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Why HellCat?

by David Zatz on

With supercharged “HellCat” Hemi engines rumored at anywhere from 580 horsepower on up, some readers may be trying to figure out exactly what a HellCat is.

The HellCat is named after a Grumman World War II fighter plane, used mainly on aircraft carriers; many of its 2,000-hp Pratt & Whitney engines (also used on Corsair and Thunderbolt) were made by Nash, the car company that later joined with Hudson to form AMC.

Hellcat fighter

Around 12,200 Hellcats were made in a little over two years. They destroyed 5,223 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied naval planes.  

During World War II, the Hellcat’s overall kill-to-loss ratio was around 19:1, beating every Japanese aircraft by at least 4:1. Only 270 were downed by aerial combat (most of the planes that were lost, fell to training accidents or transport problems).

In 1943, Admiral D.C. Ramsey sent a letter to workers at Nash:

The new Hellcat fighters powered by Pratt and Whitney engines have proved their superiority to the Japanese Zero by their devastating performance against the Japs in the Solomons and in the raid of Wake Island by our naval forces. In one of the engagements in the Solomons, the Hellcats tore into 14 Zeros and shot down eight without loss to themselves. The other 11 Hellcats encountered 19 Zeros and destroyed six with a loss of only one plane.

The pilots reported, “The Pratt and Whitney engine performed admirably with no blower difficulties and few exhaust stack failures.”

In the attack on Wake the Hellcats shot down more than 30 Jap aircraft in combat and destroyed approximately the same number on the ground. As far as is known the Zeroes failed to down a single Hellcat. Every engine you supply puts another one of these urgently needed planes into action.

Why HellCat as an engine name? It’s only an internal project code, and they have to come from somewhere. Other Chrysler engines have been named, during development, for fighter planes; the company has yet to apply those project names to the actual production engines.  That said, the “Hurricane” four cylinder seems like a natural, given Willys’ engines of the same name, used in Jeeps for many years.

Stay tuned as Allpar explores Nash’s contributions to the war effort in a new series, starting in January 2014.


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