The rise of the Plymouth brand as a significant player in Mopar muscle car history can be traced back to the year 1962. At that time, Plymouth's position as an entry-level brand, combined with Chrysler's decision to discontinue production of full-sized cars, coincided with the advent of the baby boomer generation.
As a value-oriented brand, Plymouth was uniquely poised to cater to the emerging youth market. Its line of lightweight vehicles, coupled with the company's expertise in powertrain technology (such as the B-/RB-series wedge, 413-/426ci Max Wedge, and Hemi engines), made it a highly desirable choice for aspiring hot rodders.
Additionally, a significant number of professional racers, including renowned names such as Richard Petty, Ronnie Sox, Don Prudhomme, and Dan Gurney, also threw their support behind the Plymouth brand.
By the year 1970, Plymouth's range of affordable muscle cars had expanded considerably, giving rise to the Rapid Transit System. This group of high-performance vehicles initially included the Road Runner and GTX, both of which were built on the midsized B-Body platform, as well as the 'Cuda (built on the E-Body ponycar platform), the Sport Fury GT (built on the full-sized C-Body platform), and the Duster 340 (built on the compact A-Body platform).
Highest Production Levels Ever
In 1973, Plymouth achieved its highest-ever production levels, with 973,000 units being manufactured that year. However, Chrysler's fortunes would soon take a downturn, which many attribute to an over-reliance on high-performance vehicles.
As Chrysler's low-cost brand, Plymouth was hit hard by the oil embargo of 1973, which led to a surge in demand for smaller, more affordable, and fuel-efficient imports.
Despite receiving a government bailout in 1980, Plymouth never fully recovered from the damage that had been done. On June 28, 2001, Plymouth quietly produced its final vehicle, a ubiquitous Neon compact, at its Belvedere, Illinois manufacturing plant.
Twenty years have since passed, and unfortunately, many people today are unaware of the Plymouth brand's history and legacy. This is a great loss, particularly for enthusiasts of classic Mopar muscle cars, as Plymouth played a prominent role in the pantheon of performance automobiles.
Here are our picks for the 20 best Plymouth Muscle cars of all-time (in no particular order):
10. 1970 Plymouth Superbird
During the muscle car era, few vehicles exemplified excess better than the 1970 Plymouth Superbird. This vehicle was a one-year-only variant of the Road Runner, which was already an elevated model within the mid-sized Belvedere line-up.
The Superbird was designed with a specific purpose in mind, namely its ability to achieve high speeds on the high-banked superspeedways used in NASCAR and USAC competitions.
However, some insiders suggested that it was also created with the goal of luring Richard Petty back to Plymouth after a winning season with a Ford Torino. The Superbird's aerodynamic aids, which were developed by NASA in the wind tunnel, included a nosecone, elevated rear-deck wing, and ductwork atop the fenders.
These features helped the Superbird to achieve superspeedway superiority by reducing drag and increasing downforce.
The 1970 Plymouth Superbird was a follow-up to the Dodge Daytona, which was similarly optimized for aerodynamics, combining a slippery shape with substantial amounts of ground-hugging downforce.
While Dodge produced only enough Daytonas to meet the homologation requirement (503), Plymouth produced as many as 2,783 Superbirds (although exact numbers are difficult to pin down).
The Superbird was exclusively equipped with Chrysler's top-line big-block engines, including the 375hp 4bbl 440ci Super Commando, the 390hp 440ci Six Barrel Super Commando, and the formidable 425hp 426ci Hemi.
9. Plymouth Barracuda A-Body - 1964 To 1969
In March of 1964, if you were to mention the term "pony car" to a typical hot rodder, the image that would likely come to mind would be that of a horse-drawn buggy.
However, just a few weeks later, on April 14, the conversation shifted to Ford's newly introduced Mustang and the market segment it had seemingly created overnight. What many may not realize, however, is that two weeks earlier, on April 1, 1964, Plymouth had already staked its claim in this emerging market segment with the introduction of the Barracuda.
In fact, Plymouth had already accomplished what Ford and Lee Iacocca would later do: take an existing affordable compact platform (in this case, the Valiant), give it a sculpted European sports car form with an attractive price, and equip it with a small V-8 engine under the hood (a 273ci LA-series small-block in the Barracuda's case).
Built on the lightweight Chrysler A-Body platform, the Plymouth Barracuda quickly established itself as a solid performer. Its reputation grew over time as engine sizes and power increased, including a 340ci small-block, 383ci Super Commando big-block, 440ci Super Commando big-block, and even 50 race-only Hurst-converted examples of the legendary 426ci Hemi in 1968.
Despite being overshadowed by the Mustang in the popular imagination, the Plymouth Barracuda played a key role in establishing the pony car segment and was a formidable contender in its own right.
8. Plymouth Fury I-II-III/Belvedere/Savoy - 1962 To 1967
In the 1960s, the Plymouth brand introduced high-performance vehicles to the American market, starting with the mid-sized family cars of the era, including the Savoy, Bevedere, and Fury.
These vehicles were not originally designed with the intention of being high-performance cars but were instead part of Chrysler's new B-Body intermediate lineup in 1962.
This lineup featured a slim yet sturdy unibody construction, which, when combined with Chrysler's superior mechanical components, such as the 383ci Wedge big-block, 413- and 426ci versions of the Max Wedge, and eventually the 426ci Street Hemi, allowed the unassuming Plymouth B-Body cars to exude impressive performance capabilities beneath their modest exteriors.
Of these early Plymouth B-Bodies, the 1967 Belvedere in GTX livery, featuring a standard 440ci Super Commando or an optional 426ci Street Hemi engine, stands out as the brand's first high-performance offering. This vehicle represented a significant milestone in Plymouth's performance legacy.
7. Plymouth Duster A-Body - 1970 To 1976
In anticipation of Chrysler's planned E-Body pony car replacement for the Plymouth Barracuda in 1970, the compact A-Body platform served as the foundation for a new Plymouth hardtop coupe that would be sold alongside Valiant 2- and 4-door sedans.
Initially marketed as a model within the Valiant line-up, the Plymouth Duster was virtually identical to the Valiant sedan from the cowl forward, with the fenders, grille, and body lines carrying over to the Duster.
Although the fastback styling of the Duster was sportier than the Valiant, it was still marketed as an economy-minded alternative to the emerging wave of imports.
Despite being introduced relatively late in the muscle car era, the Duster was well-received by young enthusiasts due to its combination of affordable pricing, attractive styling, and available 340- and 360ci LA-series small-block V-8 engines, which offered a blend of value and performance.
Production of Plymouth's downsized A-Body compacts, including the Valiant, Barracuda, and Duster, spanned a total of 13 years between 1963 and 1976 (excluding the first generation from 1960 to 1962).
These vehicles are highly sought after by enthusiasts and represent some of the most affordable project cars due to their economy-car roots and status as a defunct brand.
6. Plymouth Barracuda E-Body - 1970 To 1974
As the muscle car era drew to a close, Chrysler released one final Mopar masterpiece in the form of the E-Body pony car platform, which became better known as the 1970-to-1974 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth 'Cuda.
The E-Body platform was largely a carryover of the intermediate B-Body, but with a shortened wheelbase of 108 inches for the Plymouth and 110 for the more upscale Dodge. This addressed the biggest performance limitation of the Plymouth Barracuda, which was its narrow front subframe rails that restricted exhaust flow and power output. The E-Body platform also marked the first-ever pony car option for the Dodge brand.
The Plymouth 'Cuda E-Body was designed by the late stylist John Herlitz, who would later have a significant influence on Dodge's Mark Trostle, the designer behind the 2008-to-current Dodge Challenger.
The E-Body's chassis was wider than the previous Barracuda's A-Body platform, with wider frame rails that provided sufficient space for the most potent powertrain lineup ever assembled, including the 426ci Hemi. The wider chassis also allowed for greater exhaust flow and a wider track for improved handling.
Dan Gurney and his All American Racers stable campaigned the 'Cuda in the SCCA's Trans Am series against formidable opponents, while Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin ramped up their series of Supercar Clinics under Plymouth's Rapid Transit System, taking the 'Cuda to enthusiasts across the country.
However, the party came to an end in 1974, signaling the end of an era for high-performance automobiles.
5. 1970 Plymouth AAR Cuda
The 1970 Plymouth AAR Cuda was a limited-edition muscle car built to compete in the Sports Car Club of America's Trans Am racing series. AAR stands for All American Racers, the team founded by legendary driver Dan Gurney.
The AAR Cuda was based on the production Plymouth 'Cuda but featured a number of performance enhancements.
The AAR Cuda was powered by a special 340ci six-pack V8 engine, which was rated at 290 horsepower. The engine featured three Holley two-barrel carburetors, a performance camshaft, and high-flow cylinder heads.
The AAR Cuda also came with a number of handling and suspension upgrades, including heavy-duty shocks, springs, and anti-roll bars.
Visually, the AAR Cuda was distinguished by a number of unique styling cues, including a blacked-out hood with functional hood scoops, a front spoiler, and a distinctive strobe stripe package.
The interior featured high-back bucket seats, a pistol-grip shifter, and a rallye instrument cluster. Production of the AAR Cuda was limited to just 2,724 units.
4. Plymouth Road Runner - 1968 To 1974
When the Plymouth Road Runner debuted in 1968, it was based on the mid-sized Belvedere, which had undergone a visual transformation by the brand's head stylist, Dick Macadam.
While the first-ever GTX had already been released in 1967 on the Belvedere, aimed primarily at customers considering the Pontiac GTO, it was the Road Runner that fully capitalized on the muscle car trend that was sweeping the nation.
However, the Road Runner's creation was almost derailed when Macadam learned that the marketing department, under Jack Smith, intended to affix a cartoon bird onto his sleek design.
Macadam was vehemently opposed to this and actively fought the idea. Nevertheless, the Road Runner went on to become a tremendous success, thanks to a combination of factors, including its aircraft-inspired fuselage styling, unique high-compression 4bbl. 383ci big block engine, youth-oriented Warner Bros. marketing, beep-beep horn, and affordable price.
The Road Runner's first three years of production, from 1968 to 1970, were its most popular, although a fresh facelift in 1971 (Satellite/Road Runner/GTX) helped it stay relevant through the 1974 model year.
While the Road Runner name continued to be used on another B-Body upgrade in 1975 and on the compact F-Body (Volare) until 1980, it was the 1968-to-1974 Road Runner that became most closely associated with the Plymouth brand.
3. 1970 Plymouth Cuda Convertible
The 1970 Plymouth Cuda Convertible was a rare and highly sought-after muscle car that was part of the legendary E-Body lineup. It was one of the last convertibles produced by Plymouth before the model was discontinued due to increasingly strict safety regulations.
The 1970 Cuda Convertible was an even rarer variant, as production was limited to just 635 units.
The Cuda Convertible was available with a range of engines, from the base 318ci V8 to the legendary 426ci Hemi V8. The Hemi was the most powerful engine available, producing a whopping 425 horsepower.
The car also featured a variety of high-performance options, including heavy-duty suspension, power brakes, and a limited-slip differential.
The styling of the Cuda Convertible was unmistakable, with its long hood, short deck, and aggressive lines. The front end featured a grille with two rectangular openings, while the rear featured a spoiler and round taillights.
The interior was equally impressive, with high-back bucket seats, a wood-grain instrument panel, and a floor-mounted shifter.
2. 1971 Plymouth GTX
The 1971 Plymouth GTX was the last of the true GTX muscle cars, as the model was downsized in 1972 to meet stricter emissions regulations. The 1971 model was based on the B-Body platform and featured a range of high-performance options, including a 440ci big-block V8 engine and a four-speed manual transmission.
The GTX was built to be both fast and comfortable, with features like power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning available as options.
The styling of the 1971 GTX was distinctive, with a long hood, short deck, and aggressive lines. The front end featured a blacked-out grille with a prominent "GTX" badge, while the rear featured a wing spoiler and quad exhaust tips.
The interior was equally impressive, with high-back bucket seats, a pistol-grip shifter, and a rallye instrument cluster. The GTX was available in a range of bright colors, including Hemi Orange and Vitamin C.
The 1971 Plymouth GTX was one of the last true muscle cars of the era, and its powerful engine and distinctive styling made it a favorite among enthusiasts. Today, the GTX remains highly prized by collectors and enthusiasts, with examples in excellent condition commanding high prices at auction.
1. 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda
The 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda is widely regarded as one of the greatest muscle cars ever built. It was part of the E-Body lineup and was powered by a massive 426ci Hemi V8 engine that produced an astonishing 425 horsepower.
The Hemi Cuda was built to dominate on the track, with a range of high-performance upgrades that made it one of the fastest and most powerful cars of its era.
The Hemi Cuda was available with a number of performance options, including heavy-duty suspension, power brakes, and a limited-slip differential.
The car's massive engine was mated to a four-speed manual transmission, which allowed drivers to take full advantage of the engine's immense power. The Hemi Cuda was capable of going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just over five seconds and could complete the quarter-mile in under 14 seconds.
The styling of the Hemi Cuda was equally impressive, with its long hood, short deck, and aggressive lines. The front end featured a blacked-out grille with twin hood scoops, while the rear featured a distinctive ducktail spoiler and quad exhaust tips.
The interior was equally sporty, with high-back bucket seats, a pistol-grip shifter, and a rallye instrument cluster.
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Written by Benjamin Smith
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