I cannot make any claim to accuracy for the materials that I have used to make these articles. In some cases, the journals go back 50 years. — Curtis Redgap
by Curtis Redgap
As the 1964 season opened, there were many rumors that Chrysler was going back to
NASCAR to whip the boys there, once and for all — but that the
machine that would do the deed might not be ready. A new
breed of 426 cubic inch V-8s was being built with the legendary “Hemi”
heads, said to be cranking out a routine 750
horsepower. The opening shot was set for the 1964 NASCAR
season opener at Daytona on February 23, 1964.
It was a painful
secret that to hold, that the engine blocks for that race had been poured into molds in December 1963. After careful assembly at Chrysler's engine lab in Highland Park, these prototype engines
were run out at full power. Disaster and disappointment prevailed. The
blocks developed several cracks on the thrust side of the right hand bank.
Engineers scrambled to find a solution. It didn't take long to
figure out that with a whole lot of that sort of horsepower, thicker walls
was the only means to solve the problem. It sounds simple, but scraping away the cooling core to
increase the wall thickness resulted in not being able to get a correct
bore casting — even though the casting was being done by one of the best foundries
in the USA, in Indianapolis.
Engineers quickly converged on the plant. New templates were made up and
tried. After nearly 20 hours, the engineers went to the motel while
new blocks were poured. All the pourings failed! Giant holes had developed
in the freshly poured blocks. New templates were made, new cores built, and
new iron was poured. Again, again, and again. Three times the process was
tried. The foundry and the engineers worked around the clock, straight, for
24 hours before the right template was finally made that got a good block.
Nearly 5 days had gone by, and it was February 3, 1964!
Several more blocks were cast, and the order was out...... “ship
them!” These blocks were sent to the stress testing lab in Highland
Park, where the engines were hand assembled and put on the dynometers. The
engineers worked around the clock for the first time in Chrysler history.
One eight hour shift would complete their data and hand it to the next
The engine lab was filled with the mighty bellow of twelve race Hemis
running at full bore. The outside world was aware of its awesome power, because the exhausts were vented through the roof of the lab, and it
resonated off all the surrounding buildings.
The air was
filled with excitement and anticipation. Something big and very bold
was taking place at Chrysler. For the first time in years, there was a true
As the new racing blocks were being hustled to Highland
Park, the original Hemi engine was being installed in Ray Nichols’ 1964
Plymouth, driven by Paul Goldsmith. Earlier, at a nondescript test track at
San Angelo, Texas, the new Hemi had pushed the ’64 Plymouth to a recorded 180
miles an hour! The track was a bit rough, and put the car airborne, leaving
acceleration tire marks when he came down!
That kind of power had never
been seen on a NASCAR track. Now, the hope was that the
original engines would last through
practice and the qualifying races. Then, some sort of
miracle had to occur for the new engines to get to the teams by the start
of race day on February 23, 1964.
It was a secret of military proportions. Not one of the Mopar drivers
revealed it to anyone. No one was to make a lap wide open. Not even Junior
Johnson, who loved wide open racing and who had driven the 1963
Chevrolet “mystery engine” to a 163 miles an hour, talked about
his Mopar's speed ability. He later told my cousin, still affiliated with
Nichols engineering, that he had never felt a race car with that much power
on tap at the touch of the accelerator.
For now they were keeping their
mounts near the speed of the Fords at around 170 miles an hour. It wasn't
all quiet, however. On February 7, 1964, Goldsmith qualified with a two lap
time of 174.91. Richard Petty qualified with a two lap run of 174.42. On
February 8, 1964, two 50 mile races were held for the qualifiers.
Goldsmith won the first at 170.94. Petty won the second at 171.99.
Goldsmith got the pole and Petty was right along side him on the right.
Two weeks later, two 100 mile races were held to determine the rest of the
field. Junior Johnson put his Dodge into third starting position with a
speed of 170.77. Bobby Issac in a Dodge won the second race at 169.81. Each of the speeds above set new track
Back in Detroit, the drama continued. The February 5 blocks were run,
stressed, checked, rerun, and all the data analyzed and then rechecked.
Finally, the go-ahead came on February 10, after five brutal straight days of
flat out running, analysis, and tear down inspections. The
first pouring was made for the engine block that would be shipped to
Richard Petty for his number 43 car. This would be the block that
eventually won the race.
Between February 15 and February 22, 1964, all the Mopar teams had
received the new “thick walled” Hemi V-8. The miracle had
occurred after all. On February 22, 1964, all the teams were practicing
with their new engines.
The start of the 1964 Daytona 500 saw Paul Goldsmith in a 1964 Nichols
Plymouth on the pole. Next to him was Richard Petty, in a Petty-engineered
1964 Plymouth. In third place behind Goldsmith was Junior Johnson in a 1964
Dodge Coronet. Beside him was Bobby Issac in a 1964 Dodge Coronet. Behind
Junior Johnson was Buck Baker in a 1964 Plymouth. Alongside him was Jim
Pardue in a 1964 Plymouth. Behind Baker was David Pearson in 7th spot
driving a 1964 Dodge Coronet. In tenth position was Jim Paschal driving a
1964 Dodge Coronet.
The green flag on the 1964 Daytona 500 dropped at 12:30 p.m. Three hours and 15 minutes later, Richard Petty sailed
across the finish line, in a nearly faultless race. Jim Pardue was second,
Paul Goldsmith was in the third spot. A Ford managed to slip into
fourth spot, followed by Jim Paschal in 5th place. Junior Johnson came in
A new record had been set by Petty, with an average speed of 154.334 miles an
hour. It was his first Daytona win. He went on to finish the NASCAR season
as the 1964 NASCAR champion.
The following Monday morning, we found our showroom swamped with people
who wanted to buy that "fast new Plymouth." Sales took off. Of
course, the racing Hemi was not available to the buying public, at least
not this year.
Lynn Townsend was absolutely jubilant. Lapel
buttons quickly appeared throughout the company that mimicked Ford's pitch
of “Total Performance.” The buttons in Highland Park were not
kind: they said, “Total What?”
Townsend quickly authorized
other projects for the powerful new Hemi — he aimed
right at drag racing. He also went and scoped out Indianapolis, but his accountant’s heart went cold when he learned he might spend upwards of
$10 million and still not build a winner at the Brickyard.
a Dodge stock car running the ever popular National Hot Rod Association
“Super Stock” class pulled a new national record with an 11.06
second pass that netted 132.62 miles an hour... in a 1/4 of a mile shot!
In the meantime, 426 Hemi production sped up, settling down
to a steady 50 to 60 engines and parts a week.
My brother had not been overlooked by
Dad. A new 1964 Plymouth Savoy with the racing Hemi had been delivered
and my brother was absolutely lambasting everything in the East with
it in the Super Stock class. The only real competition came from
another Mopar with the same engine.
The floor traffic this generated was beyond
belief. Suddenly, Plymouth and Dodge had been discovered,
and everyone wanted one.
Finish this series now! Final episode...
Don’t miss Jim Benjaminson’s Plymouth 1946-1959
or our other Chrysler heritage articles and racing coverage
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