American automakers have been shedding brand names for over a decade now, and many a historic name has wound up on the chopping block. Plymouth was the canary in the coal mine if you will, becoming nothing more than one badge-engineered disaster after another. By the 90’s it was clear Plymouth had lost its identity as an affordable performance brand with outlandish ideas like turbine-powered vehicles and naming its muscle car after a famous cartoon character (the Road Runner.)
Perhaps the last gasp of hope was the 1985 Plymouth ‘Cuda concept cars. Mike Wolterman opines over at Hamtramck Historical about his time as a Chrysler engineer, designing these unique performance Plymouths that were soundly rejected by Chrysler executives.
We’re not saying a Plymouth ‘Cuda based on the L-Body Shelby Chargers of the mid-80’s would have saved the brand. But for a time, Plymouth had a fair share of performance cars that carved a niche in the hearts of Mopar fans.
One such car was the Plymouth HEMI ‘Cuda, nowadays considered one of the most valuable muscle cars of the era. In the mid-80’s, Wolterman and his team were tapped to create a Plymouth performance car based on the rear-drive L-body that underpinned the turbocharged Shelby Charger.
Two concepts were built, powered by a Dodge 2.2-liter turbo 4-banger. They used all off-the-shelf parts from the Mopar catalog. Only the stripes and name badges had to be special ordered. The ‘Cuda name was chosen over Road Runner due to the association most people had with the performance of the ‘Cuda.
Alas, the project was crushed by executives who maintained that Dodge was the performance brand within the Chrysler lineup. Carroll Shelby was also rumored to have a hand in its demise. The two cars were given over to a fleet manager, who made them “disappear” into his garage, or so it is rumored. The current whereabouts of the cars are unknown.
Regardless, the project was shelved, and the world was denied another could-have-been performance car. There are rumors that Chrysler may again revive the ‘Cuda name, much as they have done the Dart. Is the time ripe to bring back this historic name?