Home Cars Plymouth Power: The Best Performance Cars of Mopar’s Forgotten Brand

Plymouth Power: The Best Performance Cars of Mopar’s Forgotten Brand

Vukasin Herbez February 1, 2024

The Plymouth brand was introduced in 1928 as a low-cost manufacturer positioned below Dodge and Chrysler. It occupied that market position for decades up to the end of its lifespan. Plymouth has always been successful as its sales numbers were just behind Ford or Chevrolet. Plymouths were regarded as dependable and high-quality automobiles at affordable prices, which meant they appealed to a broad audience.

However, when muscle cars exploded on the American car scene, Plymouth realized it could be more than just an economy car company. It jumped on the performance bandwagon, using the best Mopar engines and delivering exciting cars to the public. Today, we’ll remember Plymouth’s best muscle cars. These vehicles became classics of the genre due to their style, power, speed, and even the fact that the company was no longer in business. Chrysler discontinued Plymouth in 2001, leaving the automotive world without one of its best performance brands. Let’s look back at just why that was the case.

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Photo Credit: Mecum

Plymouth Fury (1958)

Before the Fury was a separate model, it was an option on Belvedere. In 1958, this model benefited from Chrysler’s new Golden Commando engine. The mighty Hemi was gone but Chrysler didn’t abandon the performance market. The Golden Commando had 350 CID displacement, better equipment, and 305 hp (via How Stuff Works).

Plymouth Fury Sport Coupe
Photo Credit: Mopar

Plymouth even experimented with a fuel injection setup but the system proved very problematic. This caused the factory to compensate owners and give them a conventional four-barrel setup. If the fuel injection worked as it should, it would have produced up to 315 horsepower.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Plymouth Savoy Super Stock 413 (1962)

Mechanically almost identical to the Dodge Dart 413 Max Wedge, the Savoy Super Stock was Plymouth’s version of a drag strip racer. It featured a different design but the platform was the same. The engine, the mighty 413 Wedge, had 420 hp in top trim (via Motor Trend).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

The interesting fact was that the automatic transmission, the favorite option, was even better at launching off the line than the standard three-speed manual. In those early days, Chrysler didn’t offer a four-speed manual, and the automatic was a better choice. The Savoy Super Stock 413 was the first car to break the 12-second quarter mile time record for stock cars and it was just the beginning.

Plymouth Barracuda (1964)
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Plymouth Barracuda (1964)

Introduced just two weeks before the Mustang in April of 1964, the Barracuda was the first pony car ever made. It was based on the standard Valiant platform. Since the automotive world was anticipating the Mustang due to reports from Ford, Chrysler decided to introduce a car in the same segment (via Supercars).

Photo Credit: Mopar

The Barracuda had modest underpinnings with three engines available – two straight sixes and one V8. Its designers had to develop an exciting design to attract buyers. So the 1964 Barracuda had a big panoramic rear glass and a sleek fastback body line, which was advanced for the period. Even though the Barracuda didn’t have the same success as the Mustang, it was still well-received and showed that the future of the muscle car segment was in Plymouth’s hands.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Plymouth Belvedere A-864 (1964)

The biggest news in the Mopar world for 1964 was the return of the mighty and legendary Hemi 426 engine. Chrysler realized that other manufacturers had caught up with the powerful 413 and 426 Max Wedge engines. The only solution was to bring back the Hemi as the ultimate dragstrip weapon. This was different from the famous Street Hemi introduced two years later in 1966 as a regular production option. This was a race-spec Hemi, which wasn’t street-legal in most states and not sold to the general public (via Max Wedge).

1964 Plymouth Savoy A 864 Super Stock
Photo Credit: RK Motors

The 426 Hemi was rated at 425 hp but the natural output was much higher than that. In 1964, Chrysler built just 70 copies, 35 as Dodge 440 Hardtop and 35 as Plymouth Belvedere Hardtop. Most of the cars produced had automatic transmissions, and others had four-speed manuals.

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Photo Credit: Mopar

Plymouth Belvedere Altered Wheelbase (1965)

Chrysler didn’t offer the Race Hemi lightweight models for 1965. Instead, they went a step further and produced a handful of altered wheelbase Plymouths and Dodges for professional racers and the newly-founded FX class. The FX (Factory Experimental) class in the NHRA championship was a predecessor to today’s Funny Cars class. It was a place where factory-supported teams could race cars that only resembled stock vehicles. These cars were equipped with engines, drivetrains, or body modifications that would never appear on a street car. Chrysler decided to make six Dodge Coronets and six Plymouth Belvederes with altered wheelbases (via Auto Evolution).

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Photo Credit: Mopar

They moved the whole floor pan 15 inches forward, moving the rear axle just behind the driver. This helped the weight distribution and traction off the line. Those altered wheelbase cars were never street legal and featured numerous exciting combinations such as fuel-injected, supercharged, or turbocharged engines. Today, real altered wheelbase cars are extremely rare and represent a valuable piece of muscle car history.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Plymouth GTX (1967 to 1971)

Introduced in 1967 as a luxury option in the Belvedere lineup, this model was based on the same platform as the Coronet. However, it was much more luxurious and had 375 horsepower and 440 V8 as a standard. Plymouth wanted the GTX to compete with luxury cars of the period, so it installed almost all possible creature comforts along with some unique trim on the outside to distinguish the GTX from the rest of the model lineup. The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all options, lovely interior and exterior details, and only one optional engine choice – the mighty 426 Hemi. The 440 Magnum was the standard engine but if you wanted the ultimate Plymouth muscle luxury, you had to get the Hemi (via Muscle Car Club).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Because it was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup, the GTX was never that popular. As a result, it’s quite rare today. When the early ’70s came, and all muscle cars started to lose power and torque figures, Plymouth discontinued the GTX in 1971, keeping it from being a disgrace to its fire-breathing predecessors. This is why the ’71 GTX is the last of its breed and a fantastic muscle car.

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Photo Credit: Mopar

Plymouth Roadrunner (1968 to 1974)

When it first appeared in 1968, the Roadrunner proved to be a very influential and essential muscle car. Not only did it introduce the new trend of inexpensive and fun vehicles, but it was also a strong seller. This affected the entire performance segment. The idea behind the Roadrunner was simple. Present a low-priced but powerful model and attract people with a limited budget but a strong need for performance. The most appealing thing about the Roadrunner was the fact that Plymouth used the cartoon character of a roadrunner from the popular Willie E. Coyote cartoon. Chrysler paid $60,000 for the rights to utilize the name and design and most thought the company was crazy for doing so (via MSI).

Plymouth Road Runner 440 6 Coupe 2
Photo Credit: Mopar

The sales results proved everybody wrong and the Roadrunner was the first muscle car with crazy graphics, starting a trend. The Roadrunner had a bench seat, no luxury options, and manual steering. But it came with the powerful 383 V8 as the base engine. Buyers could also opt for the 440 or the mythical Hemi 426. In 1969, the Roadrunner got a convertible option for those buyers who wanted an open-air driving feel but most Roadrunners were two-door hard tops. For just over $3,000, you could be the proud owner of a Roadrunner in 1970. However, if you wanted a few options and the Hemi engine, the price quickly rose to over $4,000.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Plymouth Barracuda Hemi Drag Car (1968)

The 426 Hemi engine was not a regular production item in the Barracuda until the 1970 model year. Still, for the 1968 racing season, Plymouth produced 50 drag racing specials using the Barracuda Fastback bodies and 426 race-spec Hemi engines. The manufacturing was shared with the Dodge Hemi Dart in Chrysler’s Hamtramck, Michigan, plant (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

As Dodge Hemi Dart, Barracudas came as pure racing, non-street legal vehicles to be sold only to racing teams. Of course, they were painted in primer, ready to be personalized by the racers.

Plymouth Barracuda 440 1969 Front
Photo Credit: Car Domain

Plymouth Barracuda 440 (1969)

In 1969, the pony cars wars were getting serious as Mustang defended its position as the best-selling model in its class and the Camaro/Firebird duo attacked with everything GM had. Chrysler was also a formidable competitor since the restyled Barracuda had more muscle with the introduction of the optional 383 engine. It also had two more body styles – the convertible and notchback coupe. However, the biggest news for 1969 was the introduction of the Barracuda 440 V8, a monster pony car with the biggest engine ever installed under the hood of a car in that segment. Plymouth wanted to be a dominant force in a stock class of drag racing championships and needed a weapon equipped with a big block and tons of torque (via Motor Trend).

Plymouth Barracuda 440 1969 Rear
Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Barracuda 440 was exactly what they needed even if it was small to drive. It required a complicated production process since the big 440 would only fit in a small Barracuda’s engine bay with extensive modifications. The Barracuda 440 had 375 horsepower and a massive 480 pounds of torque, which made it pretty fast but also hard to launch due to loads of wheel spin. Due to the tight fit of the engine, there wasn’t space for a power steering pump, so you had to use your muscles to turn this compact but overly powerful car. Plymouth only made a handful of these models, which makes them sought-after today.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Plymouth Superbird (1970)

As one of the craziest muscle cars ever produced, Plymouth has one of the most recognizable graphics packages ever presented to the general public. The Superbird attempted to win the famous Aero Wars in the late ’60s to early ’70s NASCAR championship. To homologate the car for racing, Plymouth built just under 2000 road-going Superbirds and sold them across America (via Trust Auto).

Photo Credit: Super Cars

The car was based on the Roadrunner, and it came with a 440 V8 standard and 426 Hemi as the only engine option. However, to make it as aerodynamically efficient as possible, Plymouth installed a nose cone, hideaway headlights, and an enormous spoiler on the back. Also, it transformed the rear glass from the standard concave-shaped one to regular, which proved more slippery in wind tunnel testing. The Superbird came with a wild graphics package along with a choice of bright colors. All cars had vinyl roofs to hide the rear glass conversion scars, big “Plymouth” lettering on the rear fender, and a roadrunner bird logo holding a racing helmet. This was muscle car art in its prime.

Photo Credit: Mopar

Plymouth AAR Cuda (1970)

The 1970 model year was undeniably the pinnacle year for classic muscle cars. Never before or since have there been so many muscle cars and memorable and sought-after machines on offer. The Pony car wars were in full swing with the brand new Firebird and Camaro, as well as the Dodge Challenger and the latest, much improved Plymouth Barracuda. One of the most interesting 1970 Barracudas was the rare AAR ‘Cuda (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

The AAR Cuda was a limited production model to commemorate Dan Gurney’s All-American Racing team, which used ‘Cudas in the Trans Am championship. It came with a 340 V8 small block, a unique plastic hood in matte black paint with a hood scoop, a rear spoiler, and exciting side graphics, which included a big AAR logo. This version was somewhat more expensive than the regular 340 ‘Cuda, so only 2724 were made.

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Photo Credit: Mopar

Plymouth Barracuda Hemi (1970/71)

Two of the biggest Chrysler legends from the classic days of muscle car culture are the Barracuda and the 426 Hemi engine. All through the ’60s, those industry icons didn’t mix, at least not in street-legal cars. In 1970, Plymouth offered this legendary engine in Barracuda body style, immediately creating one of the fastest and most desirable muscle cars ever made (via Auto Express).

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Photo Credit: Edmunds

The mighty Hemi engine was an expensive top-of-the-line option for 1970 and 1971, available in coupe or convertible form. It cost around $900 over the price of the standard Barracuda, and it was installed in just about 600 coupes and only 17 convertibles during a two-year production period. The power was rated at 425 hp, but everybody knew the orange monster delivered more than 500 hp straight from the box.

1971 Plymouth Duster 340 Main
Photo Credit: Sports Car Market

Plymouth Duster 340 (1970)

As an economy brand, Plymouth was very active and successful at the lower end of the market since the early ’60s and the Valiant model. By the late ’60s and early ’70s, the compact market had grown, and Plymouth introduced the Duster 340. This model was a junior muscle car since it looked like bigger competitors but it had a more petite 340 hp engine rated at 275 hp (via Hemmings).

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Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Plymouth never anticipated the success that the Duster 340 achieved and production doubled in just a few months. Despite being a compact model, the 340 was a very good muscle car. Its 275 hp moved the light body to respectable 0 to 60 mph times of just over six seconds. The vehicle may be half the size of some of the heavy hitters of the era but was almost as fast. Also, it cost just under $3000, which was highly affordable. Interestingly, after the original muscle car era ended in 1974, Plymouth continued to offer the Duster 340 but with the 360 engine option and less power due to rising emissions standards.

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Photo Credit: Car Domain

Plymouth Fury GT (1970)

Despite being an economy brand in Chrysler Corporation, Plymouth had a surprisingly large number of muscle cars during the ’60s and ’70s, as well as numerous unique versions. Their luxury muscle car was the GTX. But in 1970, the Fury GT debuted as the most significant model. The Fury GT was a two-door coupe version of the Fury sedan, and in GT guise, it was a full-size muscle car with the perfect combination of looks and power (via Hagerty).

Plymouth Sport Fury Gt Hardtop Coupe
Photo Credit: Mopar

Under the hood was a well-known 440 V8 with a three-carburetor setup and 375 hp on tap. Buyers could choose between the 727 Torqueflite automatic and a four-speed manual. They preferred the manual if they wanted any actual performance. However, despite the power and looks, the Fury GT was a small performer since it was still heavy. In combination with a relatively high price tag, it proved to be a slow seller. After only one year in production, Plymouth discontinued the GT model.

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Plymouth Volare Roadrunner (1976 to 1980)

Back in 1976, Plymouth introduced the Volare, a successful mid-size model produced in many variants and exported worldwide. It was the twin to the Dodge Aspen. The Volare featured rear-wheel drive, a wide range of engines, and a sleek design. Both Dodge and Plymouth had successful muscle models in the past and the heritage was still solid when the Volare was introduced. This was a perfect platform for a muscle car if it weren’t for grueling emissions and safety regulations that killed the performance. But Plymouth tried and presented the Volare Road Runner, which featured a 316 V8 engine and a measly 160 horsepower (via Motor Trend).

Plymouth Volare
Photo Credit: Car and Driver

What it lacked in the performance department, Volare Road Runner compensated in looks. It had a complete body kit with rear window louvers, a spoiler, a graphics package, and sport wheels. Some versions even featured a T-top roof, which was an excellent choice back in the day. Later, Plymouth introduced the 360 V8 with 175 to 196 hp, which improved the performance but was still slow. Production ended in 1980 after four years on the market. Today, it’s a collector’s car since it has an interesting history, despite the fact it was regarded as a disgrace by classic muscle car fans. They thought that the Road Runner name should go on a better-performing machine. Also, all Volares had rust issues, so the number of surviving cars in good condition is low.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Plymouth Fury Roadrunner (1975)

We all know the Plymouth Roadrunner as one of the quintessential classic muscle cars and a model that always had performance and power. However, in 1975, Plymouth moved the Roadrunner as an option on the Fury line (via Hemmings).

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Photo Credit: Mopar

The Fury Roadrunner had a 440 V8 option with 260 hp on paper. Despite this being a respectable number for the day’s standards, 0 to 60 mph times were over eight seconds, which is something that today’s cheapest economy cars can match. As a result, sales could have been better.

Plymouth Prowler
Photo Credit: Auto WP

Plymouth Prowler (1997)

The Hot Rod culture is one of the critical ingredients of the American automotive landscape. However, no company dared to present a factory-built Hot Rod until 1997 when Plymouth presented the Prowler – a retro-futuristic roadster with a V6 engine and fantastic looks (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Imagined as the follow-up of the Viper, the Prowler was the hit on the show circuit, and Chrysler wanted to capitalize on that. Despite having initial success, the car proved to be a failure.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Plymouth Neon ACR (1996)

Most auto fans know about the excellent, turbocharged Neon SRT4 from the early 2000s. But that car wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fantastic and forgotten Neon ACR produced for just two years in 1996 and 1997. Back in the ’90s, the Neon was one of the best compact cars America grew, and Dodge’s engineers realized that the chassis had the potential to be something more than just a grocery-getter (via The Autopian).

Photo Credit: Road and Track

The Neon ACR was a race-prepared Neon with a cam engine, four-wheel disc brakes, a different speedometer, stiffer suspension, and radio delete. The name ACR was derived from American Club Racer, and soon, the Neon ACR was the favorite car of amateur racers on track weekends.

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