Plymouth struggled in the 1960s until the Barracuda heralded a remarkable recovery-yet it never came close to the sales success of Ford's Mustang rival. Even without totally new product to shout about, the Plymouth division had been somewhat successful in reviving itself with a limited array of styling changes and marketing techniques, not the least of which was a highly successful racing program with the future "King" himself, Richard Petty, at its heart.
The Petty family had already seen the successes of father Lee Petty, and Richard had just begun to make a name for himself. Chrysler wisely chose to tie in with Richard Petty for marketing purposes, and for the next 10 years, Plymouth and Richard Petty seemed inseparable. Of course, this winning on the track translated into winning in the showroom. The powerplants were selling the cars, as the styling had been lackluster for several years. However, to their credit, the 1964 model Plymouth line was a very handsome restyle of what had been one of the poorest styled Plymouths.
The front end styling was much more traditional this year, with quad headlamps set into a relatively simple "electric razor" grille affair. A traditional full-width bumper with inset parking lamps was below the grille opening. Bodysides were slightly cleaned up and led to a simple, rear end treatment that featured square taillamps at the far outside edges. This was the best styling yet on this body. Of course, the expansion of 426 CID V8 offerings was the big draw for Plymouth buyers this year, although very few cars were actually sold with this engine. Perception is everything.
Two things boosted the Valiant line this year. First, after being totally redesigned in 1963, the Valiant received a facelift for 1964 and gained a full-width grille in place of the prior Chrysler-style grille opening. Then, in a move intended to upstage Ford, Plymouth introduced the second pony car, the Barracuda, during May 1964. Unfortunately the Barracuda was as similar to the Valiant as the Mustang was different from the Falcon, and its introduction was barely noticed by most buyers. Essentially a Valiant from the cowl forward, the Barracuda differed in its rear roofline and interior accommodations.
A full-width, wraparound rear window covered loads of cargo space that was accessible through a decent sized trunk opening, or from inside by way of fold-down rear seats, a novel idea at the time. This gave Barracuda a big space advantage over the Mustang. However, with convenience and economy to tout, the Barracuda came off as more of an economy car, whereas the Mustang seemed to lead the sporty car image. In time, Plymouth would address this issue, but in the meantime, the Mustang was off to a lead that no one would soon overcome.