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Car of the Week: 1966 Plymouth Barracuda Formula 'S'

One of Chrysler’s more interesting entries in the quickly escalating mid-1960s horsepower race was the Barracuda Formula ‘S’, which debuted in 1965.
Car of the Week 2020
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By Brian Earnest

A couple years ago Bill Marchese decided he needed a car to tinker with and accompany him to weekend car shows after his retirement from the New York Department of Corrections job. Marchese wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted, but his mind kept coming back to the Plymouth Barracuda S that he had chalked up to a “near miss” many years ago.

Back in the mid 1980s, Marchese’s Ford wagon had some mechanical problems during a road trip. Luckily, the car broke down in front of a garage, so the Staten Island resident slept there overnight and waited for the shop to open to see if he could get the wagon fixed. While he was there, Marchese spotted a 1965 Barracuda Formula S and inquired about its availability. “I had never seen one before that, and that was in ’85, I think,” he says. “It had that fastback glass and finned taillights. I thought it was very cool. I actually thought it was some sort of special edition with that glass and everything. I really didn’t know what the story was. It was something you just don’t see.

“So, to make a long story short, the guy didn’t want to sell me the car, but he said, ‘I'll trade you for your Fairmont wagon.’ I said ‘No, I can’t do that, I need the car.’ So I left without the car, but I always said I was going to go back and buy that car, but never did … Now years later I got this one.”

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“This one” is a sweet ’66 Barracuda S wearing its original Citron Gold Metallic paint color that Marchese found two years ago that had apparently sat untouched for more than two decades in an Arizona barn. The fact that it was a Barracuda S was enough to pique Marchese’s interest. The combination of equipment and options on the car, along with its true “barn find” originality, made it too cool to pass up.

“I started looking about two years ago for a ‘65 or ‘66 Barracuda and I came across an ad on Craigslist for a ‘66 in New Wilmington, Pa.,” he recalled. “I called the gentleman up, his name was Bill, and he said he got it from the original owner was and brought it up from Arizona. It was originally an Arizona car. It had been bought originally in Missouri at a place called Holiday Motors and then brought to Arizona.… All he knew was the man who owned the car before was a roadie — like roadie for a band. He eventually parked it in a barn … It had been sitting since like ‘89 or ’90.”

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“It was a four-speed car. He sent me pictures of the fender tag and engine. It was an A/C car and I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s is really unusual, and it was a four-speed.”

Marchese didn’t take long to make a decision. He liked the look of the Barracuda and figured it was a low-risk deal even if the car wasn’t as good as it seemed. He was anxious for it to show up at his door, since he hadn’t seen the car in the flesh. One of the first things Marchese did was go looking for the original factory build sheet.

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“It came in on flatbed, and while still on the flatbed I pulled the seat out and, sure enough, the build sheet was there clear as could be. I went in and deciphered the codes and it was a factory four-speed, Formula S, disc brakes … Sure Grip rear … Only the front windshield was tinted, which was unusual … and it had the factory console, which was a first-year option.”

Swimming with the sharks

The Barracuda Formula S, which debuted in 1965, was one of Chrysler’s more interesting entries in the quickly escalating mid-1960s horsepower race. By 1966, the Barracuda “S” fastback had raced its way to the championship in the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) national rallying class. That was not bad for a car that had suffered through its first half year, in 1964, as a “pretty face” without much real performance behind it. Things had not improved a great deal during 1965.

For 1966, the heated-up “Golden Commando” version of the Chrysler 273-cid V-8 was the “hot-ticket” engine option once again. It had a new unsilenced air cleaner, but there were no real serious changes in this power plant’s basic specifications.

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Prices for the 1966 Barracuda V-8 started at $2,655. There was not a whole lot that was really new about the car’s body design, although it did get the year’s new split radiator grille with criss-cross inserts, which was also used on the 1966 Valiant.

When the Barracuda “S” package was added, the presence of this option was noted with small, circular model identification badges below the Barracuda name on each of the front fenders. New pin striping decorated the body and a vinyl-covered roof was a new option. Six types of optional racing stripes were available to Barracuda buyers.

Motor Trend decided to test a Barracuda “S” with $400 worth of options to prove the fact that “Barracudas can bite.” The test car had the following extras: a 235-hp V-8 ($97.30), an automatic transmission ($177.30), a heavy-duty suspension ($13.60), front disc brakes ($81.95), a power brake system ($41.75), power steering ($80.35), an AM radio ($57.35), tinted glass ($27.90) and a tachometer ($48.70). Some of these add-ons were also included in the Barracuda ‘S’ model’s price.

The resulting car was featured in the February 1966 edition of Motor Trend. It had an as-tested price of $3,616.50. In the test, it achieved 0-to-60 in 8.9 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds at 84 mph. In production terms, the 1966 Barracuda’s popularity leveled off at 38,029 units.

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One of the appealing virtues for collectors today is that the Formula S appeared in very limited numbers. Production figures are fuzzy for ’65, but for 1966 only 5,316 were reportedly built — 2,346 with an automatic and 2,970 with a four-speed.

The days of the funky curved rear glass version of the Barracuda were numbered, however. For 1967 the Barracuda got a complete overhaul and became its own separate model after previously being a spin-off of the Valiant. The nameplate marched on successfully into the 1970s, but the Gen II Barracuda was a much different fish than the original.

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A solid survivor

Marchese had received plenty of assurances from the previous owner that the ’66 Barracuda would not disappoint, and it hasn’t. Being an almost all-original 50-year-old car meant it still needed work, but the car was very solid mechanically and body-wise. Marchese wanted a car he could do some work on, but not a basket case. He says he found exactly what he was after.

“It was a very solid car. I had it running within a couple weeks,” he says. “It had 108,000 miles when I bought it, I believe. It has original engine, the original clutch. The engine had never been taken out of the car. The transmission had never been taken off. It had original paint. It needed only minimal body work below the gas cap, where there was a little rust. Everywhere else the car was really solid. It had the original exhaust. It had an Economizer muffler. I eliminated the resonator. I went out and bought an NOS resonator and it bolted right back in there. I got the interior all redone from Legendary. I painted the engine bay. I added the stripe, it didn’t have that. That was a dealer option you could get. It has the original dash pad and original gauges 150 mph speedometer and they all work.

“It drives beautifully. I could get in it and take it out for a four-hour drive, which I’ve one.”

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Marchese didn’t pay big money for the car, didn’t have to spend a fortune restoring it, and he’s having a ball with the hot-looking Plymouth. As far as he’s concerned, he got a steal of a deal, and he’s enjoying every minute of attention the car brings.

“I take it out to shows and the guys will jump in it and go. I’m not afraid to drive it,” he says. “It’s not a car that’s going to sit. I like to drive it.”

“I took it to the Staten Island Car Show, and there were 700 cars there, but there was only one ’66 Barracuda. It’s fun to have something nobody else has. I’m very, very happy with the car.”

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