At the center of Chrysler's contribution to American muscle car performance is a storied engine of remarkable achievement: the 1964 Dodge 426 Hemi.
This is the entry-level Dodge 330 model equipped with the 426 Hemi and
outfitted for drag racing with aluminum body panels. See more muscle car pictures.
The company's original run of Hemi V-8s ended in 1958, with a 390-bhp 392-cid edition. The design was sound -- large, hemispherical combustion chambers are highly efficient -- but Hemis were complex, heavy, and expensive.
By the early 1960s, stakes were high enough for Chrysler to try again. To win on NASCAR's new superspeedways, and to dominate at the cutting-edge of drag racing, Mopar engineers developed a Hemi based on the 413/426 wedge-head engines. It still was costly and complicated, but the new mill weighed just 67 pounds more than the wedges. Maximum advertised horsepower for the 426-cid Hemi was 425. Rumor had dyno needles breaking at 600 bhp.
Arriving in 1964, the 426 Hemi immediately propelled
Dodge and Plymouth into NASCAR's winner's circle. Drag-racing
versions like this one used two four-barrel carbs.
These engines were reserved for racing, and their impact was immediate. Debuting at the Daytona 500 in February 1964, they promptly swept the first three places in NASCAR's premier event. Stock-car racing Hemis had a single Holley four-barrel atop a dual-plane high-rise intake manifold and were used with a four-speed manual gearbox. Drag-racing versions had a ram-tuned aluminum induction system with Carter AFB dual quads. Available only in special-order intermediate-sized Dodge and Plymouth models, they ran the four-speed or the TorqueFlite automatic, which was in its last year with pushbuttons.
It could be used on the street, but the 426 Hemi in '64 Dodges and Plymouths
was really a race engine. The true street version would arrive for 1966.
Available from the factory were a series of sub-12-second supercars that used aluminum for the hood, front fenders, doors, and some body panels. A lightened front bumper and magnesium front wheels were standard. The cars had no radio, no heater, no back seat or carpet, no sound deadening material. Feather-weight Dodge van bucket seats were used, the side windows were plastic, and the battery rode in the trunk.
Shorn of all comfort amenities, including radio and heater,
this 1964 Dodge 426 Hemi was a race-ready lightweight
muscle car that did 11.4 seconds in the quarter-mile.
Street versions of the Hemi engine wouldn't be available for a couple of years. But King Kong had arrived.