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Mopar celebrating 426 Hemi

by David Zatz on

Mopar is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 426 Hemi, the second generation of its famed Hemi V8 engines. A new logo’s elephant refers to the nickname “elephant engine,” resulting from its imposing strength,  power, and size (the hemispherical heads added quite a bit to the engine’s width). The orange color comes from the paint 426 Hemi’s original paint color.

Hemi 50th  anniversary

The first Hemi V8s were launched in 1951, and were the company’s very first V8 engines; they were more efficient than those of domestic competitors, but also more expensive to build.  After a time, the company followed GM and Ford by using simpler heads (cutting engine weight and cost) with more cubic inches to make power, and the original Hemi series was ended. 

The second generation Hemi — the first to be called by that name — was built for racing, with a “Circuit” or “Track” engine and an “Acceleration” or “Drag” engine. The 426 Race Hemi was introduced at the Daytona 500 in February 1964, with legendary driver Richard Petty winning the race handily in his Plymouth; all of the top three finishing positions  went to the new powerplant.

Petty earned the NASCAR championship in 1964 with Hemi-powered cars and 26 wins. That version had 400 horsepower and had a compression ratio of 12.5:1.

In the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) drag racing competition, Don Garlits broke the 200-mph barrier using the same engine, travelling the quarter-mile in 7.78 seconds at 201.34 mph.

For the following season, NASCAR demanded that all engines used for its races must be available in production vehicles; Chrysler left NASCAR for 1965, focusing on drag racing while engineers created the “Street Hemi.” A lighter drag racing package, A-990, debuted in the NHRA Super Stock class in 1965 in Dodge and Plymouth vehicles with altered wheelbases, launching the popularity of Funny Cars. To this day, a version of that engine still powers every single Funny Car and Top Fuel engine regardless of being badged by other manufacturers.

The “Street Hemi” was launched in 1966 cars, allowing Plymouth to return to NASCAR, winning numerous races and championships. Drag racers were provided with the street version, which they could modify, except for 75-each limited edition 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracudas powered by the 426 Race Hemi.

The heritage of those cars is celebrated each year with the Hemi Challenge in the Sportsman class at the NHRA’s U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis; starting in 2001, the Hemi Challenge features these classic muscle cars. Mopar also established the “Tom Hoover Sportsman Challenge” (Mr. Hoover is known as “the father of the Hemi”) at the start of the 2013 season, with a winner selected from the Sportsman Stock or Super Stock classes.

The innovative engine’s offspring live on, not only in the NHRA within all Funny Car and Top Fuel machines, but also within both new production and classic heritage vehicles thanks to the current day products (including crate engines). 

A special product line of Hemi merchandise has been created to mark the 50th anniversary celebration; it will be launched throughout January at and will include clothing,  lighting, clocks, a pub table, and stools. Initiatives and events surrounding the 50th anniversary will be announced shortly.

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