Building A '50s Hemi Using 21st Century Technology
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Without a doubt, one of the most impressive looking engines of all time is the Chrysler Hemi. But before you get carried away with images of black wrinkle-finish valve covers installed on bright orange blocks and heads, there's something we need to remind you. The Hemi was around 13 years before all these muscle car guys came in and stole the Fire Power's thunder. Most of us are aware of the origins of the early Hemi and the fact that not only did Chrysler use them to power some of their passenger cars, among other things, but so did Chrysler's Mopar sibling companies: DeSoto and Dodge. And by the time those bright orange engines were running NASCAR, the older Hemis had already been proving themselves on the streets, at the drags, and at the lakes for years. Just ask Don Garlits, the Chrisman brothers, or Fred Larson and Don Cummins, all of which had very successful early Hemi-powered race cars in the '50s and on. When Chrysler pulled the plug in 1958, the Hemi's reputation had already been firmly established as the motor to beat.
This would be all fine and good if this were 1958 and there were piles of engines in the junkyard or available at the local Mopar dealer. Problem is, it ain't 1958, it's 2010 and 59 years have passed since the first-gen block rolled off the assembly line. But while the engines themselves are slightly more elusive than they were 50 years ago, there exists today a booming aftermarket industry that supports vintage engine builds such as the early Hemi, perhaps in a more progressive way today than ever before. A number of the weak spots in those old engines have been addressed, such as the water pumps, which companies like Hot Heads offers adapters to run readily available small-block Chevy pumps in their place, as well as adapters for more transmissions than you can shake a stick at. And internal items such as pistons, bearings, seals, gaskets, rings, cranks, and camshafts, and even CNC'd aluminum heads are all readily available
The point is, it's easier today to build up a reliable vintage engine such as the Hemi than it's ever been. And with every John, Dick, and Harry running small-block Chevy crate engines, dropping a vintage mill in your truck ensures that it will standout from the crowd and separate you from the cookie-cutter guys. In a hobby where it's nearly impossible for the average guy to build a truck in his garage that competes with what the pros are doing, dropping in a vintage engine ups the ante that little bit that just may set it head and shoulders above the rest.
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