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World's First Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda Is a Unique Million-Dollar Gem Resting in a Museum

Introduced in 1964 as a pony car aimed at the Ford Mustang, the Plymouth Barracuda morphed into a fully-fledged muscle car by the end of the decade. But it didn't get the mighty 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) HEMI V8 until the 1970 model year.
1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda 8 photos
Photo: Matt Gause/YouTube
1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda1970 Plymouth HEMI 'Cuda
That's when the Barracuda was redesigned for the third generation. Sharing the E-body platform with the then-new Dodge Challenger, the third-gen 'Cuda was wider and had a more menacing stance. More importantly, it was finally available with Chrysler's range-topping big-block V8 engines.

Sure, the 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) HEMI made it in a factory-built dragster in 1968, while the 440-cubic-inch (7.2-liter) RB powered a limited-edition model in 1969, but these mills weren't regulars on the options list. That changed in 1970, and the 'Cuda became just as potent as its bigger siblings, the Road Runner and GTX.

The E-body was a big hit in its first year in showrooms, moving almost 49,000 examples. And about 25% of them were ordered with a big-block V8 under the hood. However, most of these cars left the factory with the 383-cubic-inch (6.3-liter) V8. Only 986 customers opted for the four-barrel 440 (375 horsepower), and 1,784 buyers selected the six-barrel 440 (390 horsepower). As for the range-topping 426 HEMI, it found its way in only 666 'Cudas.

All these cars are rare and sought-after. The HEMI versions fetch more than $300,000 regularly, while their convertible counterparts (only 14 made) change hands for millions of dollars. The 1970 'Cuda you see here is not one of those extremely rare drop-tops, but it's a very special hardtop that carries a million-dollar sticker. What makes it that expensive? Well, it's the first-ever 1970 HEMI 'Cuda that Plymouth sold to the public. It's also one of the first ever built, featuring serial number 1000003, and the oldest surviving example.

This 'Cuda is also very lucky to still be around. As one of the first three HEMI cars made for the 1970 model year, it was disassembled as part of the process to determine flat-rate shop repair prices for the then-new muscle car. But while cars number one and two were taken apart and scrapped, the third HEMI 'Cuda was put back together and eventually sold. And it also has a few unique features you won't see on another HEMI 'Cuda.

Because it was built long before the third-gen Mopar arrived in showrooms, this example is some sort of hybrid between the Gran Coupe and HEMI 'Cuda trim levels. So, while it has an authentic 426 HEMI under the hood, it lacks some familiar HEMI 'Cuda elements, including the hood pins and the 'Cuda striping. It also has a standard dashboard without a tach. It's a bit of a sleeper at first glance, which is very cool.

But what about that million-dollar price tag? Well, while the 'Cuda is now resting in the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn, Indiana, it's been looking for a new owner since early 2023. And the seller is looking to get a whopping $2.2 million for it. Is it worth as much as a one-of-seven 1971 HEMI 'Cuda convertible?

It depends on who you ask, but the unique features, the low mileage (17,755 miles / 28,574 km), and the fact that it's the first HEMI 'Cuda ever sold definitely set it apart from the other 652 hardtops built in 1970. It's also one of only 284 four-speed coupes sold that year. Check it out in the video below.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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