[ Hot Rod Hemi Interviews
, HOT ROD, August 2005 ]
Hot Rod Hemi Interviews
: Tonight Show host and car collector
HRM: When did you see your first Hemi and what effect did it have on you?
I grew up in Andover Massachusetts and in 1966 there was a kid in our high school who got a green Belvedere with a 426 Hemi. To me, this might as well as have been the space shot. When you grow up in a small town, you don't really see that many exotic cars. I grew up in the kind of place where you'd hang out at the McDonalds parking lot until about 11:00 o'clock then you'd go home and get a call that a Corvette went through at 11:15 and you'd scream because you missed it. To me, the biggest anybody got in my town was a 318, or maybe somebody had a 383 or a Hemi from the Fifties. So when that Belvedere came out, I mean, 0-to-60 in under seven seconds and a top speed of 140 mph, that was considered just unbelievable. We'd always hear stories about how the kid with the Hemi out ran the police, or how he'd come off the highway exit and the cops would overshoot it and go onto the grass, just all that silly teenage stuff.
HRM: Did this guy have a name, you know, like Ace or something cool like that?
I don't remember his name but another Hemi thing that really hit me was a magazine ad that showed the Hemi and it said stuff like "volumetric efficiency". None of us had any idea what it meant at the time but we went around repeating it because we knew it had something to do with the Hemi. And there was another ad with a kind of Peter Max illustration of a Hemi engine and I remember it said something like "You can't make an engine like this with facts and figures alone. It's gotta be voodoo baby". It was one of those mythical urban legend type vehicles.
HRM: We all know that you got into comedy and came to Los Angeles. When did you start buying Hemi cars?
It was the early nineties, about 1992. I got a '66 426 Street Hemi Coronet. I paid $28,000 for it and people said "Are you crazy?" And I said, "Yeah, but I want it". And I like it, its a dog dish hub cap car with not a lot of scoops and whistles on it. I know everybody likes GTX's and all that kind of beep-beep stuff, but to me I just like the plain Jane looking car. It's a sleeper. It is the one car in my collection that my wife has no idea why I find it attractive. She can look at other cars in my collection and understand why I have them but when she looks at the Coronet she says; "That looks like a taxi cab, its got black wall tires, what's the appeal?" It's one of those things that you either get it or you don't. It's really, at least in those days, a guy thing. My wife says "Oh I've gotta' get a Prada purse", I have no idea what that is. The guy equivalent of the Prada purse is a Street Hemi. Then I got a Challenger R/T with the Street Hemi. You don't see many of those, the Challengers. I really wasn't looking for it, it just kind of fell into my lap and became available. It's a four-speed car, my '66 is an automatic. I always kind of liked that brutal Chrysler four speed transmission. It couldn't be more agricultural. It's got the big machete handle Pistol Grip shift lever. Also the Hemi was the first car, I can remember being in high school and talking cars like we did and someone said they had a Hemi automatic, it was understood that it was probably faster than a Hemi four speed. That was just unbelievable. Kids almost got into fisticuffs yelling; "There's no way an automatic is faster than a four speed. Is too, is not, is too, is not" and so on. That kind of ninth grade stuff was rampant. But back in those days when you thought of an automatic transmission, you thought of a two speed Powerglide, and yet here was this Torqueflite transmission that could take this tremendous abuse. In fact when I first got the '66, I remember driving it down the street and thinking; "It's not shifting". I'd put it in Drive and it'd go waaaaah and just stay there. So I contacted a Hemi buddy of mine and told him it doesn't seem to be shifting right. He says; "Are you just keeping your foot in it?" and I said; "Well I am but I'm backing off because I don't want to blow it up", he goes; "no, no, just keep your foot in it and it'll upshift". I said; "Well OK" and I did it and at about 7200 rpm it went waaaah, screech and finally hit Drive. For an American V8 I had never seen a big motor rev that high before. I've also got a '56 Chrysler Imperial with a 354 early Hemi engine.
HRM: We all know that the Hemi is back and making waves in the new Dodge Ram trucks, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum, how do you feel about the continuation of the legacy?
It's OK. It's Frank Sinatra Junior. First of all, as big as the name Hemi is, the numbers 4-2-6 played a big parting that. The new motor isn't quite the same as saying "426 Hemi". Back then a Hemi engine was a Hemi engine. Now it's a brand. I'm not even sure it's a Hemi, isn't a pent-roof design? Anyway, now it is a brand, like when you go into Costco and you get the men's black "turbo" hair dryer? You say; "Is this really a turbo?" Well not really, it's a hair dryer. You know the new Hemi is good but not quite the same.
: Director of Street and Racing Technology (SRT) at DaimlerChrysler
HRM: Tell us about the importance of the word Hemi to your work at SRT.
Well, it really started about two years ago when we started building SRT as a cross brand. We already had the Viper and the Neon SRT4. We sat down and we said; "We need a foundational V8 engine that is a foundation for SRT in the V8 engine market arena. Of course we knew we had the Chrysler 300C coming along and we knew the 300 series had a well established performance heritage throughout the years.
So the first thing we did is we looked at the 5.7 Hemi and thought; "Well OK, if you're going to do a performance V8 engine, you'd better start with the Hemi". Then we did what I like to call inject SRT steroids into the 5.7 and created a 6.1 liter Hemi. We gathered all of the racers together in the SRT group, by the way, it's great that we have a bunch of enthusiasts in SRT who race on the weekend and bring their experiences to work on Monday. We sat them down and we said; "We're going to do this engine and what do you think it should have?" So we talked about things like the forged crankshaft, piston oil squirters, floating piston pins, hollow intake and exhaust valves to get the weight down and get the rpm up, and we raised the compression ratio from 9.6 to 10.3.
When we set the objective for the horsepower and torque initially, at 425 the engineers came back and said; "Well, we think we can get about 400". I said; "No that isn't good enough". I wanted as much as possible because there is never enough, and I knew there were competing engine designs that were going to sneak over the 400 horsepower mark shortly. The end result is we took it from 340 horsepower in the 5.7, to 425 in the 6.1. We also took the torque up to 420 lb/ft. We were extremely pleased and I am really proud of the team, they did an outstanding job.
HRM: We see that the SRT 6.1 Hemi has beautiful streamlined double wall exhaust manifolds and a different intake manifold than the 5.7 Hemi Magnum. Are those items what put you over the 400 horsepower mark?
Absolutely. The dual wall exhaust manifolds are just good old fashioned headers. Normally, fabricated exhaust headers need heat shields. You usually design the header and then you attach the heat shield and the heat shield is not part of the structural member. What we did is design them both together so that they're both part of the structure and you get a lot more efficiency and cost effectiveness as well. We were able to get about 15 horsepower just with the headers. Another thing we did to appeal to the HOT ROD readership and guys who are serious about cars, is we painted the block Hemi Orange and put a black wrinkle finish on the rocker arm covers to define a link with the 426 Hemi. We wanted buyers to look at the engine and say; "Those guys at Chrysler get it and understand what is important".
HRM: We all know that the 426 Hemi made 425 horsepower using the old gross rating system. In 1971, when the industry adopted the more realistic net rating system, the 426 Hemi's output was re-listed at 350 horsepower. Is it possible the new SRT 6.1 Hemi makes more SAE net horsepower than the legendary Street Hemi?
Yes it is. There is an SAE standard for rating engines so comparisons can be made with accuracy. And yes, under this system an SRT 6.1 Hemi will make more real horsepower than a 426 Street Hemi. Torque output is not as high as the Street Hemi due to the significant 54 cubic inch difference in displacement, but horsepower is superior. One thing about SRT products is that we tend to be conservative in our advertised horsepower ratings.
We want the customer, and the media, to get better numbers. For example we advertise that the 300C SRT-8, which this engine is in, does 0-to-60 in around 5-seconds. Well Motor Trend got 4.9 and we know of another magazine that is getting ready to publish, that got better than that. It is the same with our horsepower ratings, they're a bit conservative.
HRM: How does the SRT 6.1 Hemi intake manifold differ from the standard 5.7 piece?
It is a tapered runner manifold and there is also more volume. The tapered runners increase the airflow. It gets to the intake port of the cylinder heads at a higher rate of speed for a slight ram tuning effect, just like the old days of cross rams. The increased intake plenum volume gives the engine greater access to fuel with greater power output as the natural result.
HRM: What does the future hold for the new Hemi engine? Is it at its maximum displacement at 6.1 liters (372 cubic inches)? We've heard talk of an upcoming 6.3 liter version.
I can't talk about future product, but I will tell you this. In the performance industry, there's been a renaissance on for some time now. We know from our customers that there is never such thing as too much performance. While we have to balance that with resources, building viable business cases and making sure these things make money, and also that they are very acceptable and safe for every day use. They also must have high levels of quality and reliability. I'll just say that SRT doesn't rest on its laurels.
We always look for ways to raise the bar. The improvements may be in an engine or in the suspension. Like the SRT4. Six months after we launched it we brought out a limited slip differential to take it to the next level. So we're always looking for ways to improve already excellent products. That's what we want people to expect and demand from SRT.
HRM: To you personally, Dan, what does the word Hemi mean?
My dad and grandfather watched NASCAR racing and you'd see Richard Petty running wild out there with his Hemi cars before they phased out in the early seventies. Even before I knew what makes a Hemi a Hemi, I was aware that the basic word meant power, and performance and an image of supremacy in the automotive marketplace.
When we brought the 5.7 Hemi back, I thought: "Man, this is really going to do well". But I had no idea how well it has done. To be honest with you, it stunned us all. It reinforces the fact that consumers have always been about product and performance. If you've got a name like Hemi, which has walked the walk, you can always revive it if you put credibility behind it. And that's exactly what our SRT team strives to do.
: Former Chrysler employee and "God father" of the 426 Hemi
HRM: What was your first introduction to Hemi engines?
I was off driving trucks in the Korean war when the first Chrysler Hemi entered production in 1951. Before my arrival at Chrysler in 1955, I was fully aware that they were something special what with stock rated power that was consistently 25 to 30 horsepower higher than competing wedge head V8 designs of similar displacement.
The thing that was the most significant to me was the A311 program that explored the potential of the Chrysler 331 Hemi as a potential Indianapolis 500 racing engine. The A311 report became the most desirable reading material among those of us enrolled in the Chrysler Institute. I graduated from the Chrysler Institute in 1957 and at about the same time a group of Chrysler employees formed the Ram Chargers group, a loose knit bunch of engineers who drag raced their cars on weekends. Even though the A311 program didn't produce an Indy victory due to USAC rule changes, the technical report it generated was a guiding light for me.
HRM: How did you become involved in the 426 Hemi development program?
Luckily I was standing there with some applicable experience when the 426 Hemi program got under way. It started when Lynn Townsend became chief executive officer of the company with a desire to establish a performance image. Lore has it he had a couple of teenage sons who enjoyed street racing on Woodward Avenue. At the time I had a '59 Plymouth with a 392 Chrysler Hemi transplant.
The long and short of it is that Townsend listened to his sons' talk about the hot Pontiacs on Woodward and issued an edict that he wanted us to come up with a combination that could beat them in sanctioned and not-so-sanctioned competition. So I was made race program coordinator for the engineering division and that was October of 1961. The first result was the 413 and 426 Max Wedge. These were very successful at the drags, but less so on NASCAR tracks where Pontiac reigned supreme.
After the 1963 Daytona 500, won by Pontiacs, Mr. Townsend passed down the word; "What would it take to beat them and win the 1964 Daytona 500?" In response, the engineering vice president, a man named Bob Roger, called a group of four or five of us together and we told him the best thing would be to go with the design we had experienced the greatest power with, and that was the Hemi. The outcome of all that was that in April of 1963 we were given the green light to fit Hemi heads onto the wedge block. And we did, very successfully.
HRM: The 426 Hemi was an evolution of the RB wedge engine family. Before the decision was made to adapt Hemi heads to the RB, was there any consideration given to simply reviving the earlier Chrysler 392 Hemi, which was discontinued after the 1958 model year?
Not really. The tooling had very likely been disposed of in the 5 years between the 392 termination and the 1963 decision to prepare for a Daytona victory. Besides, it was a shorter path, really, to develop the Hemi head for the wedge block than it would have been to revive the older Hemi. The early Hemi also had less structure to support the crankshaft at high output levels and high speed. By contrast, the deep skirt RB block was a natural for the job. We could put unbelievable cylinder pressure on it and the crankshaft stays where it is supposed to be. It doesn't get pushed out onto the street where you have to drive over it. The guy that drew the 426 Hemi was Frank Bialk. Certain people are put on this planet with three dimensional insight that many of the rest of us don't have and Frank, now deceased, was one of those people. Before our group got the actual green light to proceed with the 426 Hemi project, in anticipation we got Frank started laying out the design a few weeks in advance. The big thing was that we didn't want to make the exhaust rocker arm any larger, that is to say, with any more rotational inertia, than the one used on the 392. We knew that Garlits, Keith Black and company were capable of running their 392's at 7000 to 7500 rpm so and we didn't want to compromise the new engine's valve gear speed capability through getting the rocker gear too cumbersome. That made a real challenge to get the exhaust pushrod by the edge of the bore at the cylinder head gasket face.
My input to all that was to tilt the cylinder head inboard. This had two effects really. We could limit the length of the exhaust rocker and still have space for a good gasket bead arrangement to seal the engine and it also made more favorable the frontal view of the inlet port. What I'm trying to say is it tilted the whole inlet port and inlet valve arrangement inboard on the vee, which for any naturally aspirated, carbureted scenario, turned out to be a flow advantage. The only real penalty to tilting the heads inboard was that the surface to volume ratio increased a little bit. This means you lose a little bit more heat to the water.
HRM: As the Sixties unfolded, racers like Ronnie Sox, Richard Petty, Don Garlits and countless others were winning with your team's engine design. On a day to day basis, you weren't in the lime light. How did this make you feel?
We were very proud of them. A few people singled me out from time to time but we actually got plenty of exposure doing regional seminars every spring throughout the country. Between 10 and 16 per year. We'd do a Friday in Seattle then a Monday in the San Francisco bay area. Our mission was to make what we had to offer available to as many people as possible on a face-to-face basis. I'd say that was our main mechanism for spreading what we believed t be the best approach for utilizing the engine in racing. I did the first one in 1964 in Centerline, Michigan. Then we went on the road with it and the last ones that I remember were in 1979. So we did it for 15 years. I got as much exposure as I wanted.
HRM: To an observer of the sixties musclecar offerings, the Street Hemi stands out as a particularly good engineering and performance value when compared to the likes of a Pontiac 400 GTO engine or even a Chevy 427. Did you feel that the competition was taking the easy way out by not offering a comparably exotic engine option?
Not necessarily, I've always had a lot of respect for Chevrolet. I think they've done a very good job over a long period of time. I have less respect for Ford. They took more of a knee-jerk reaction approach where they'd realize they had a problem with their street image and they'd pour obscene money all over it for a while, then they'd disappear again and fall behind They were not consistent. We tried to be consistent and in my opinion, Chevrolet was also very accomplished at being consistent.
HRM: The amazing thing about Chevrolet's success is that after March of 1963, GM was officially out of racing by edict of it's own upper management. How did you feel about this?
We knew Chevrolet was still providing plenty of back door engineering support. We knew their pull-out was all a farce for media consumption.
HRM: Coming up to the present time, what is your take on the DaimlerChrysler Hemi revival?
It has really been neat. Pat Behr, the head of NASCAR performance engine development, visited me at home in Pennsylvania in 1997. We went to Ray Barton's, also in Pennsylvania, we all spent the day looking over the cylinder head flow models for the 5.7 liter Hemi that was still in its infancy of development at the time.
The discussion turned to the question of what I thought I'd learned during all of the Hemi years of racing in the Sixties and I said to them; "Well, had it been possible at the time, one of the first things I would like to have done is to move the camshaft up in the block. Chrysler always made a great effort to make the distance from the crankshaft to the camshaft the same on as many engine families as possible to ensure interchangeability of timing sets and communize certain machining lines. But if we could have raised the camshaft in the 426 back in 1963, it would have alleviated the urgency of tilting the heads inboard and simplified the challenge of getting the exhaust pushrods where we needed to have them.
So guess what, on the new engine, one of the first things they did was to move the cam up in the block. This allows for short, stiff pushrods that reduce valve train inertia and make it so the exhaust rocker arms don't have to resemble pump handles any more. That's the first thing they did. I also recalled for those guys that one of the last engines in production on the world scene that didn't require catalytic converters to meet emission standards, was the Nissan NAPS-Z hemispherical chamber inline four. Guess what, it had twin spark plugs that helped it run so clean.
I also urged the guys to add some squish area for improved light load and low speed combustion efficiency for reduced emissions. Again, the new engine has more squish than the 426 Hemi. Without question, what we learned from the 426, particularly the gasoline activity, paid off in terms of making contributions to the new Hemi.
HRM: Do you have any ongoing involvement with 5.7 or 6.1 Hemi development?
Well Pat Behr and I talk every now and then. In fact I'm headed to Martinsville, Virginia tomorrow. We're going to go to the race and the NASCAR engine development shop happens to be there. We'll probably stop by and say hello.
HRM: The sanctioning bodies are known to have taken a "If you can't beat them, outlaw them" policy toward the 426 Hemi. Any thoughts on this?
There was always an internal struggle. Bob Cahill and the late Dick Maxwell did most of the negotiations with the drag people. When we developed something that made more power, their inclination would be to hold it in reserve for a while so we wouldn't get factored yet again. It finally got to the point where we just couldn't handle it anymore so we pulled the plug. I remember that vividly. I just knew when I was walking out of Indianapolis on Labor Day of 1974, that it just wasn't worth doing it anymore. So we didn't.
One of the interesting things that happened in hindsight took place at the Hemi exhibit preview at the Walter P. Chrysler museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan a few years back. Wally Parks was there and he came up to me offered some thoughts that made me feel better about the whole thing. He said he felt over the intervening years that the NHRA should have been less harsh on Chrysler. You know, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, we supported drag racing full bore. We spent a lot of the company's money. I've got to say Ronnie Sox didn't help the situation by winning all the Super Stock eliminators for a number of years. And of course when Pro Stock got rolling, for the first couple years of that we really did well.
Wally related that perhaps the association over reacted to this success. He indirectly put a lot of us out of the high performance business. I went off to work on diesel locomotives in 1979. I took over the General Electric locomotive diesel engine laboratory. The great locomotive fuel conservation race of the nineteen eighties was on and we won that one too, by the way.
: Former Chrysler Engineer in charge of 426 Hemi development.
HRM: Describe your title at Chrysler and how it pertained to the Hemi.
At the time the Hemi came out, which was '64, I was working in what we called the performance lab. We did what would be called today "vehicle simulation", using a computer to calculate acceleration, fuel economy, gradability and other performance parameters for all sorts of cars and combinations of engines and transmissions and all that. There wasn't enough race stuff at that time to warrant a full time person for racing so I worked mostly on stock production vehicles.
Later, starting in 1968 I worked in the race group, full time, but at the time the 426 Hemi came out in 1964 I was working mostly on production stuff. One of my race related jobs when the Hemi first came out was to calculate its performance at Daytona. The Hemi was introduced at the 1964 Daytona 500 and obviously the Daytona race, then like now, is THE important stock car race. Win that and it's a successful season. Lose that but win everything else and it is still not successful.
When I first got seriously involved was with the task of calculating the lap speed at Daytona. I had never seen Daytona live, I didn't have any clear idea of the exact dimensions, the banking and all that. Ronnie Householder, who was in charge of the Chrysler racers, dug up some information on the banking angles, the corner radiuses and such. I started out initially with the 426 wedge engine (hood call outs read 385 horsepower in NASCAR race trim), trying to calculate the lap speed that we'd observed the previous year.
In about December of '63 or January of '64 the Hemi was actually running on the dyno to the point where we had real data. In early January of '64 I was given real, genuine Hemi power curve numbers, I was told I was one of about 12 or 13 people in the company who actually had the numbers, because Ford obviously knew we were reviving the Hemi, with all the outside supplied tooling required for the project, we couldn't keep it a secret, but the actual power output was only made available to a very few people on a need-to-know basis. We had the actual numbers, but a lot of numbers were floating around as rumors, some were way too high, some were way too low, a few of them were right, but most of them weren't.
Based on the observed dyno output, I did some calculations and finally came up with a predictive lap speed number. I was remarkably lucky, and found out a few years later when the race teams had more data to do this correctly, that my errors happened to cancel out and I came up with a lap speed prediction that was within 1/2 of a mph of the fastest speed that anybody ran during the practice sessions conducted before the race. My calculations predicted a lap speed of 174.2 mph, and the pole speed was 174.92 mph, notched by Paul Goldsmith's Plymouth.
It particularly impressed Richard Petty that some engineer up in Detroit can figure out "how fast I'd go in a car I hadn't even run yet". I had met Richard before and knew him a little bit, but this has put me in good standing with him ever since. When I saw him at Talladega this year, he commented that he still needs somebody to figure out what all the date he is collecting means, even today. But that was my introduction to the Hemi.
The other racing related project that I was involved in at about the same time was working with the transmission people on getting the then-new Chrysler A833 four-speed transmission to be reliable in a road racing situation, particularly at Riverside.
HRM: Part of the Hemi lore is the driveline that was installed behind it. Tell me about your involvement in the driveline components like the A833 and Dana 60 rear axle.
During the initial design phase of the A833 four-speed transmission, two levels of strength were anticipated and developed. The input shaft and the gear tooth combination were the focal point. The standard version of the A833 was used in everything from the Slant Six to the 383. It had a 23 tooth input shaft. For the Hemi and the RB wedge engines, more input torque was available so fewer, coarser teeth, which are stronger, but noisier, were used. The regular V8 A833 used finer pitched gears and was designed to be perfectly adequate for use with a 383 but wouldn't live with the Hemis. The input shaft for the Hemi and RB transmission also got an 18-tooth input shaft with a greater root diameter for added resistance to failure under the higher loads generated.
HRM: How did you evaluate the strength and durability requirements of the transmission?
Initially it was just done by theoretical calculation. Calculating gear strength is a very well established procedure. In those days there were very few computers and it was a very long procedure. But it was something that had been done in Detroit for years. In racing, there were two different applications to worry about for the Hemi, drag racing and road racing. Initially they both started with the same design but quickly went their own separate paths. I wasn't particularly involved in the drag racing part of it, but quite a lot of work was done there to strengthen the case, to make some minor changes internally, and by the end of '64 the drag race four-speed was quite satisfactory.
In road racing, the most important race was the Motor Trend 500 at the much lamented Riverside Raceway. This was probably only second in importance to the Daytona 500 because it was the first race of the year, it was held in Southern California, which was the biggest market, and you people at Petersen Publishing did a very good job of promoting the race and making everybody think it was really important. And it really was.
Our major problem at the Riverside race was a fellow named Dan Gurney. Who until 1970 was driving Fords. He was at the time head and shoulders above anybody else running stock cars on a road race circuit in driving ability. Later, the Southerners caught up, but initially Gurney was worth about 3 seconds a lap. Parnelli Jones was pretty good, A.J. Foyt was pretty good, but Gurney was particularly good. In fact in 1970, he did come and drive for Chrysler. Plymouth had struck a deal for him to run Barracudas in Trans Am that year and as an add-on, Dan drove a Petty Plymouth in the Motor Trend race.
We did test with him on one occasion and it was quite amazing looking at all the on-board instrumentation at how different Gurney's methods of driving the car were than the Southerners. Even though we had very good road racers by NASCAR standards, Dan was just so much smoother and so much faster through the twisty parts. As far as the transmission goes, leaving the driver out, the two critical factors at Riverside, were brakes and transmissions.
In those days we were still using drum brakes. It wasn't until about '73 or '74 that Frank Airheart developed a disc brake that would live at Riverside or Martinsville, that was all after I had gotten out of it. Before that, we used 11x31/2 drum brakes and making a drum brake live at Riverside was quite a task. And because the transmission was shifted about six times a lap, transmission durability was a big factor. The first race we had the A833 in was a fall race in 1963 when we were still using the wedge. There were six or seven Mopars running in the race and none of them finished. As I recall, it was about half and half that retired with brake failure and half that retired with transmission failure. These early failures were from over heating, bearing failures, synchronizer ring breakage and cracking of the experimental aluminum case.
Through the whole 1964 season we worked on transmission development and improving bearings, lubrication, the case itself, which was rendered in cast iron to address the strength issue. It was a whole variety of things. In addition to the one NASCAR race at Riverside, the USAC series had about five stock car races so we were working mostly with the USAC people in developing the transmission. By the start of the 1965 season, we had almost eliminated transmission problems as a factor by careful inspection and measurement of all the parts during assembly and polishing the bearing surfaces.
Brakes took another year or so to develop, but starting in 1966 we had the mechanical durability of the cars living up to the performance of the Hemi engine. We still didn't have the drivers to compete with Dan Gurney, but at least we had cars that would finish the race and we'd have a good chance at seconds and thirds so we could build up points toward the NASCAR points system.
HRM: When did the name Hemi come to represent the 426?
That's an interesting point. Internally at Chrysler the engine wasn't referred to as the Hemi until 1965 or 1966. The reason for this is traceable back into the Fifties when we used the terms single rocker shaft and double rocker shaft to designate the V8's. The double rocker shaft name referenced the Chrysler Fire Power, Desoto FireDome and Dodge Red Ram, all of them with hemispherical heads, but not called Hemis internally at the time. The single rocker shaft designation applied to the family of polyspherical head engines. So the momentum was in place to set the stage for the 426 hemispherical head engine to initially be referred to as the double rocker shaft engine during its design and initial test and production phase.
The other name we used was the A864, the engineering designation for the program. Oh sure we had rocker cover stickers that read Ramcharger for Dodge and Super Stock 426 for Plymouth but it wasn't until late 1965 that Chrysler began to capitalize on the Hemi name and began using it in magazine print ads. By the advent of the Street Hemi package in 1966, the Hemi moniker was fully embraced as a marketing tool and is evidenced by the numerous die cast metal badges and vinyl stickers used over the years to identify and help sell Hemi powered vehicles. The 1965 Race Hemi was the first engine to actually bear the word Hemi. It's valve cover stickers read "Hemicharger", in one word.
HRM: When the Street Hemi arrived in 1966, there were numerous body shell reinforcements made to the cars (torque boxes, gusset plates, etc.). Were you involved in designing them?
No, not at all.
HRM: How about the Dana 60 rear axle, were you involved in its inclusion in the Street Hemi package on manual transmission models?
Only in gear ratio development. The Dana was a good but very expensive axle. Obviously we didn't want to put extra money into the car if it didn't need it. When it came to durability testing that might have revealed the need for the Dana or added body structure bracing, there was an awful lot of stuff going on. If it isn't in you area, you may not know about it. It is not necessarily secret, you just never think to ask.
HRM: During the Sixties, did Chrysler give you a Hemi powered company car?
No, I'm one of those guys that likes little cars. I was driving four cylinder stuff in the Fifties and Sixties. I drove Fiats. Later when it was pointed out to me that driving Fiats was not helping me at Chrysler, I got a Sunbeam Imp. That was a rear engine, four cylinder 850-cc car with a die cast aluminum engine. Then as now, I like little cars, even when gas was 20-cents a gallon.
HRM: How did you feel about the not-always kind treatment of the Hemi by the various sanctioning bodies at the time?
We viewed it as an engineering challenge to see if we could still win with the restrictions they put on us. In 1965 NASCAR outlawed us, period. Then for about three quarters of the year we concentrated on USAC stock cars and a variety of other things. That's when Petty went off drag racing. We were going to put Richard Petty and David Pearson in the Mobil Economy Run that year, but USAC, who sanctions the Mobil Economy Run, didn't want to get involved in the battle with NASCAR so they were not eligible drivers. Instead they went match racing on the drag strip until the Street Hemi made the Hemi eligible once again for the 1966 NASCAR race season.
: Proprietor of Stage V Engineering, manufacturer of aftermarket aluminum Hemi heads, intake manifolds, valve covers and rocker arms since 1985.
HRM: What has caused you to focus your life on designing and manufacturing parts for this particular type of engine?
I've always been attracted to the motor. My aspiration from early on was to run a Top Fuel dragster. I watched Don Prudhomme as a kid and was a big fan. He was a local name, a frequent winner and a really big name in the sport. We used to see him test at Orange County (OCIR) and it was always impressive. Sure there were some Fords and Chevys I watched, but the Hemi stuff pretty much dominated. When I was in high school, driving a 271-horsepower four-speed Mustang, the display cases in the hall ways were frequently filled with student photos and drawings of funny cars and dragsters and what was the focal point of them? The 426 Hemi. Kids all knew what it was and even the Chevy and Ford guys knew enough to respect it. I can't imagine anything like that today.
But that generation of kids is now the adults who are taking so well to the new Hemi advertising campaign. I never actually got to run a Top Fuel car, but a stepping stone was my Top Alcohol dragster. The obvious choice at the time was the Hemi. At the time (about 1978) the alcohol racers were mostly running the aluminum Donovan, which is based on the early 392-style Hemi, not the later 426 type. I started buying pieces to put together a Donovan but the more I looked at it, I realized my ultimate goal was to run Top Fuel, where the late Hemi seemed to have the clear advantage. So I abandoned the idea of building the Donovan and decided to go with the late Hemi even though everybody told me that it wouldn't work. Of course, time has proven that the late Hemi does work quite well in alcohol racing.
The thing that really impressed me about the 426 Hemi versus the earlier Hemi was that you could make lots of tuning mistakes and you still had a motor at the end of the day. They were so strong compared to the 392. The ironic thing is that at the time, you could build two 426 alcohol Hemis for the cost of one Donovan. Alcohol racers like Billy Williams did well with the Donovan but there were others like Darryl Gwynn who did just about as well with 426 Hemis. It was kind of a follow the leader situation. My Top Alcohol racing efforts ended with an iron block 392 and a few 426's before I turned my attention to making Hemi parts for other racers in 1984.
Our Stage V cast aluminum water heads were record holders with drivers like Frank Bradley, Raymond Beadle, Tom McEwen, Larry Minor, Ed McCulloch, Gary Beck and others before the advent of solid billet heads sidelined them in the late Eighties. Since then I've concentrated my cylinder head manufacturing on making cast aluminum heads for drag racers, tractor pullers, boat racers and the high performance street market.
Another aspect of Stage V is our line of cast aluminum Hemi intake manifolds and cast aluminum and cast magnesium valve covers. But the biggest effort is our line of roller rocker intake and exhaust rocker arms. Nearly 100 percent of Top Fuel and Top Alcohol racers use our intake rockers and more than half run our exhaust rockers.
Another thing that impressed me about the Hemi early on was the amount of penalties placed against it by sanctioning bodies. Be it NASCAR or the NHRA or whatever, if you run a small block Chevrolet or a wedge type motor, you get what amount to subsidies to even the score. I'd never heard of a Hemi race car having a weight advantage. It's a big, fairly heavy motor yet it is handicapped by rule makers whenever it starts to win too much. There is something appealing about this, I guess its an under dog thing.
HRM: What's the big difference that makes the 426 a better choice than a 392 for Top Fuel racing?
While the aluminum Donovan was a head and shoulders improvement over the iron 392 used by fuel racers all through the Fifties and Sixties, it was limited by its bore spacing which restricted the amount of cubic inches you could build into it. Though racers like Don Garlits did well in Top Fuel with the early style Donovan, you have to really like that engine family to stick with it. By contrast, the 426 has a greater distance between bore centerlines for bigger piston diameters and massive cubes if your rule book allows them. Plus there's a lot more head bolts keeping the heads on. The early Hemi only has 10 head bolts, the 426 has nearly twice as many at 17, and it makes a big difference in containing supercharged cylinder pressure.
Other hemispherical Chrysler advantages that are shared by both engine families are the short flame travel afforded by the centrally located spark plugs. This design feature is ideal for igniting slow burning fuels like nitromethane. This issue of short flame travel is probably the leading reason why the Hemi is the best suited engine type for Top Fuel racing versus all the others that have been tried over the years. It is also an extremely durable cylinder head in that the intake valve and the exhaust valve are not right next to each other. Instead, there is a wide space between them. Wedge heads have proven very unreliable in Fuel racing because the close proximity of the valves creates a localized region between them that has to cope with very hot exhaust and very cold intake temperatures. To try to get that area to last has been a very difficult hurdle for people that have tried to run big block Chevys in fuel cars over the years.
A popular misconception about the Hemi is that the valve train is trouble. I know that Pro Stock racer Warren Johnson has been a vocal critic of the Hemi and comments that with pushrods going this way and rocker arms going that way, it's not his idea of a promising configuration. Actually it is an extremely durable valvetrain. You've got alcohol dragsters running 10,500 rpm routinely and the parts last for years and years and years. I've got Stage V Engineering rocker arms on several competitive alcohol cars that are ten years old. I can't think of a better testament to the durability of the double rocker shaft design layout and validity Chrysler's execution.
Another thing is that Hemis are easy to work on and, what I would call, fairly non-critical. By this I mean they are forgiving. For example on an overhead cam design, if the head warps, the cam won't spin. On the Hemi, the rocker shafts and stands can be bolted to a warped head and still function very well. Of course, you wouldn't do this on purpose, but in the world of fuel racing, I've seen many between rounds thrash repairs work just fine that would prove fatal on other engine types. Parts can be physically compromised but still function in the heat of battle. The Hemi has a well deserved reputation for this.
HRM: Is the recent wave of rekindled Hemi awareness making a difference in your business at Stage V Engineering?
Yes definitely, there is a lot more interest and a lot more people building Hemis now than ever before. I think there are also a lot more people who always wanted a Hemi who are finally stepping up and buying or building one. They always dreamed of having a Hemi and now they have one. Dick Landy once told me that you can pull into any gas station and open the hood and if its got a Hemi in it, it's always impressive. You might have a wedge that goes just as fast, but the sight of a Hemi just draws crowds, it is timeless.
: Nascar Race Hemi pioneer
HRM: What was your opinion of the new 426 Hemi when it arrived on the scene at the 1964 Daytona 500?
In 1963 we were running a Dodge with a 426 wedge engine. It did not have enough stuff to outrun the Pontiac engine at that time. But then they came out with the Hemi which changed everything. I had been urging Chrysler to return to the Hemi design based on my success racing one in the Fifties. It was a Chrysler 354 in a modified Plymouth that I won Daytona Beach with in '53 and '54. In 1962 when Dodge wanted me to go racing with them I said; "Why don't you go back and pick up with the Hemi engine because you don't have anything to compete with the Pontiac engine right now". Back then we had to go by AMA (Automobile Manufacturers Association) specifications. You couldn't modify the engines like you can now. They had to be strictly stock with factory part numbers on them. The head had to hold so many cc's, you could only bore the block so much, the deck clearance had to be the same as what the manufacturers supplied to the AMA. I pointed at the 1955 Chrysler Firepower Hemi engine I had sitting on my shop floor from my Modified car and said; "That's what you need to go back to to take on the Pontiacs". Gale Porter, my contact from Chrysler, promised me a Hemi engine in 1964.
HRM: What did you think when you uncrated your first 426 Hemi?
Oh, I knew it would run.
HRM: It's no secret that an iron headed Hemi is quite a bit heavier than a wedge headed 426. Was this a problem on the racetrack?
There certainly was a weight difference, but it was outweighed by the power increase. We had to weigh so much anyway, I think it was close to 4000 pounds, so the extra engine weight wasn't a factor. Tire wear wasn't affected much either.
HRM: What was your daily driver?
I had a 1964 Hemi Dodge that my son drove back and forth to college.
HRM: When NASCAR put a temporary ban on the 426 Hemi in 1965, you went drag racing. Was that fun?
It was a great experience. We put a Hemi in the back of a 1965 Dodge Dart station wagon, painted it yellow and called it The Cotton Picker. You could adjust the car to transfer so much weight to the rear wheels it would do wheelies. But when NASCAR accepted the Street Hemi as a regular production powerplant, we went right back. I was always a roundy round racer at heart anyway.
HRM: How does the recent revival of the Hemi engine design at DaimlerChrysler make you feel today?
It makes me feel great because I feel that I was one of the instigators who helped establish the Hemi's legend in the first place. Today I'm not involved with the Dodge NASCAR program. I run a Chrysler salvage yard. But I just got done building a '64 Dodge like we raced in '64 with a Hemi engine. In fact it has the second Hemi engine I ever got from Chrysler in 1964. I've got several of them left to this day.
: Former Chrysler Assistant Chief Engineer during 426 Hemi development
HRM: You were there as the 426 Hemi went from the drafting table to the dyno cell to the Daytona 500. Got any interesting stories?
We had some excitement getting good cylinder blocks for it's big debut at the 1964 Daytona 500 race. The story goes like this. At the very end of development, and not long before we had to prepare engines for the race, the fellow who was in charge of the dyno testing, Larry Adams, reported some concerns. We had a dynamometer test schedule that loaded the engines so as to simulate the race track in terms of the numbers of minutes at full throttle, the number of minutes taken for pit stops and other operating conditions we knew it would face. We wanted to make sure the engine had more than enough durability to complete the race. What Larry told me was that the cylinder blocks had developed cracks in the bores prior to the conclusion of the test cycles. It wasn't a freak thing, it was repeated. The location of the cracks as well as the approximate time of the failure during the test loop cropped up time and again. There was no question that in its current state, the engine would not be able to finish the race. I told Larry to think about what we might be able to do. The solution was to increase the thickness of the bore walls. The cracks were occurring on the side of the bore walls that take the thrust load of the pistons. We just had to be able to make those bore walls stronger. The only way to do that was by making new castings that had thicker walls.
HRM: This would be done by filing the sand cores to allow more metal flow, correct?
Exactly. We prepared some templates that would be used to file the cores, because we sure didn't have time enough to make new core boxes, we had to revise the existing cores. Of course this was a matter of scraping away the sand to increase the metal. The amount to be removed was determined by a good guess. We prepared the templates and had a casting specialist from our group, who was named Louie Taylor, and we had him fly down to the Chrysler Indianapolis foundry, which did all of the raised B engine blocks. He then worked with the people there to file some cores.
Well he called back saying that we were requiring the removal of so much sand that the cores were breaking. It was not feasible to do what we had hoped for. So I got on a plane and flew down to meet him along with Earl Pinches from Chrysler's central pattern department. I looked at the situation and in effect gave an OK there to do the same thing but not scrape away so much sand. We then tried to make some more castings with these revised efforts. We went through the regular production process of making the cores, putting the cores in the core wash, which you have to do in order to keep the metal from penetrating through the pores in the sand. Then we baked the cores and put them in the mold then the liquid iron is poured into the mold. When the iron cools down the block goes through a shaking process to shake the sand away from the casting. And then you see what you have.
When we saw the first castings, they had big voids where there should have been iron. Needless to say, it was very discouraging at that point. We were doing this in the very early part of February 1964, and the race was scheduled for February 23. And of course, there are qualifying races before the 500. So here we are, race day is less than three weeks away and we had castings that were totally unusable. What we did was to get the best thinking of the foundry people and ourselves together, and they advised us to be more patient when it came to baking the cores before we put them into the mold so that there would be no water left in those cores. What was happening is we had some residual moisture in the cores when the molten iron went in and it just turned the moisture immediately into steam and that blew away the iron, causing the voids. Their experience showed exactly what had to be done.
So we went through the process and I think experienced a few more problems until we finally got some good castings. We worked through the night, truly, and we were exhausted when the foundry operator called in the morning to report that we finally had some good blocks. This was the turning point that revived any promise that the new Hemi could finish the race. Those blocks were shipped immediately to the heat treatment facility where they were annealed for high strength without hard spots that could make them difficult to machine. Then they went to the Trenton engine plant for machining operations. They had an off line operation apart from the high volume line for increased accuracy. Then they were sent to engineering to be built into the race ready engines.
These improved engines were driven by truck down to Daytona. But due to time constraints, we had to go through the qualifying laps with the prior engines and just keep our fingers crossed. We just didn't have enough of the stronger blocks, or the time, to change them for qualifying as well as for the final race. After qualifying, the thin wall engines were pulled out, and the stronger engines were put in.
I remember me and my counterpart, Ev Moller, both sat in the grandstands and watched the race. Of course the cars all started out after the first lap behind the pace car and they ran for 15 or 20 laps. Then all the Hemis came into the pits. We didn't know why and we just about died when the hoods went up with steam pouring out. Open hoods and steam are usually a sign of serious trouble on any race car. It turned out that the hoods went up because there was so much trash on the track the radiators were blocked and the engines were overheating. So after the paper debris was cleared, the cars went back onto the track and our blocks kept running strong. It was exciting right down to the end, and of course it was wonderful when the Hemis came in 1, 2 and 3. After Daytona, we had time to gather our breath and we made permanent changes to the core boxes and pattern equipment so from that point on all blocks would have sufficiently heavy walls.
HRM: When compared to the relatively smooth (and heavy) early Hemi, the 426 Hemi has a much more sculpted look. Was this part of a concerted effort to reduce mass?
The designer never puts any more metal in than is necessary. I don't think we made a conscious effort to reduce metal so much as to provide what was appropriate to the design. We didn't go through a weight reduction process on the engine, it came out as-designed.
HRM: When sanctioning bodies like NASCAR and the NHRA placed sanctions and handicaps on the Hemi to make it less competitive, did you punch the air and shake your fists in frustration?
We always were dismayed when the rules were turned against us. Then we would have to see if we could recover. Some times we could. I can't think of anything specific. I know that we prepared a smaller sized Hemi for use in NASCAR because of a rules change. Overall we recognized that the race promoters had their agenda, which was always to make an exciting race for the viewing public. We just had to do what we could with the rules.
HRM: It is generally acknowledged that the 426 Hemi was originally intended for racing with no thought given to offering it in a production vehicle. When the NASCAR homologation rules forced the issue of the Street Hemi for the 1966 model year, were you surprised?
I think we just accepted that. It was part of the burden of going racing with the engine. If we had to make 600 of them, so be it. Just go ahead and put them in production.
HRM: It is amazing that the Street Hemi made it into volume production with relatively minor compromises to the compression ratio, camshaft timing and induction. Were there any durability issues that you worried might be uncovered by street users?
Not really because the engine was basically so durable that the race useage would always far exceed anything that anybody could expose it to on the street. Our efforts for the street were mainly to put the impressive tandem four barrel carburetors on top and then to provide heat for the rear carburetor so that it could go through a normal warm up process as a street engine.
HRM: How do you feel about DaimlerChrysler's continuation of the Hemi legacy with its new generation of 5.7 and 6.1 liter engines?
Oh, I'm more than pleased. I'm just glad that the combustion chamber that was so much in favor at Chrysler since the early Fifties has returned. I'm also pleased that they have done such a wonderful job with the engine.
HRM: Did you have a Street Hemi powered car to drive on a daily basis while you worked on them at Chrysler?
No I didn't. I've been more or less mundane about my go to work cars. I had family cars because of the family. For a long time I had Plymouth station wagons. Later, I had just a big variety of company cars from the car test people.
HRM: Was your design team assigned to work only on Hemi related things, or did you multi-task with regular transportation development as well?
We would just work on whatever needed to be done as it came up. As I recall most times we just had one meeting after another. One would be about one engine, the next hour we could be with a group of people talking about one of the other engines and so forth through the day.
HRM: Did people's tails wag a little faster when fun stuff like the Hemi projects came up?
I'll tell you, each engine had its own challenges to us. Technical challenges, and personal challenges in a way. So yes indeed, we were always impressed with the big power of the Hemi engine and its image, but I'll tell you, we liked that Slant Six engine a lot too.
HRM: With the advent of the Hemi in 1964, when compared to the outgoing wedge head race engines, did you guys have a sense that you'd made the leap from propellers to jets, to borrow an aviation metaphor?
There surely was a recognition of the fact that the Hemi was THE engine to go racing with. Once we started on the Hemi path, our direction was clear. I give just super credit to our lead designer. He was a guy named Frank Bialk and he was able to come up with the geometry and the placement of all those parts to make a hemi chamber head fit on top of what was a wedge head engine block.
Understand, when the wedge head big block B and RB engine was first designed there was absolutely no thought about any Hemi head on top of it. When the directive came in December of 1962 to design a Daytona 500 winner, we were told we had to make due with the basic architecture of the RB engine block. There was no discussion of tooling a new block to go with the Hemi heads. We were told it would have to be a conversion of the RB.
HRM: What set the Hemi head apart from the wedge? What was the magic?
The shape of the chamber itself, as part of a sphere, with a spark plug that could be brought down in the center of it, gave it this kind of ideal shape for combustion. The spark would spread equally and quickly throughout the whole chamber. For a given volume, the spherical shape has the smallest surface which yields the smallest surface to volume ratio. That helps it contain the hot combustion without radiating the heat into the walls of the cylinder head. This helps the thermal efficiency. It makes the best use of the combustion.
On top of that, the valve heads seat on the surface of the sphere. When the valve opens, air can come out of the intake port all the way around the head of the valve because it is opening directly into this nice big chamber. And then there is the exhaust valve. Located opposite of the intake valve, there is a portion of the cycle when both valves are open. The exhaust hasn't quite closed and the intake is just starting to open. The fuel air mixture moves right across the chamber and helps push the exhaust gas out of there in preparation for the new charge to come in. This cross flow, from one valve to the other and then out is best on the Hemi because of the way the valves are positioned in the chamber.
The exhaust valve has the same advantage. It is on the surface of the sphere so it also gets air flow all the way around the head and out into the exhaust port. Compared to an inline valve configuration, a portion of the exhaust valve and a portion of the intake valve are kind of shrouded by the adjacent wall of the combustion chamber. Inline valves are also restricted in ultimate head diameter because the cumulative diameter can't really get much bigger than the bore size because of physical constraints. But on a Hemi, because you are tipping the valves, you can put in larger valves for the same bore size for a given bore size. Thus said, the hemi has a thermal efficiency and a volumetric efficiency advantage over an inline valve configuration, and you are going to get more power out of it. And therein lies the magic of the Hemi.
: Drag Racer
HRM: What was your first Hemi experience?
The dragster had run a best of 12.5 seconds at 110 mph. That was its best on a set of Model T rails and a 286 cubic inch Flathead Ford with Edlebrock heads, three carburetors and 25-percent nitro, a Harmon Collins magneto, Smith and Jones 16 lifter mushroom cam, all the normal stuff. In fact it was the same dragster that was in Hot Rod magazine on the Scrap Book page years ago.
With the switch to Hemi power, the thing went 128 mph in 10.5 seconds, so it picked up two full seconds and 18 mph. That's a lot of difference from one week to the next. The Hemi was just a stock 1954 331 with a 1955 Chrysler 300 dual carb manifold and an Isky cam. It was very mild, very mild. And on gasoline too.
HRM: What was the attitude of your drag racing peers about the Hemi in the mid-Fifties. Didn't some say "too big, it'll never work"?
Yeah, it had a lot of bad press. One of the things was, you know, we were used to aluminum cylinder heads on the Ford flatheads. They took a lot of the heat out of the combustion chamber. And with the cast iron heads on the Chrysler Hemi there was a rumor, maybe I'd call it an old wives tale, that you would never be able to get more than about 25 per cent nitro in one of those motors with cast iron heads. And then the other rumor was that the valve train was so mickey mouse that it would never rev up over about 5000 rpm. So that story followed the engine.
That first Hemi was in my '39 Ford coupe street rod for almost 6 or 8 months before it found its way into the dragster. I liked it because of the torque. We flat towed then, and it was easy to pull out around somebody and pass them with the dragster hooked to the back. It's funny, I didn't really go to buy that Hemi engine. When I was setting up the '39 Ford, I went to the local salvage yard to get an Oldsmobile or Cadillac V8. Those were the engines of choice for the hot rodders.
That all had to do with the Hot Rod magazine Mexican Road Race coverage, Ak Miller's articles and all that stuff. We also liked the Cadillac because all the bootleggers put Cadillacs in the early Fords for their rum running cars. We knew they were fast. And then Ak Miller showed us that the Oldsmobile was fast and that's what I went to buy but the guy didn't have one at the time. But he did have this '54 Chrysler coupe in the yard with 10,000 miles on it that had just been really hit hard in the back and was a total. He said; "You oughtta try this", he says; "These are good engines".
I knew about 'em and had seen them in the magazines, but they were BIG, you know? But I measured across the valve covers and there was room to get it into my '39 Ford so I decided to give it a try. So I bought it. It was one of the best moves I ever made.
HRM: Do you think if the salvage yard owner had had an Oldsmobile that fateful day, your life would have taken a different path?
If he'd have had what I wanted when I went there, what would have happened is somebody else would have got a Hemi, and would be outrunning me, and I'd have had to have get one eventually. This would have set me back quite a bit. It could have set me back as much as a year, and that would be devastating in those days.
HRM: Was there a time in your life when drag racing was just a hobby, and to not have had the victories the Hemi provided, might have made you lose interest in racing?
Absolutely, it could have well done that. In other words if I hadn't have had the Hemi, and say I had the Oldsmobile in my dragster, I might have gotten outrun a couple of times, you couldn't just run and go buy one of those things in those days, we didn't have the money, I might have just said; "This is it. I'm not going to race anymore. I'm just going to do my automotive garage", and a terrible thing that would have been!
HRM: So how did that first Hemi find its way into the dragster?
We went out to McDill Air Force base where the Colonel used to set the perimeter road up once a month for the local hot rodders to come on their base and time their cars. He built the clocks in the electronics shop and it creating good will between the airmen and the hot rodders. We went out there one Sunday afternoon with the flathead dragster towed by the '39 Ford coupe and I broke the transmission in the dragster on the second run. Again, it was going 12.5 seconds at 110 mph.
There we were with our picnic lunch, a broken race car, and all afternoon left with nothing to do. I told my wife; "I think I'll just time the coupe and see what it does once". We knew it was fast but we didn't have any kind of idea what it would turn. And you know that coupe went 14 seconds flat at 114 mph. It was actually 4 mph faster than the dragster. In fact it was top speed at the meet.
Boy, I'll tell you it turned my head around. I said; "The first person who puts one of these engines in a dragster is going to be the king". And she says; "You better put this one in there as soon as you can!" So we did get our Oldsmbile engine, but we put it in the coupe and moved the Hemi to the Dragster.
HRM: By 1963, was it much easier to get those early style 392 cubic inch Hemi engines to build into fuel engines for your dragster? And did you go through a lot of them?
No, I didn't go through a lot of them and neither did anybody else. We didn't run the engines that hard in those days. We cracked a few cylinder walls but Bruce Crower came up with the rock block and we used to pour the bottom half of the block and that gave the cylinder walls some support and that took care of that. There are still quite a few of them around to this day.
But if it hadn't have been for the 426 we would have ran through them and I guess we'd have had the aluminum Donovan sooner. Of course Ed Donovan came up with the Donovan 392 replacement block to address the cylinder wall breakage problem as we stepped up the power and nitro doses. That 417 was a nice engine.
HRM: When the 426 Hemi arrived in 1964, we know that you were the first to discover that it only made full power when the ignition timing was advanced. Tell us about this discovery. Did you keep this a secret?
I kept it to myself as long as I could. Eventually other racers figured it out because when you warmed it up in the pits it really popped and cracked. The added timing really makes 'em sound good. You see, we ran 50-degrees in the 392 unblown, but boy, when you put a blower on them things you had to back the spark way up. Around 34 to 36-degrees is all we could ever run in it without hurting it. Guys used to run 40 but they didn't get many runs out of the engine when they did. It broke the cylinder walls.
So naturally when I went to the 426 I just took my tune up right with me. So I just never put more than like 36-degrees of timing in them. I was a conservative type person, I didn't want to break it. I didn't realize initially that the big chamber and that big strong engine needed a lot more spark lead to get that nitro burning. It's funny, I remember running a Saturday night at Columbus, Ohio against Jim and Allison Lee. I went like 192 mph in the 8's and won the match race with top speed and low et. But I didn't go 200 mph. When I went to get paid, Clark Radar, the old man who ran the track wouldn't give me my money. He only gave me like $750 and shorted me something like $500. He had his .45 caliber pistol sitting on his desk and he says; "This is it Garlits, this is all you get 'cause you layed down on me tonight. You're savin' it for tomorrow". I told him I ran it as hard as it would run but he didn't believe it.
Anyway I took my money and went on down the road. It was the next day that I bumped the spark and it went 219 in the 7's at Rockford, Illinois. The following Monday he called me up and even madder because he thought he was right. But it was really a bit of an accident.
HRM: What is it about the Hemi engine that makes it so capable at making horsepower?
It is a simple matter; there used to be an old saying; they didn't put Hemi cylinder heads on motorcycles because they were cheaper, they put 'em on motorcycles because they had a weight issue, and the designers wanted the maximum output from the small powerplant. And any time you set the valves across from each other, you see there is a column of air that's coming in the intake port, and it's moving pretty fast. It goes down into the chamber, gets smashed, and then blown out the exhaust port. Well, it's like a cross flow system that comes in one side and goes out the other.
On a wedge engine, it comes in and then has to zig zag. It is not a good combination. Plus, because of that cross flow, and Iskenderian was really the first guy to get onto it, by giving the cam a lot of overlap during, if you've got a nice long exhaust pipe, that column of air continues to move out the pipe, and we're speaking un-blown now, and that column sucks in more of the intake charge in a scavenging effect. This flow of intake charge through the intake port and out the exhaust passes over the valves during overlap yields a cooling cycle.
And this is the effect Isky used when it came up with the 5-Cycle camshafts in the Fifties. This was perfect for unblown nitromethane engines that have a problem with the exhaust valve getting too hot and the plug getting too hot, and so you needed that cooling effect of the air flowing over those valves to get where you could run a high percentage of nitro. And that's where we were able to get where we could run 100 per cent nitro back in those early days of 1956 and '57.
The fifth cycle was simply more overlap. By utilizing a long 48-inch exhaust pipe, the exhaust column moving out the pipe when the piston came up to top dead center, well that column is still moving out the pipe. Well it creates a vacuum. And where is that vacuum going to come from? It comes from the intake port and just pulls that raw fuel and air, which is cool, right behind it. In other words the vacuum, nature abhors a vacuum, the chamber is filled by the vacuum. You get a slight scavenging effect as well as a slight supercharging effect.
: Former road test editor for New York-based Magnum-Royal Publications, publishers of Hi-Performance CARS, Speed and Supercar, Super Stock and FX, Rodder & Super Stock magazines. Joe recently retired after nearly 20 years as Editor In Chief at Popular Mechanics Magazine
HRM: During your time as a magazine road tester you tested plenty of Street Hemis. What was that like?
In those days, you tried to get out of road testing a car like the Street Hemi because, really, they were just not that much fun on the street. You have to put it into perspective. Starting in 1968, that's when the federal government put its emission control regulations into effect for the first time. For the first few years, the car companies, all of them, they didn't really know how to make a high performance engine run well with retarded ignition and very lean carburetion settings and so forth. When you used to go and get a showroom stock Hemi powered car in those days, they just didn't run very well on the street. They used to spit and choke and you know, not give you a very good driving experience and it is quite easy to see why. They were conceived as a racing engine. The Hemi was, as we all know, used in racing before it was put on the street. It was strictly a racing engine. So the port size was gigantic, it had two huge four barrel carbs sitting on top of it, there was just very little low end torque in that engine as it sat on the show room floor and as we tested it. To get those cars to really run well on the street, we used to go to Al Kirschenbaum at Rockville Centre Dodge. In fact we got to know Al after he called us to complain that our published Street Hemi performance test numbers were too low and he offered the super-tuning services of Rockville Centre Dodge to remedy the situation. Anyway, Al was the chief high performance technician there and he used to re-curve the distributor and re-jet the carburetors and then they used to run fine. But of course after the modifications, they were not legal from an emissions point of view any longer. But that was the only way to get those cars to really run well. So it really wasn't that much fun when my boss, Magnum-Royal editorial director, Marty Schorr, said; "Go get a Hemi Barracuda, it's waiting for you in the Chrysler press garage". In fact we did a number of wedge-versus-Hemi articles in those days and the 440 cars always beat the hemi cars if the Hemi was in show room stock condition. The 440 or the Hemi in the equivalent body style, was always a situation where the 440 had more torque and could beat the Hemi car every time. Once we had Al and his gang at Rockville Centre Dodge do the super tune, then the Hemi could hold its own.
HRM: One detail that really made your magazine road tests stand out was the fact that you included some street racing. Did this ever get you into hot water?
The thing about the Petersen books in those days was that they were like the goody two shoes of automotive publishing. You know, Wally Parks had been the editor of Hot Rod. All testing had to be at the track and legal. We were kind of the outlaw guys on the East Coast where street racing was just a normal daily activity. Part of the thing that Marty Schorr wanted, and I brought to the magazines, was that part of every test was taking the car to some of the street racing haunts in the New York area and seeing how it did on the street against some of the other cars of the day. If we had a Hemi Road Runner we'd go looking for 442's, Buick Grand Sports, GTO's, Mustangs and whatever was out there on that particular night. We would incorporate that particular information into the road test because the guys who read our magazines were avid street racers and they wanted to know how these cars performed on the street against their peers, not just on the quarter mile and on a track. So we always incorporated that kind of narrative in our reports. I think that was one of the things in those days that made our magazines unique in the field. We weren't afraid to talk about it, we really went out and did it. One of the reasons Marty first hired me when I went up there to apply for writing assignments, was the fact that I already was a street racer. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and I had cars on my own, before I ever drove a press car, that I used to take both drag racing on the track, and also street racing in Brooklyn and in Queens. That added a dimension to the road test that we could bring readers that they just couldn't get in any other magazine. It's funny, this fact has made the tests special artifacts for today's muscle car restorers and collectors.
HRM: Did the heavy emphasis on illegal street racing get you in trouble with the manufacturers?
It depended on the manufacturer. Most manufacturers liked any kind of publicity as long as you didn't say that their car got beat. Unfortunately, with the Hemi cars, they did get beat and we said what actually happened. We weren't beholden to advertisers, we hardly had any, we were almost strictly a news stand operation, so our first obligation was to the reader. And so we always told the truth no matter what happened. The PR guys at Chrysler didn't like it when we had to say that some 440 Six Pack Road Runner took our Hemi Road Runner the other night down on Cross Bay Boulevard. But if that's what happened, that's what we reported. I do remember one phone call that I got when we did an article, not on any particular make or model of car, but on street racing in general in the New York area. We had camera crews and we took photos and just reported on the scene. We didn't say that we encouraged it, we just reported that this is what was happening at the time. Wally Parks called me, we didn't really know each other yet, and he was very irate and saying that we had just undone ten years worth of work that he and the NHRA had done to eliminate street racing. In one article, he said, we had glorified it, condoned it, made it legitimate and how dare we do that. I've since discussed it a million times with Wally and said I was a reporter then and I reported. I completed my assignment. But that was always a bone of contention between us. One of the interesting things, and this is not a Hemi story, but I'd get a call every so often from Jim Wangers, who was the account supervisor at Pontiac's ad agency at the time. He'd say; "Hey I have such and such a car and do you want to take it street racing?" He'd either deliver it to New York or I'd fly to Detroit on a Friday night. He'd meet me at the airport, we'd go street racing Friday night, we'd meet again Saturday night and go street racing and I'd fly home Sunday and go write a story about it. That was the other end of the spectrum where they not only encouraged it but you know, they actually built cars just for it, just for certain articles. Another time we did it the opposite way and I called up Jim Wangers and I said; "You've just come out with the Firebird 400 and I'd like to take it street racing". He said; "No problem, I'll send you one with the Royal Bobcat kit". I said; "Do me one other favor, I want to run it at the track so mount up a set of slicks for me and put them in the back seat." Sure enough I met the guy who was delivering the car at an intersection in Manhattan, he gets out of this orange Firebird and he asks if I'm Joe Oldham. I say yes and he hands me the keys and walks away. On the back seat were two slicks on Rally II wheels. I had the car for about two months and I just street raced it and fooled around with it. That's what it was like in those days. Pontiac was, I guess the ultimate, they wanted you to do anything you wanted with their cars. The others were a little more conservative.
HRM: In all of those street race test phases, did you ever come face to face with the police?
The excuse that I was a journalist never seemed to work. In fact I cannot remember one time that I got away with not getting the ticket. I have not been lucky in terms of my relationships with police officers. My wife loves to tell the story, and it is a true story, we were street racing one night in my '62 Tri-Power Catalina 4-speed and she was riding shot gun with me and I see lights coming up behind me. That's an indication it could be cops so I slowed down and the cruiser pulls up next to us on the passenger side, and the second cop in the cruiser is leaning out the window with his gun pulled, aimed at my wife and says; "Pull over!" That's a night she remembers quite vividly. I can tell you that the cops didn't like us doing articles at these street race areas either. For instance, I had a 1970 Hemi 'Cuda convertible that was either the first or second Hemi 'Cuda built. I took the car and I parked it in an area of Queens that we used to call "the pits" where guys gathered who were going to go street racing. I just parked the red 'Cuda and I stepped back with my camera and just watched and took pictures of what happened. It was kind of a magnet. Everyone came over, no one had seen one of these cars before. That was something else we did. Obviously the press gets access to many new cars long before the public does so we'd take them to the street racing places, park them and record the reactions they'd get. That was also one of the ways we'd find out whether a car would be popular or not. One thing to keep in kind when it comes to rare muscle cars, Hemi or otherwise, is that few were built because there were not enough buyers to warrant building more. In the case of many of the more scarce Street Hemi cars, it wasn't about supply-and-demand, rather it was a demand-and-supply situation. It is only today that the relationship has been reversed and more people want them than can have them and demand far exceeds supply. The highest bidder wins as we've seen on the high profile collector car auction circuit. Back then, if there were only 2 or 4 built, it's because that's all the buyers there were. The fact is, not that many people wanted them back then. I mean, when we wrote up those cars, we were negative a lot of the time because the 440 cars were quicker on the street. People gravitated to the 440 because the Hemi engine at that time was like a $900 option on a $2800 car. The fact is, if Chrysler had gotten 20,000 orders for Hemi 'Cuda convertibles in 1970, believe me, they would have built them and sold them. The Hemi was meant for racing, it didn't run well on the street and most guys knew that. On the race track, they were in their element. That's where they were nearly unbeatable. In fact they dominated just about every race series they got into. What a Street Hemi buyer got was a whole bunch of raw material that could be modified to handle just about any opponent. The track is where the Hemi shined. I do want to make the comment that I have been talking pretty negatively about the Street Hemi. I don't want anybody to think that I am not giving it its due. It was a wonderful piece of engineering. But the fact is it was built for competition. Once it was taken out of its element with the Street Hemi version, it was compromised. That's not the engine's fault however. Again, Street Hemi buyers got a tremendous amount of raw material but we have to remember that it came about only after the racing sanctioning bodies forced it to exist.
HRM: How do you feel about the recent return to Hemi marketing and engineering at DaimlerChrysler?
I just saw an interesting news release on the internet that says DaimlerChrysler is enlarging the size of the all the Hemi emblems on all the Hemi powered cars they produce from now on by 100-per cent. Now they are going to be twice as big. I think they found something to market and it has caught the attention of people and they are capitalizing on the legacy. It is great, I would do the same thing. I think it is interesting that the new Hemi engine is a lot more suited for what it's being used for, which is powering street cars and light trucks. It has small ports and a relatively mild cam so it produces a lot of low end torque which is what people who drive cars on the street, which is everybody, want. When you are at a stoplight and you want to move, or you have to pass somebody, what you need is torque and that is what the new engine delivers. I think DaimlerChrysler is very smart to capitalize on the renewed popularity of the Hemi badge and mystique.
MARTYN L. SCHORR
: Former Editorial Director for New York-based Magnum-Royal Publications, publishers of Hi-Performance CARS, Speed and Supercar, Super Stock and FX, Rodder & Super Stock magazines. Martyn worked for Buick public relations for two decades and is currently president of PMPR, Inc. a marketing and communications consulting firm specializing in the automotive and luxury brand fields.
HRM: You began writing for the Magnum-Royal magazine titles around 1960 so you were firmly entrenched when the 426 Hemi appeared at Daytona in 1964. What were your thoughts?
We figured that eventually it would make its way to the street. And then it would be a cool thing. The bottom line is that when you talk with people today about what happened then, it's really a very different story than what really happened then. Because then things were happening every day. You didn't have time to get involved. You knew there would be a street version and you knew that it wouldn't take long before Chevrolet and Ford had their versions of something that would be competitive.
And you know, it was a great engine, but it had been around in concept forever. I had a lot of friends and a lot of experience centering on the older 392's for the various fuel cars and gas cars we put in the magazines. The 426 was kind of a natural and logical extension of them.
HRM: As you watched the musclecar battle of the Sixties unfold, did you think it was insane or outrageous that this race bred engine was unleashed in a street package in 1966?
I think in those days we expected that everything would end up on the street. When I say "we", I mean the magazine guys, the guys from your magazines, the guys from our magazines, the guys who were privy to the proving grounds and who had access to factory engineers. We all knew that it wouldn't take long for any manufacturer to have something that would at least compete. And for 6 months or for 5 months or more, something would be king of the street, and then something else would come along and do the same thing.
Although I must say the Hemi was kind of, you know, the king because most of the competition was kind of short lived and not as developed as the Hemi. But that said, the Hemi on the street was a completely different animal than many people perceive it to be. You have to remember that back then it was simply an option on an order sheet. If you had the bit of extra cash it took to get one, you might order a Hemi. Nobody ever cared about fuel economy, that was never an issue. The main issue was whether you had the extra dollars to order the Hemi.
Hemis, to the best of my recollection, never ran all that good on the street in stock condition. The way Chrysler delivered a car back then, I mean Dodge or Plymouth, with a Hemi in it, the cars really weren't that fast. Everybody had this perception that if you bought a Hemi you could drive it home from the dealership and be king of the street. That really wasn't true, not even close. The Hemis were not that great as delivered. If you bought a new Hemi 'Cuda, Hemi GTX or Hemi Charger, there was a good chance that some guy in a good running 440 would blow your doors off. And that was until the mid-range to near the top end where the Hemi finally came on like a freight train. But on the street, in most stop light racing, you never reached that point.
On the street, the Hemi was a heavy engine, the nose was heavy up front, they were difficult to run with a stick and were much more suited to running with an automatic transmission. Traction was always an issue. With a stick car it was easy to screw up and just melt a set of tires. The automatic cars really ran so consistently well. If you didn't jet the carburetors, if you didn't re-curve the distributor, if you didn't install exhaust headers, it wasn't that fast. But after you'd made these changes, then they were pretty darned fast. There's no question.
The problem was that in those days there were a lot of people who didn't have the extra money to buy a Hemi. I know that sounds strange today when you consider that it was about a $1000 option, but back than it was a tough sell when 440 wedge cars did just about everything, except for the top end charge, just as well if not better. The 383, 440 and even the 340 were much more manageable engines. The Hemi took a little bit of a specialist to work on. I remember driving good running small block Corvettes that would blow the doors off a Hemi car. The competition was great. The Hemi wasn't the only thing.
Now, guys like you writing about them, plus the guys paying a million dollars and up for them, kind of put the Hemi up on a pedestal. I think the Hemi probably had, of all the engines available to the public, had the most race bred internals. The engine had the potential to make 1000 horsepower. It was an engine with all kinds of incredible potential, but most guys who bought 'em just bought 'em as musclecars for street use. The drag racing guys were a whole different ball game. Those cars were terrors, there's no question. And I think the Hemi made its reputation on the race track, not on the street.
HRM: Speaking of stoplight racing, it is no secret that your Magnum-Royal magazine titles blazed a revolutionary path in their open discussion of street racing. Did you ever get into hot water with readers, manufacturers, advertisers or the law?
The street racing thing goes back for as long as there were cars. We didn't invent street racing. In the New York city area, not in Manhattan, but in the suburbs, street racing was the most popular form of competition. You made your reputation on the street. You didn't make it on the drag strip. The drag strip was for Sundays. Street racing was seven days a week. So we had a variety of places to go to. This is all before the whole street racing thing changed in the early to mid Seventies.
The street racing scene in the Seventies changed radically as, well frankly, major funding from a number of illicit activities, upped the ante and it got dangerous. It became a money sport. In the earlier days of street racing it was all done for fun. When it got to the point of doing it for money, the stakes got very high, and the craziness got even higher. There was a whole group of racers out of Brooklyn and Queens with an awesome amount of disposable income. On a routine basis through the Seventies, these guys would buy one year old Pro Stock cars and race them on the street. So Ronnie Sox and those guys had a ready made market in New York City for their used race cars.
Before all of this, we used to run Connecting Highway in Queens or Woodhaven Blvd or Cross Bay Blvd. But the money guys ran outside of JFK airport on a few spots because you really needed some room to go 140 mph. These guys would come with trailers and these guys would come with Ronnie Sox' one year old Hemi Duster or Hemi 'Cuda or a Hemi whatever and run on the street. Then they'd also run on the weekends at the track. It was not unusual to go to Englishtown in New Jersey, and if you went into the pits, see brown bags full of money changing hands. In the stands too, brown bags of cash would change hands after each run.
So the street racing scene changed to a money sport in the Seventies, but it never changed the fact that you made your reputation from stop light to stop light. As for problems with the law, I never really had any problems. This was mainly because I never really got caught. Advertisers certainly didn't give a shit what we did. We were not an advertising driven publication. That allowed us to say whatever it is we wanted to say…and get away with it. I think Pontiac was an advertiser and Chrysler was an advertiser, on an irregular basis. I don't think Chevrolet ever spent a dime and I'm not sure Ford did either, looking back.
You know, we didn't have to answer to anyone and my publisher certainly didn't give a damn. The readers liked it and Joe Oldham was my man on the street. He spent a lot of time on the street. The interesting thing about getting in trouble, the most trouble I ever got into was running press cars-at the race track. Many of the press cars from General Motors had manufacturer license plates or plates with a GM prefix. GM would register a group of cars and they'd get a plate that read GM then a dash and then a number for each car. In 1967 I had borrowed a Royal Bobcat GTO from Pontiac in Detroit and I drove it back to New York.
It was a white car with a black vinyl roof that Joel Rosen and I started to campaign in B/Stock automatic. We put tires and headers on the car and ran 13.40's at 108. I won a trophy and a bond and sent it all to Pontiac, well, I kept the bond but sent the trophy to Pontiac. When the story appeared in the October 1967 issue of our Hi-Performance Cars magazine, the Pontiac auditors must have see the photos of the GM manufacturer plate, which read GM-4488, being used in open competition on a drag strip. They went bananas that a GM sanctioned car was on a drag strip. We did it again in '68 with a dark green Ram Air GTO. We did some winning with that car too but it ad GM plates on it and that's when they clamped down.
Chrysler didn't give a shit. Chrysler was the best group of people to work with. When you are a secondary magazine, compared to Hot Rod, Car Craft and Popular Hot Rodding, you don't get treated equally by many of the manufacturer. I guess when you play the circulation thing, it is understandable but I was the PR guy for Buick for 18 years, and I treated the smallest magazine as well as I treated the biggest magazine. Chevrolet was probably the worst. Chevrolet rarely would talk to us. They would invite us to some things, but basically they gave all the good stuff to the tier-one magazines and we got nothing. They had very few press cars in New York. I don't recall getting more than a couple over all those years. We had to borrow them from private owners to test them. Chevrolet just was not cooperative.
Chrysler on the other hand would bend over backwards to get you stuff. Anything you needed. They had the best PR support system in the industry, bar none. Of the whole Chrysler organization, it was Dodge that really had the best system. A guy named Moon Mullins worked here in New York. Moon worked for a guy named Frank Wylie who was running Dodge PR at the time. On the West Coast there was a guy named Jack McFarland who was just as good with the California books. That's why in those days, if you went through all the magazines, you would notice that Dodge got much more publicity than Plymouth did.
Dodge was much more tuned into the racing thing, they had this ongoing relationship with Cotton Owens in those days, and anything we wanted they gave us access to, or did the photography for us, or gave us tips. They'd even leak stuff to us. Ford was very good, but General Motors was the worst. Buick was almost non-existent, Chevrolet rarely ever talked to us. But Pontiac and Oldsmobile were quite good within the GM organization. Oldsmobile especially.
We had a great relationship with Oldsmobile. They'd invite us into their dyno rooms and were really great to work with too. In 1968 Joel Rosen and I went to Lansing to do a story and while we were there we put a deal together to get a couple of race cars. For a year we had a W30 442 as well as a W31 small block Cutlass to play with. They gave us support and they sent us parts and it was a very nice relationship.
HRM: Take us back to your first Street Hemi powered press car.
I drove a one-off 1965 Coronet hardtop factory engineering mule car with a Street Hemi at the Chrysler proving grounds. I didn't have it in New York. I remember I must have overheated it or something because there's a picture of me with it and the hood is open with coolant all over the ground. I handed my camera to a proving grounds employee and he took that picture. That car just blew me away. Chrysler gave me the keys for a day but we did most of the driving at the proving grounds and on their drag strip. I don't remember how the car ran, but I do recall that it was fast.
They were also talking at the time about putting the 426 Street Hemi into the big C-bodies as well. They were talking about building Hemi Polaras, Hemi Monacos, and Hemi every things, which didn't happen. I never saw a Polara but they told me they had built one. My best guess at the time was that they were doing some cars for potential highway patrol use where they needed some fast road cars and they had to be big. Chrysler was doing a lot of black and white cars in those days and I think they were looking at the Hemi as a potential law enforcement package, just like some police departments have ordered Camaros and Mustangs over the years.
We did have lots of Hemi press cars over the years. The first thing we would do is get them tuned up. I mean many of the journalists who borrowed the Hemi powered press cars were not high performance journalists. They were business journalists or lifestyle journalists. There weren't that many automotive journalists in New York at the time who were writing about high performance cars, so as soon as I would pick up a car, I would take it out to Joel Rosen's Motion Performance and run it on the chassis dyno and get them to do the jetting on the carburetors and recurve the ignition. We didn't usually put headers on them because we couldn't modify the cars physically with obvious stuff. But we did get the cars to run better. After the super tune, they always ran better.
One memorable press car was David Pearson's Trans-Canada rally car. It was a two-door post '65 Coronet. It was a four speed car with a full roll cage. The car was a race car but Dodge gave it to me and I commuted to work in it for a week. I also had the Ramchargers '64 Candymatic car on the street in New York after the 1964 Worlds Fair. I spoke with Moon recently and we reminisced about how I took a Dodge, I'm not sure if it was a Hemi or a wedge car, out on the Long Island Expressway, and blowing it up on a Sunday morning going out to the track. He lived about 75 miles away and he came out and got us on a Sunday. It was that kind of stuff that we so appreciated.
Moon taught me everything I know about how to craft ideal relationships between the press and PR departments. During the Hemi years, Moon would always get us the latest model and get us access to all the racers who were running super stock, factory experimental and pro stock. We loved the Hemi because we had a complete and open channel of communications, and vehicles, from Dodge, so naturally, considering that it was the king of the hill engine, we gave them lots of coverage. And the readers liked it even though I still think the bulk of our readers were still Chevrolet guys.
HRM: Did you have any sense that you were helping to shape tastes?
Not at all. We were just reporting. Things were changing so fast that being the editor of a magazine in those days was a matter of getting the story out as quickly as you could so you could move on to the next story. So if the next story was about a Chevy small block, that's what you did. We never thought we were shaping anything, we certainly never thought we were creating any legends.
A couple of years ago I was a speaker at the Yenko Sportscar Club's annual Supercar Reunion in St. Louis. Joel Rosen and I were there and I told those people that you have to remember that back then, they were just cars. Cars that when they got old, they sold for less money. Nobody really cared about last year's model. They only wanted to know what was hot and what was new. The old was the old and you threw cars away. That's is why it is phenomenal that there are so many tri-power 427 Corvettes out there when I can remember most of the shops that I visited, these intakes were in the garbage cans. Everybody was throwing them away and putting four barrels on them. And they threw Rochester fuel injection units away too because they couldn't work on them.
And now there are more tri-power and fuelie Corvettes than Chevrolet ever built. Now we talk about these cars in glowing terms. Now they have become commodities. Hemi cars are commodities today, they were just cars then. If you had the money, you bought one. If you had it a year, it depreciated just like anything else. Five years later, nobody cared. Now we're dealing in a marketplace where Hemi cars are gods. I mean a guy pays two million dollars for a Hemi' Cuda convertible? When I was out at Barret-Jackson this year, it just blew me away.
And the clone car thing has got to be the most absurd thing ever. I mean paying 90 to 100 grand for a clone? The real cars are legends today. But if a car was built six months ago, it isn't the same thing. As we told the Yenko audience in St. Louis, we never expected anybody to ever pay as much for a Baldwin Motion Camaro as we initially sold it for. Nowadays, one of those cars that sold for about $6200, recently changed hands for 400 grand.
It is very hard for me to stand up in front of a group of guys who worship these cars and say they were just cars. But that is what they were. We never thought about matching numbers. If an engine broke, you threw the f-ing thing away. If it wasn't running right, you gave it away. Nowadays these things are icons. But they are only cars. Still my biggest regret is that I didn't save any!
HRM: How do you feel about DaimlerChrysler's recent revival of the Hemi engine and legacy?
I think it is a stroke of genius. I was a little insulted at first because, yeah it's a Hemi, but it's not a HEMI. To me a Hemi has to have giant spark plug holes in the middle of the valve covers. It is just a whole different thing but my bias comes from my age, and my experience. If I hadn't been around in the Sixties, I wouldn't feel this way. I spent 18 years associated with GM handling Buick PR. My son is head of public relations and communications for DaimlerChrysler Canada. So I know the business and I know the people who run the business. But yes, the new Hemi campaign is a stroke of genius.
The new generation Hemi is obviously a good engine, it is potent, it works and I think it is saving their ass right now and generating so much more ink than the cars could have generated on their own. Not that the cars are bad. I think that they are going to take it to the next level with the Charger. Now the Charger is another thing. Since I grew up with the Charger being a coupe, it is hard to take it as a 4-door sedan. To me it doesn't say Charger. You can call it anything you want, but calling it Charger is kind of uncomfortable for me.
Still, I think Chrysler is doing a tremendous job and I think they are going to continue finding success with their whole Mopar and Mopar Speed Shop. I think it is great that they are tapping into their heritage and I think the TV commercials about having a Hemi are wonderful, a stroke of genius. I think these are wonderful times to be a car guy. We used to make reference to the Sixties and early Seventies as the golden years and the good old days that we'd never see again, well these days are absolutely great.
What the Press Said
Here's a roundup of what automotive journalists have had to say about Hemi power over the last six decades. –Steve Magnante
Chrysler is stressing five major engineering developments, headed by a sensational 180-hp V8 engine. It is the most powerful engine in the industry and is designed to operate on gasoline with a 76 to 80 octane rating. Compression ratio is 7.5:1. Developed over a period of five years, at a cost of many millions of dollars, the engine has numerous unique design features. For example, it boasts a hemispherical combustion chamber with inclined overhead valve arrangement. This results in cutting down cylinder head deposits while giving very high efficiency of fuel utilization. With only 2.3 per cent more displacement (333 cu. Ins.) than the 1950 Chrysler 8-cylinder in-line engine, the new powerplant has a maximum horsepower 33 per cent greater (180 @ 4000 rpm) and a maximum torque 16 per cent higher (312 ft. lbs. @ 2000 rpm). Total weight, complete with transmission, is 8 per cent less. Chrysler engineers report unusual economy for such a powerful engine. During development tests the new engine was run at 80 to 110 mph for 100,000 miles without damage, they say. In another test gasoline mileage hit 20 mpg." April 1951 Motor Trend, Spotlight on Detroit by Harry Cushing
Chrysler V-8: Here's the hottest iron available for road power in America today at a reasonable price. Extensive changes on the '54 models to improve breathing have given what amounts to "three-quarter race" engine in stock form!" March 1954 Motor Life, '54 Engine Analysis by Roger Huntington
Chrysler V-8 is an engine with a superiority of horsepower potential that few experts will deny. Cubic inch for cubic inch, the hemispherical combustion chambered engine will always have an advantage over the wedge chambered engines. If the horsepower race continues, Chrysler will still be able to squeeze a few more horses out of its machine when the rest have reached the end. August 1955 Motor Life, 1955 Engine Blue Book by Barney Navarro
The Chrysler 300B was top dog in the past year and it looks as if nothing will have the stuff to keep it out of first place in '56. Motor Life May 1956, Detroit's Super Stock Cars by Ken Fermoyle
Chrysler's big 300C is still leader in the horsepower race. Chrysler's newest "300" model is fastest, most powerful stock car in America with 375 hp, top speed of over 140 mph. March 1957 Speed Age, Chrysler's Big C by Al Berger
Unless a major upset takes place, Chrysler's 300-C is almost certain to retain its stock car racing crown, because this job's really loaded. If it were named Jim Dandy instead of 300-C, it could be the inspiration for a whole series of popular songs. March 1957 Motor Trend, Chrysler 300-C Drivescription by Joe H. Wherry
The thing we noticed immediately about the Hemi when we first twisted the key was its sound. Even though the mufflers succeed in effectively stifling the roar of the engine, a deep, throaty growl comes through that lets you know you're driving something special. And it is something special-very special. The Hemi engine is the most powerful powerplant ever offered in a production sedan. Let's face it, it's really a veiled attempt manufacturing an all-out racing car for the street. But aren't all supercars attempts at putting competition cars on the highway? What counts is that Plymouth has succeeded in its attempt, which can not be said for the rest of the so-called supercars. August 1966 Speed and Custom, Two Weeks With Two Hemis by Fred Mackerodt
Make no mistake, a Charger with a Hemi is an awesome amount of car; not the sort of thing I'd buy Mother to run back and forth to the grocery store. The car just cries out for running room and skilled, high-performance driving…when you order the 426-cu.-in. Hemi, you're in a sort of automotive never-never land. December 1967 Popular Mechanics 1968 Charger R/T test by Roger Ward
This little rattlesnake is known as a Hemi-head and, as anyone who covers stock-car races can tell you, it's as wild as a Killarney bat after a quick dip into a tub of LSD. December 1967 Mechanix Illustrated, 1968 Charger R/T test by Tom McCahill
For one thing, as mass-produced race cars go, the Hemi-Dart is put together pretty darn well and it's about the only deal of this variety we'd ever heard of that doesn't need to be extensively modified to be competitive. July 1968 Motor Trend, 1968 Hemi Dart test by Eric Dahlquist
The new Hemi 'Cuda drives a lot like the 1969 Hemi Road Runner I've been driving on the street. But it's lighter, lower to the ground, and it handles a little better. Also the suspension system feels a little more rigid. April 1970 Auto Driver, Ronnie Sox Tests the Hemi 'Cuda by Ronnie Sox
On the street, the car was definitely heavy stuff. Everyone grooved on the new styling of the Barracuda. Our car was Cop-Baiter Red with a black ragtop and the red, redder, reddest interior we've ever seen. April 1970 Speed & Supercar 1970 Hemi 'Cuda convertible test by Joe Oldham
While on the subject of smoking tires, it was great fun in the Hemi Charger and quite easy. You could come out smoking just by flooring it or you could really put two grooves in the asphalt by brake-revving it, then flooring it. August 1968 Speed and Supercar, Street Racing the Street Hemi by Joe Oldham
The streetable version of the 426 Hemi can best be described by that popular West Coast expression, "somethin' else". This engine is without a doubt the hottest hunk of iron to hit the street in the last ten years. Unlike the pure NASCAR and drag racing engines, which are efficient only when peaking out at ultra high rpm, the new hemi performs well in traffic, operates quietly and uses readily available premium pump gas. October 1965 Hi-Performance Cars, '66 Mopar Street Hemi by Martyn L. Schorr
The 440 is a torque machine which, properly geared, will run away and hide from the 383 or the Hemi up to 60 mph. Above that, the Hemi is still king. November 1968 Hi-Performance Cars, 1969 Supercar Scene by Alex Walordy
We made the trek in record time, occasionally opening up all eight barrels to prevent the high torque hemi from feeling neglected! The transition from two to four and then to eight barrels was smooth as silk and the hemi really didn't feel its oats until the tach needle soared past the 3800 rpm mark. And we really mean soared! March 1966 Hi-Performance Cars, 160 mph Plymouth Street Hemi by Martyn L. Schorr
A casual observer at Daytona last February might have been puzzled by the sight of several Ford engineers nervously hiding their heads and hands under the hoods while whispering mysteriously to each other about a character named King Kong. To the initiated there was no mystery-King Kong is a nickname for the Chrysler V-8 used in the Plymouth Super Commando stock cars that ran away from the Fords at Daytona and established four new records in the process. May 1964 Car and Driver, King Kong Rides Again by Jan P. Norbye
As a machine for sitting down in and going fast-and never mind all that jazz about what it looks like or how the windows fit-that's where Chrysler Corporation's Hemi-426 really gets the job done. It offers the best combination of brute performance and tractable street manners we've ever driven. Passengers, even knowledgeable enthusiasts, can ride around in the car and never know what a bomb it is, unless the driver chooses to unleash the might of all those big Omigawd-ferocious horses. April 1966 Car and Driver, Plymouth 426 Hemi road test
What is it like on the street? Breath taking. The Hemi Road Runner has more pure mechanical presence than any other American automobile-even more than the Z/28 Camaro which is another thinly disguised race car we've grown to love. January 1969 Car and Driver, Six Econo-Racers comparison road test
Pow! For '66, Plymouth will offer 426 inches of "street hemi", a fire-breathing, dual-four-throat version of the hottest stocker in drag strip hollow. Housed in a Belvedere chassis and dubbed the Satellite, this job, with its instant-go Torqueflite, rips off thirteen-second quarters with such ridiculous ease that the "treatment" of collectors and slicks and other more subtle dyno touches can be expected to put this rig at the top of the heap. October 1965 Hot Rod, Route-'66 new car preview by Eric Dahlquist
Driving the Charger R/T on the street is a real gas! No matter where you go, in LA, be it on Ventura Blvd. in the Valley or on Sunset Strip, the hot-dog street racers show nothing but respect. If you do get your pennies together and order one of these monsters, be prepared to answer questions. It seems that every rodder that notices the "Hemi" emblem on the side has to ask something about the car. February 1968 Drag Strip, 1968 Hemi Charger road test by Larry Fredericks
What impressed us most, in addition to its sleek lines, was its wild, wild engine. While the 426 Street Hemi is a detuned version of the all out competition Hemi, it is very tractable on the street and can be driven with a lot less discomfort than many of the 409 cubic-inch solid lifter Chevys, which were the big guns of the street scene just a few years ago. It's almost as smooth and quiet as a GTO. June 1966 Super Stockers in Action, Living With the Street Hemi by Phil Engeldrum
We have spent a great deal of time and effort and money to build as much life and reliability into the Street Hemi engine as you expect out of any other Chrysler passenger car engine. I can say without reservation that this engine will last just as long as any of our others – if driven in a similar way. Of course if you flog it it's going to wear out somewhat faster, just like a standard engine would. And of course most owners will flog the engine, and it will wear out somewhat faster. But there's no compromise here. We put the Street Hemi through the same durability testing on the dynamometer and proving ground roads that we use for standard engines. It had to pass the same life tests. September 1966 Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, Why The Street Hemi, an interview with Chrysler Special Car Manager Bob Rodger by Roger Huntington
There is no single car more important in the market, no car more important for its maker, than the Chrysler 300C. And we do mean the C, which denotes that all-important 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi engine under the hood. Anything less (the 2.7-liter V-6, the 3.5-liter V-6) is not what we want. In fact, it's not what most 300 buyers want, either. The 300C has proved to be the model's volume leader (despite the fact that its base price is more than $9000 over that of an entry-level 300), accounting for a staggering 46 percent slice of the more than 93,000 total Chrysler 300 models sold to date. Who knew the word Hemi would have such resonance? February 2005 Automobile, All-American MVP by Jean Jennings
A chance encounter with a 440 Six-Barrel equipped musclecar on the Pennsylvania Turnpike resulted in the Magnum showing said musclecar its stylish tail lights - not that we condone such irresponsible behavior, but sometimes when the opportunity presents itself…you get the picture. November 2004 Mopar Muscle, Dodge Magnum RT road test by Marko Radielovich