By 1969, the muscle car era was in full bloom. The back-door Chevrolet COPO program was putting 427s into Camaros, Ford was building Boss 429 Mustangs, and Chrysler responded in kind with a ‘baby brute’ of its own. The 375-pony 440 engine that was so
popular in the B-body Charger and Road Runner was now available in between the fenders of the A-body Dart and Barracuda (actually, it was being called ‘cuda for short by the factory for the first time).
Perhaps providentially, compact or semi-compact factory street cars kicking out 400+ cubes were never commonplace. A youthful lack of self-discipline, coupled with skinny tires and poor weather, could quickly turn a weekend drive into an eternity, literally. That Chrysler chose to build these cars at all is perhaps a tribute more to the era than common sense; a 440 A-body was handful, even for seasoned drivers.
Like the 383-powered examples, the physical dimensions of the engine made things tight under the hood. By far the biggest compromise was the exhaust manifolds, which kept the engine from really breathing well. Most of them went in the junk pile as soon as set of headers could be bought; those headers tended to be fenderwell versions that meant a lot of big-block A-bodies were badly butchered even in the early days. Not too many of them were kept in stock condition, and they were optioned primarily for going straight as quickly as possible. Air conditioning. Nope. Power brakes. Nope. Manual transmissions. Nope. Warranty. You’re kidding, right?
In 1968, Norm Krause of the Grand-Spaulding Dodge franchise in Chicago had ordered a batch of 440 Darts to sell at his infamous dealership. Norm's proposed run of B-engine 383 Darts in 1967 had prompted Dodge to add the big-block to its A-body line, but the RB’s were something altogether more outrageous. However, with the muscle car era in full swing, the cars sold quickly and Chrysler decided to offer the combination as a general production vehicle in 1969. The 440 models, option coded A13 on the build sheet and fender tag, were not real big sellers; the sticker was above $3900.00 and they basically filled a small niche until the fresh E-body ‘cuda and Challenger debuted the following year. Jessie Fillingame of Vidor, Texas, owns the 'cuda 440 seen here.
"I had a '69 Barracuda fastback when I was in college," he says, "one that had a 318 and a four speed combination in it. So, about 30 years later, I got the urge to find another one. I searched the internet for about a year when this, the rarest of all 1969 Barracuda models, came up for sale."
That led to a purchase which in turn resulted in Jessie spending five years gathering up the right stuff to get the car restored. If you think getting the pieces for a Charger or GTX are hard, try finding parts for an M-code a body. Those exhaust manifolds are unobtanium. The special non-functional hood scoops used on this car are also tough pieces to find. While the car was no gem at that point, it certainly would be classified as a diamond in the rough. One benefit Jessie had was being able to talk the original owner and the only subsequent owner to get whatever info he could on how the car had been modified. Being a Mopar restorer helped, too.
As built, the 440 Super Commando, rated at the factory 375 horsepower and coded "M" on the fifth digit of the VIN tag, used a large Carter 4640-S AVS (air valve secondary) carb on top of a cast iron dual-plane manifold. What was different was that the versions going into A-body supercars received the 383 oil pan, pump and pick-up to make ground clearance possible. The engine and tranny were warrantied for the standard 12 months/12,000 miles; the factory was not foolish enough to extend that to the rest of the drivetrain on this model. The March 31, 1969 Plymouth service bulletin on the cars states emphatically - "Due to the expected usage of these vehicles, the drive shaft, universal joints, rear axle and differential assembly, shock absorbers, wheels and tires, and suspension system are not warrantied."