Q: Hello, Greg, I read your article on the Hemi and found a correction on the year available and some added historical facts.
First, the 426 hemi engine first roared to life in Chrysler’s dyno rooms in December 1963 and was coded the A-864 engine. Testing was in preparation for the targeted debut at the 1964 Daytona 500. By the race’s end, Hemi-powered Dodge and Plymouth cars took four of the top five places as Richard Petty took the win by more than a lap.
Actually 1964 marked the first availability of the 426 Hemi in cars that could be ordered by the general public and street driven. While most were purchased for drag racing duty, anyone with money could walk into a Chrysler dealer and order a Hemi Dodge or Plymouth, get it licensed, and drive it home. However, few customers were aware of this fact and, accordingly, very few were ordered and driven on the street.
You mentioned the Ford 429 Hemi engine, which was actually a 427 in the development stage. In 1969 Ford fielded their own Hemi head design engine, the BOSS 429, which had good success against the Chrysler Hemi. Interestingly, the street versions of the Ford Boss 429 were only installed into 1969 or 1970 Boss 429 Mustangs (selling enough to qualify their Hemi headed engine design for NASCAR involvement) yet only used in the Ford Talladega, a special Torino-based NASCAR aerodynamic design.
In 1965, as you mentioned, Chrysler did not compete in NASCAR and no street-legal Hemis were sold. There was a 1965 special run of 100 Dodge and Plymouth drag race cars built, identified by “R0” VIN tag numbers for Plymouths and “W0” for Dodge while the Hemi engine package was called A-990.
In 1966 Chrysler offered the 426 Hemi in any of their Dodge and Plymouth B-body platform cars, including Dodge Coronet and Charger and Plymouth Belvedere and Satellite two-door, four-door, convertible, and even station wagons in an effort to sell enough Hemis to make them a standard production engine. NASCAR thus allowed them to compete again although limiting the Hemi to 405 inches for 1966 racing. The Street Hemi, as it is known, was a milder version of the original design and in a de-tuned state came in at 425-HP and 490 lbs. of torque.
Hemis were very expensive to produce considering the cars they were available in cost around $3,000 and the Hemi alone added near $1,000 more! Accordingly total Hemi car production including all models combined sold between the first available year of 1964 and the final year of 1971 was just over 10,000 total units.
Best regards, Scott Smith, from www.harmsauto.com in Washington.
A: Thanks, Scott, for the great info. Everyone should check out harmsauto.com, as it’s loaded with good restoration information and offerings.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader questions at 303 Roosevelt Street, Sayre, PA 18840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.