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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Greg Zyla: The legendary 426 Hemi engine

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  • Q: Greg, when did the 426 Hemi come out? Thanks, and I enjoy your columns, especially about MOPARS. Albert K., Massachusetts.
    A: Albert, it wasn’t until 1966 that the general public could walk in to a Dodge or Plymouth dealer and buy a Hemi right off the showroom floor. However, the 426 Hemi was produced by Chrysler for use in NASCAR racing, and appeared on the tracks in the 1964 Plymouth and Dodge lines. Richard Petty won the Daytona 500 in 1964 in a Hemi Plymouth Belvedere.
    After dominating the races, Chrysler’s 426 Hemi was not allowed to compete in NASCAR’s 1965 season due to its unavailability in production vehicles sold to the general public. The 426 Hemi also started a horsepower war between Ford and Chrysler that eventually led to Ford building a 429 Hemi to combat the Chrysler Hemi. NASCAR then stepped in and outlawed both engines from competition for 1965. The Hemi was available in the Dodge Coronet/Plymouth Belvedere line in 1965 but was still an “off road” designate and not suitable for the street.
    This moved all of the Chrysler Hemi attention to the drag strips, where famed NASCAR champs Richard Petty and David Pearson “went on strike” from NASCAR and drove Hemi drag cars for one year. Hemi engines also powered altered wheelbase early funny cars to top fuel dragsters, and dominated the scene. The new 426 allowed racers who relied on the older style 392 Hemi an opportunity to switch over to the new model. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits figured out the new Hemi could take more punishment than the 392, especially with advanced ignition timing, and the pattern was set.
    To get back in with NASCAR, Chrysler introduced a detuned “Street” Hemi in 1966 for its intermediate cars and sold the required number of Hemi cars to the public to legitimize its use for NASCAR and the 1966 season. Again, a “retired from drag racing” Richard Petty won the Daytona 500 in a Hemi Plymouth Belvedere.
    In summary, those who purchased those early production “off road only” Hemi Plymouths and Dodges are sitting on $500,000 and up when it comes to valuable collector cars, while normal-production Hemis go for over $100,000 on a regular basis, especially when they sit between frame rails of the GTX, R/T, Challenger , Dart and Barracuda models.
    Thanks for your letter.
    Greg Zyla is writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and old-time motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at greg@gregzyla.com.

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