History Lesson

December 6th, 2011

Text and Photos by Matt Emery

This Barracuda is History

Americans love two things: cars and nostalgia. This killer ‘66 Plymouth Barracuda exemplifies them both. Just looking at this car brings back memories of evenings spent at places such as (the original) Irwindale Raceway and Lions Drag Strip, and cruising Van Buys Boulevard.

Chris De Soto is old enough to remember that going to those hallowed places was a joy only a teenager could understand. When he was young, places such as these were dominated by high-performance American iron, like the ‘66 Plymouth Barracuda that he now calls his own.

In those days, the muscle cars that ruled the streets and strip were powered by engines that had rudimentary, but highly efficient intake systems. It was the days of dual carbs that stuck majestically out of the hood, and when he had the chance, he equipped his ride with a set. A pair of Holley 600-cfm carbs sits atop an Offenhauser tunnel ram intake manifold, which is itself topped with velocity stacks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

When De Soto first saw his future ride, it was painted green with a green interior, and being driven daily by a college student out in Hollywood. Though the VIN number said it was a V-8 car, it was sporting a slant-six with three on the tree. But the body was in great shape, and for a mere $2,000 it was his. He began by stripping it to the frame, where he became intimate with the crew at Olympic Powder Coating in Santa Ana, California. The stock torsion bar front end was coated, along with the frame and Mopar 8 ¾-inch rearend, which was held in place with stock A-body Plymouth Duster springs. KYB shocks can be found both front and rear.

Back in the mid- to late-‘70s, there were no better wheels to have on your car than polished Centerlines (Front: 15 x 3.5, Rear: 15 x 8.5), and De Soto made sure that his Barracuda is adorned with them. Though Torq-Twister tires were the norm for those who could afford them, the newly introduced BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires (Front: 185/80/15, Rear: 235/70/15) were the truly hot setup.

A Cal Custom steering wheel, a stock dash with factory S 150-mph speedo and factory tach and two gauges hanging below the dash in a chrome panel are all this Barracuda needs. There’s no radio and no A/C.

De Soto made good use of the powder, and the Barracuda has a lot of powder-coated parts. The bumpers were coated to look like lightweight fiberglass bumpers, while the Valiant grilles were used for racing because back in the ‘60s they were lighter than the Barracuda grille.

The body was in very good shape, and only a few rust spots were apparent, but De Soto had Simons Auto Body of Laguna Hills, California, fix those and shave just about everything else. Gone is the Plymouth lettering on the hood and trunk. The rocker panels, fender trim and turn signals at the top of both fenders were removed, and the opening was cut in the hood for tunnel ram/Holleys to come.

Simons then applied the PPG Sunset Orange Pearl paint and Jeff Styles of Lake Forest, California, laid down the “factory option” pinstripes.

De Soto also made good use of eBay, as many of the pieces for the interior came from the online store. As De Soto was going for the period race car theme, he picked up items such as a radio delete plate (Option #416) that were options on the original car. He also picked up the complete heater delete setup option, a remote driver’s side mirror option (#537), day and night rearview mirror option (#5340), Barracuda S model 150-mph speedo and factory rpm tach option (#577), just to name a few.

The seats are actually late-model Chrysler bucket seats that have been covered, thanks to Willy’s Auto Upholstery in Laguna Niguel, California, with period black vinyl, and the carpeting is also black. Other cool period pieces are the Cal Custom steering wheel and Hurst four-speed floor shifter.

Which leads us back to the period-perfect engine. Thanks to many iconic engines, Chrysler was a huge name in drag racing, and the 1975 360-ci engine that is in place screams vintage power. It was bored and balanced and equipped with 340 T/A heads along with a double roller timing chain before De Soto pulled out the big guns. Providing plenty of fuel to the thirsty engine are two Holley 600-cfm carburetors that sit proudly upon the Offenhauser 360 tunnel ram intake manifold. This combination was perfect for getting as much power as possible from an engine, and the fact that they are topped off with velocity stacks that stick up through the hood only enforces that race car look that De Soto was going for.

A set of classic Cal Custom valve covers and a stock pulley system add nostalgia. Providing plenty of juice is the Mopar Performance ignition system, while the Headman 1 5/8-inch fender well strip headers are the perfect complement to the immaculate engine compartment. A pair of Flowmaster two-chamber mufflers connects to them and the 2.5-inch exhaust pipes dumped out at the differential. The awesome exhaust work was by Awesome Performance Exhaust of Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Keeping things cool is the custom unit from La Habra Radiator (La Habra, California) and the V-8 motor mounts and torque strap came from Schumacher’s of Seattle.

All of the trick engine mods produce a healthy 450 hp. This horsepower is fed into the 833-A four-speed transmission, which has been equipped with a Hays 10.5-inch clutch before being sent onto the posi-equipped rearend via the King Enterprise (Mission Viejo, California) driveshaft.

We love vintage race vehicles, and this Barracuda is a perfect representation of what can be done with the genre. De Soto, along with his brother Gerry and friend Paul, did all of the work himself in his garage, and we think that he did an outstanding job. He says that he hits all of the local shows and cruise nights, so if you have a chance to see this fine ride in person, we urge you to do so. The work is first rate, and it takes seeing the car in person to really appreciate not only the hard work that De Soto put into it, but also his determination to keep what was the golden age of drag racing alive for the rest of us.

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