SECOND TIME AROUND
In 1967, Frank Chirat owned a special-order Plymouth Barracuda 273 Formula S fastback. After searching for years, he owns another.
Back in 1967 Frank Chirat owned a special-order Plymouth Barracuda 273 Formula S fastback. Years later, he owns another.
They call them ponycars, not fish cars. Unless one is a dyed-in-the-wool Moparaholic, most car enthusiasts and the general public believe that the ponycar era started on April 16, 1964, when Ford’s Mustang was introduced to the public. It actually started about two weeks earlier when the Plymouth Valiant Barracuda (officially, for 1964, it was considered a Valiant) was introduced on April Fools’ Day.
In 1963, Plymouth’s product planners already were aware Ford’s Falcon based Mustang was coming in the spring of 1964, and they wanted to have a response. The response was the midyear introduction of the Barracuda. But unlike Ford’s Mustang, which shared no exterior panels with the Falcon on which it was based. From the belt line down, the Barracuda was pure Signet, the top model in the Valiant lineup. This would turn out to be a fatal flaw. While Plymouth dealers shifted a
respectable number of Barracudas, 23,443 to be exact, Ford sold more than five times the number of hardtop and convertible Mustangs before the fastback was added to the Mustang’s lineup for the full 1965 model year.
By the time the 1965 full-year Mustangs were introduced in September (which had several significant updates like an alternator and introduced a fastback model), Ford had a runaway hit. Concurrently, the ’67 Mustang and Barracuda models were already in development in the fall of 1964, as well as the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebirds over at crosstown rival GM. Plymouth’s design team and product planners weren’t about to make the same mistake. The 1967 Barracudas would have three models — the original fastback and new hardtop and convertible — to directly compete with the Mustang and would share no exterior sheetmetal with the Valiant with which it would share its A-body platform.
While 1967 was a watershed year in Pony Car history, with the Chevrolet Camaro, Mercury Cougar, and Pontiac Firebird joining its ranks (the AMC Javelin would fill out the class in 1968), it was important for a second reason: big-blocks. Ford widened and enlarged the Mustang’s engine bay to accommodate the 390 V-8, and Plymouth countered with the tried-and-true 383 V-8, pumping out a respectable 280 hp. But due to a more restrictive exhaust manifold this was less than the 315hp output produced by the four-barrel 383 in the larger mid and fullsized models. With 280 hp, the Barracuda was a strong performer but in a straight line, it would only see the taillights of Mustangs equipped with the 390 V-8.
On a curvy road, it was an entirely different story. Back in the 1965 model year, Plymouth introduced the Formula S package. Between the Barracuda’s lighter weight and its torsion bar suspension, a Formula S-equipped would out-handle any Mustang, save for the Shelby GT-350 models. The Formula S handling package (HD front torsion bars, HD rear leaf springs, sway eliminator bar) was carried over to the all-new ’67 Barracudas. When combined with the styling of the fastback model, the ’67 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S was the most Europeaninfluenced of any the ’67 ponycars.
None of this matters to Frank Chirat of Orange County, California, owner of the Turbine Bronze ’67 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S pictured here. Chirat, who grew up in Chicago, fell in love with cars at about age 9. He started tinkering with his dad’s ’56 Ford, which he later gave to Frank. He sold it to get a ’60 VW bug, which he installed a Judson supercharger and EMPI exhaust on.
As an auto shop guy in high school, he enrolled in Triton College’s Auto Shop AA Degree program and was hired to perform new car prep at Park Chrysler Plymouth in Chicago. This was 1967, and he predelivered and road-tested all the new Barracudas, and GTXS. At that time he also completed the Chrysler training school — every class they offered — achieving master technician certification.
Chirat’s life was influenced forever when one day a silver with red racing stripes and red interior Barracuda Formula S came into the new car department. It had a little over 600 miles on it, and he was told it was used for advertisements in the car magazines. It was a 273 four-barrel car with solid-lifters, a four-speed manual transmission, and equipped with every option.
“I bought it, I drove it, I drag raced it,” Chirat says. “That was until 1969 when I graduated and left Chicago for Los Angeles to get my four-year bachelor of science degree at California State University at Los Angeles with a major in automotive technology. I didn’t think I could afford college and
a Barracuda, so I sold it back to the dealer. I traded my Suzuki 150 sport cycle for a ’65 Hillman Husky and headed for L.A.” (Chirat is currently restoring a similar Hillman. It’s interesting to note that in 1965, Hillman was part of the Rootes Group in the UK, which was controlled by Chrysler Corporation who handled its imports to North America. So Hillman has a Mopar connection of its own.)
“After graduation, I was hired by Ford Motor Company for the Ford Customer Service Division and for 13 years was the zone manager and owner relations manager for San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties along with Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1981, I bought a ’68 Shelby GT500 off Sunset Ford’s used car lot. I still have it. It’s fully restored and has won 38 First Place awards, nine Best of Shows, has been featured in several magazines, a coffee table book, and more.”
“Around 2006, I wanted to add a ’67 Barracuda Formula S to go with my Shelby,” recalls Chirat. “Trouble is, there weren’t that many Barracudas produced, and most of the ones around were modified, rusted, or not a combination I was interested in. For five years, I searched and finally this one showed up in Florida. The owner had another Barracuda, but had bought this one for his wife. They named her Justine.”
Chirat relates that it was a Texas car, delivered to its first owner at Worthey Forest Park Plymouth in Fort Worth, Texas, on May 8, 1967. He died, and it went to auction, where a lady from Oklahoma purchased it. She showed it at car shows for about 10 years, but with manual steering and manual brakes and a 383, it was a handful. She sold it to a man in Colorado and sold to the owner in Florida off ebay.
After several months of talking, sending pictures, my wife and I flew to Florida to see the car. “It was an unmolested driver,” Chirat says. “Not abused, but not overly cared for. It had about 140,000 miles on it. I purchased it in August 2011 and had it shipped to California. Justine became a California girl.”
After getting the car to California, Chirat realized that his car was about 75 percent original and being a purist determined he’d maintain it rather than commissioning a full restoration. He spent several years adjusting the doors, glovebox, trim, cleaning dirt from everywhere. “The car had been painted once in 1990, exterior only at a cost of $1,200 in enamel including orange peel,” says Chirat. “I spent many months removing and cleaning the overspray off trim and undercarriage. I was color sanding, claying, compounding, polishing, and waxing the paint to get it to look like Turbine Bronze. Any part not factory original was corrected right down to the battery and keys.”
Continues Chirat, “The Barracuda was authenticated by Galen Govier back in 2006. It’s 1 of 748 383 four-barrel Barracuda Formula S models. It is #10 of 39 in VIN sequence accounted for at that time. It was built at Chrysler’s Hamtramck plant on March 21, 1967. The documentation file starts from the first owner — DMV records, repair orders, Broadcast Sheet, Owner’s Manual, Certicard — are all original to this car.” Under the hood is the original engine. Superior Automotive in Placentia, California, updated the cylinder heads. Art Carr rebuilt the original transmission.
Chirat notes that Justine is driven several times a month, and it’s very pleasant to drive. “The manual steering and brakes are a little challenging, but overall the car is very balanced. Back in 1967, Plymouth noted that the Formula S was a balanced vehicle in their sales brochure.”
Speaking of the sales brochure, we noted when shooting the car, we wished that we had looked at the 1967 booklet before scheduling the photo session. Frank said no problem and produced the 1967 brochure from the documentation file he keeps with the car. Thumbing through the pages, we noted a rear three-quarter view shot from above, easily the car’s best view. Think of how much better the Barracuda looks compared to its competitor from Dearborn, and how much its design influenced the second-generation Camaro and Firebird. Not too bad of a legacy for a car that in the end was overshadowed by the E-body Barracudas that followed.