Like other muscle- and ponycars in the early-'70s, sales of the Chrysler E-body Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger were mortally wounded by a coalition of forces working against high-performance automobiles. By levying premium surcharges against these cars, the insurance industry made it almost impossible for young drivers to afford them. Further compounding the problem were voices in and out of the federal government criticizing Detroit for selling what they considered "lethal weapons." The final blow to musclecars was the industry's shift in emphasis from performance to research, as Detroit struggled to meet an onslaught of upcoming government mandates for cleaner engine emissions.
These three factors severely impacted the market, and by 1974, the Barracuda and Challenger were doomed, as ponycar sales plummeted. And while proposals were made for a new generation of E-bodies, Chrysler management was not interested in perpetuating a product line that didn't fit into its plans for a future consisting of Aspens, Horizons, Omnis, Valiants, and Volares. There was simply no place for sporty, high-performance cars.
Ironically, Chrysler management pulled the plug on the Barracuda and Challenger just as the ponycar market was showing an upward trend that would reach its zenith at the end of the '70s. "We got out of the only part of the market that grew," Carl Cameron reflects. Cameron was a designer in the Dodge Studio, responsible for the '70 Challenger. "We abandoned it, and I always thought that was a mistake."
A significant part of the problem, according to former Chrysler employees, was that management was made of financial executives with little or no understanding of the marketplace or the product. And, because the finance people now made meaningful decisions regarding product, the "car guys" and buyers no longer had the clout to push product through the system. Other critics pointed to 1968, when Chrysler had a record-breaking sales year but chose not to invest the money in product development. "Our primary business was designing, building, and selling cars," one former employee says. "The money wasn't put back into product. Instead, it was used to diversify into other areas, some of which were losers that cost Chrysler dearly."
There was also internal controversy about product engineering decisions. Many inside Chrysler questioned management's choice to make the '70 Challenger longer and wider than the Barracuda. Sharing body shells would have saved the corporation millions of dollars that eventually could have gone into future development.
The postmortems would come later, because in the spring of 1969, the Plymouth Advanced Design Studio was working on the next-generation Barracuda. Chrysler had a four-year lead time from design to production, and no one expected the E-body to be cancelled-so it was business as usual in the styling studio.
Two Designs, One GoalTwo advanced designs for the '75 Barracuda were slowly evolving. Designer Shunsuke "Matty" Matsurra created one version, influenced by fellow designer Don Hood's renderings. The other concept was by the team of John Herlitz and John Sampson. Both teams worked separately; however, they studied each other's concepts and shared ideas. "We struggled to define the Fourth Gen Barracuda," recalls designer Milt Antonick. "We wanted the car to look more fluid, and yet retain the Barracuda's muscular and aggressive look." Each team thought it was important to preserve the ramps found in the shape of the '70 to '74 E-body's front fenders and rear quarters, and to be sensitive to retaining a certain amount of product image.