were few takers. In the five years that it was available as a road-going option, only 11,000 Hemis were sold, a minuscule number by U.S. mass-production standards. Maybe history is playing tricks on us, and the legend that has grown up around the Hemi in the 30-odd years since, its domination of drag racing and NASCAR, has given it more prominence than it deserves. Maybe at the time, a stock 383-cu in (6.28-liter) engine was quick enough, and a 426-cu in (7-liter) Hemi simply did not seem worth its higher insurance rating. What was foremost in the minds of most buyers was probably the option price, anything between $500 and $1,100 or more, which was quite a chunk on a $2,700 car. Whatever the reasons for its limited sales, it has left us with quite a legacy. Chrysler, in particular, had much to thank the Hemi for, because its effect on the public’s perception of Chrysler muscle cars was out of all proportion to the numbers actually made. A clue to its secret lay in that name: Hemi was short for “Hemispherical”, indicating the use of a half-sphere-shaped combustion chamber. It is now recognized that this shape allows more room for larger ports and valves, and a higher compression ratio in relation to the size of the combustion chamber. With higher volumetric efficiency than a comparable engine, a hemi breathes deep, and deep breathing is one of the holy grails in the search for high horsepower. But the 426 Hemi of the 1960s was not Chrysler’s first such engine. A smaller 331-cu in (5.42-liter) engine was launched in 1951. The Firepower V8, as it was called, produced 180 hp (134 kW), though maybe it was wasted in the heavyweight Saratoga sedan: at 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg), that tended to blunt the Firepower’s performance somewhat. A smaller 241-cu in (3.95-liter) version followed in 1953, fitted to Dodges, and in 1955 the new Chrysler C300 made a huge impact with its 300-hp (224-kW) 331-cu in (5.42-liter) Hemi. At the time, this was a stratospheric figure for a production car, and Dodge backed it up with a 270-cu in (4.42-liter) unit rated at 193 hp (144 kW) in Super Red Ram form. There was also an even higher-performance D-500 from Dodge, with more cubes and horsepower. Chrysler dropped its first-generation Hemi in 1959, replacing it with a 413-cu in (6.77-liter) V8 with wedge-shaped combustion chambers. Nicknamed Max Wedge, it proved a formidable performer, especially once the race-tuned version had appeared in the early 1960s, as the Dodge Ramcharger or Plymouth Super Stock. With 11.0:1 compression, twin four-barrel carburetors, and an aluminum short-ram inlet manifold, the Max Wedge was soon making a big impression on the drag strip. Officially, it was designed for “police pursuit work”: in other words, the drag strip! There was also a hotter 420-hp (313-kW) version with 13.5:1 compression. In 1963, the Max Wedge was taken out to 426 cu in (7.0 liters), which meant 425 hp (317 kW) in high-compression form. A Racing Start The Max Wedge was merely a preamble to the main act, the Hemi. Unveiled in 1964, it owed much to both the original Hemi and the Max Wedge, combining the deep breathing of one with the sheer cubic capacity and wild tuning of the other, but was really an all-new engine. At first, this was a pure race unit, with a compression of 12.5:1 and double-roller timing chain. Carburation was a single four-barrel carburetor for stock-car racing, or two four-barrels on the drag strip, 10 Hemis & Drag Racing Muscle Cars

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