young families.

By the close of the 1960’s, the Dart and Barracuda were headed in very different directions, one a sporty personal car, the other a reliable yet utilitarian mass transportation device. Both would endure into the 1970’s – and beyond. In the next installment of this retrospective, we’ll examine how the Dart and Barracuda continued to evolve to suit market conditions and demand.



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