It’s April 26, and you know what that means, Dodge fans: It’s National HEMI day. 4/26 = 426. Let’s celebrate!
The legendary 426 HEMI V8 was born back in late 1963 when Chrysler performance engineers, led by group manager Tom Hoover, decided to up the ante in NASCAR and on the drag strips, where the Dodge brand was already a top performer.
Starting with the sturdy block and reciprocating assembly from the winning 426-cubic-inch Max Wedge engine, Hoover and crew dusted off the hemispherical combustion chamber layout from the company’s previous 1951-1958 V8s, adapting it to the current engine. The design had been discontinued a few years earlier as a bit too advanced for passenger cars – overkill, essentially. But now, Hoover determined, the timing was right for a HEMI revival for racing and performance use.
There were challenges in adapting the classic HEMI configuration to the 426 V8: For one thing, the massive cylinder heads had to be tipped inward a few degrees just to allow the engine fit in the chassis. But to the engineers’ surprise, on the test stand the HEMI didn’t mind a bit.
The new engine made its first public appearance in February 1964 at NASCAR’s Daytona 500, where HEMI-powered Dodge and Plymouth race cars swept the top five qualifying spots and then dominated the race, taking the win and four of the top five finishing positions. The domination carried over to drag racing: In an all-Dodge final at the U.S. Nationals in Indy, Roger Lindamood, driving the famed “Color Me Gone, ” narrowly defeated the Ramchargers to win Stock Eliminator.
The 426 HEMI was discontinued in 1971 when the original muscle car era drew to a close. However, today’s drivers can get the same winning technology in the 5.7-liter HEMI V8, available in the 2013 Dodge Durango, Charger, and Challenger. And for the absolute ultimate in HEMI performance, there’s the 6.4-liter HEMI V8 in the Charger SRT8 and Challenger SRT8. To start your own HEMI legend, see your local Dodge dealer or go to Dodge.com.