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Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Gary Casagranda admits that if anyone was going to love and preserve his rare and ultra-unique 1969 Plymouth Barracuda “Mod Top,” he was probably the right man for the job.
Even if Casagranda is a life-long “Chevy guy” and muscle car enthusiast. And even if the Barracuda’s crazy paisley top and interior doesn’t exactly ooze testosterone. Heck, Casagranda is the first to admit his Mod Top Plymouth is almost comically over the top, even for a car that was built at the height of excess when it came to American muscle.
But Casagranda, a resident of Appleton, Wis., figures he has more of a sentimental attachment to the car than anyone. He almost felt a sense of duty in keeping the car in once piece after his childhood friend, who owned the car, died many years ago.
“My buddy and I drank many many beers in it and chased a lot of women in it,” Casagranda says with a laugh. “We had a good time in it back in high school, and we were best friends. It was just pretty cool. He loved the car, and I have a lot of great memories with it.”
Casagranda said his friend’s family actually owned a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Iron River, Mich., and when the car showed up at the dealership as a sort of traveling showpiece, his friend’s mom wouldn’t let it leave. “It was supposed to move from dealership to dealership … and she liked it so much they bought it, and as each child in the family got old enough, it was passed from one child to the next, and my buddy was the last one, so he acquired it last. Unfortunately, he passed away many years ago, and I bought the car from the family… It sat for many, many years before I purchased it, and I’m the second owner.”
Casagranda did a complete restoration on the car, repainting the car’s yellow body and bringing the Barracuda back to show quality. Perhaps not surprisingly, getting the car’s calling card floral motif to match the factory original look was among the biggest challenges. “The top was too faded, and it wasn’t being reproduced, so I showed the car for many years just yellow [with no fabric], but it always had holes where trim went around and it was always like, ‘What’s that?’ And I’d say it’s a Mod Top option car. You could actually get the Mod Top with just the top [in floral], or just the interior, or like this car with both.
“A guy finally started reproducing the top material. It’s not a perfect match with the original, but it’s pretty close. It definitely added the finishing touches.”
The “Mod Top” was a wacky and groovy option package made available by Plymouth in 1969 and ’70 for its Barracudas, Satellites, Darts, Swingers and Coronets. The floral packaging was clearly targeted at female buyers, but it never caught on and fewer than 3,000 cars wound up dressed in flowers, including just 26 yellow ‘Cudas.
There is no definitive tally for how many of the colorful MoPars are still kicking, but Casagranda says members of the Mod Top International Club in Tennessee figure there are only about 100 left. “I don’t do a lot of car shows anymore, but when I did do car shows, I never saw one,” Casagranda said. “I do remember a Satellite once, I think it was white … That was the only other Mod Top I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen one like this.”
Casagranda’s car has only 30,000 miles on the odometer, but he says he’s not certain if the odometer turned over. “I really couldn’t tell you,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s ever been turned back. I know I’ve never turned it back.”
The head-turning Plymouth is equipped with its original 318-cid V-8 and three-speed automatic. It has power steering, but no power brakes. Barracudas were not long on luxury, and that was a big part of their appeal for thousands of buyers. They were largely a no-frills, “everyman’s” muscle car that packed a lot of wallop for not a lot of greenbacks. “It’s a pretty basic car,” Casagranda said. “It’s got the thumb screw radio, which is kind of unique, but not a lot of real creature comforts.
“Actually, it was a sports car at this time, but to compare it to today is night and day, apples and oranges. But it’s a nice-handling little car. It’s not a big Hemi, or tire-melting car. It’s more of a little snappy car with the small V-8. It drives good and goes down the road straight.
“It’s a very fun little car. It always, always turns heads — always gets a lot of conversation. I’ve had it compared to everything from shower curtains to table cloths. It never ends. It’s great!”
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