Graded: Plymouth Performance Cars

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Plymouth isn’t a brand that’s usually on the top of most people’s lists when thinking of sports cars. Aside from a frenzied period during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Plymouth’s weren’t really designed to terrorize the streets with outright performance.

But looking back on the brand’s history, there were some bright spots. Below we have gathered nine performance Plymouth’s that range in size, shape and performance, spanning the early 1960s right up to the brand’s demise at the turn of the century. It’s fairly muscle-car heavy, but some interesting offerings did emerge in the ‘80s and ‘90s.   

This week we have another special guest judge, Judge Mills. He is a self-described reformed Mopar guy that used to own a 71′ Plymouth Duster and briefly shared racing and wrenching duties on a 73′ Plymouth Duster oval dirt track car. Now the owner of a ’81 El Camino, he is on a mission to #SaveTheElks and uses that hashtag to post information regarding his beloved automobiles.

1964 Plymouth Barracuda 273
AutoLobotomy Grade: C

Built in preparation/response to the Ford Mustang, the Barracuda was introduced in 1964 as a small sporty car. Sadly, its top engine choice at the time was only a 180 hp 273 cubic inch V8, although Plymouth would rectify the power short coming in the following years. The styling of this car isn’t exactly sporty to me either.

Judge Grade: C-

This car is even low on my all-time A Body list.

1967 Plymouth GTX Hemi
AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

A gentleman’s muscle car. The mid-size Plymouth had big-time power thanks to the standard 440 cubic inch V8 or the optional 426 HEMI. Of course, I’m going with the HEMI here. The car had a heavy-duty suspension, but don’t be fooled into thinking this car was a corner-carver.

Judge Grade: A-

1970 Plymouth Duster 340
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

This is a concept I can completely get behind. Take a compact coupe, give it a sporty body and a big V8 engine. Although it may be missing some cubic inches compared to the other Plymouth muscle cars on this list, it is also missing a lot of weight.

Judge Grade: B+

Lightweight and sometimes powerful, Dusters were usually looked over as only an economy car until this century.

1970 Plymouth Superbird
AutoLobotomy Grade: A+

The car, the myth, the legend. Just look at this monster. I’m not sure what’s more impressive; the fact that engineers thought this up as a way to dominate NASCAR, or that the executives actually approved it for production.

Judge Grade: B+
1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda AAR
AutoLobotomy Grade: A

If the Superbird is the most legendary Plymouth ever built, I’d like to nominate the 1970-1971 ‘Cuda as the second most iconic model. There were so many great special edition models to choose from during these two years, but I have to forego the big-block models and select the purpose-built AAR racecar-for-the-streets.

Judge Grade: A+

One of my all-time favorite homologation cars. This triple carb, small block powered ‘Cuda proved you didn’t need a Hemi to hit the track.

1979 Plymouth Volaré Road Runner
AutoLobotomy Grade: C-

By this point, Road Runner had become just a trim package and no longer a stand-alone model. The Volaré lacked the visual appeal of earlier Road Runners and despite having a 360 cubic inch V8, it also lacked the performance. At least by 1979 power was up a few ponies to a total of 195.

Judge Grade: D+

Not an F-Body fan.

1986 Plymouth Conquest TSi
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

A completely different kind of Plymouth sports car, the Conquest was a rebadged Mitsubishi Starion. It featured the typical Japanese wedge-shape styling of the time, but with wide-body fender flares. Power came from a turbocharged 2.6-liter four-cylinder that made 170 hp. That was actually on par with a lot of V8 muscle cars at that time.

Judge Grade: B+
1992 Plymouth Laser RS Turbo AWD
AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

Another rebadged Mitsubishi, the Laser RS Turbo AWD offered some serious performance. The small, lightweight coupe featured a 195 hp turbocharged engine sending power to all four wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. The Laser is not as popular as its Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse siblings, and I think that makes it even cooler.

Judge Grade: B+
1999 Plymouth Prowler
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

Easily the most unique looking car built over past 25 or so years, the Prowler isn’t for everyone. I have always thought the car looked cool, but the drivetrain never lived up to its potential. Saddled with only an automatic transmission and a V6 engine, at least by 1999 power increased to more respectable levels.

Judge Grade: C+

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