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4/26: It’s 426 Hemi day, celebrate this legendary engine's 1964 NHRA U.S. Nationals Super Stock origin—Footage and photos!

In the early ’60s Pontiacs were winning on the dragstrips and superspeedways. Chrysler saw what motorsports had done for the stodgy Pontiac brand, and wanted its own engine to win NHRA and NASCAR races—and with them the hearts of car buyers.
26 Apr 2020
David Kennedy
Gallery

In December 1962, manager of engine design Bill Weertman and a small group of Chrysler engineers, dyno operators, draftsmen, and technicians got word of a new assignment, to get an engine ready before the 1964 NHRA Winternationals and 1964 Daytona 500.

Chrysler’s Tom Hoover was a part of this team, already deeply involved with the Max Wedge engines and the Ramchargers racing effort. But he knew the 426-cid Max Wedge wasn’t going to be enough. He explained, “We suggested putting the Hemi head on the wedge block. It wasn’t radical; it was just the best way to take advantage of work that had already been done.”

What did Pontiac do to inspire the 426 Hemi? 

The plan was to use the deep-skirt block design of the 413 and 426-cid RB wedge engines. The point of the engine was power, so all efforts were made to maximize intake and exhaust flow through the cylinder head for high-rpm performance.

Ultimately three 426 Hemi derivative engines were created: Drag, Track, and Street. Hot rodders consider the Drag (for NHRA) and Track (for NASCAR) engines “Race Hemis.” The Street versions came two years later in production cars for ’66, and allowed regular people to buy into the Hemi’s success.

The 426 Hemi was Supposed to Debut at the 1964 Winternationals

Back in 2014, we spoke to Tom Hoover during the Hemi’s 50th anniversary for an article in Hot Rod. Hoover told us that during the winter of 1963, he was in California preparing for the NHRA Winternationals.

“We had some 426 Hemi cars there,” he says “But they were just stock engines, bolted together by the assembly line at the Chrysler marine facility in Marysville [Michigan]. We rented track time to make some test runs, and they were slower than the [426] Wedge cars. We couldn’t have that at Pomona, our new race package be slower! We didn’t run them again till later, after I had taken them apart, blueprinted them, made some real headers, that kind of thing. Then they ran good.”  To see how good, watch the highlights of the 1964 NHRA U.S. Nationals below.

Highlights of the show include:

7 minutes, 59 seconds: Dave Strickler in his A/FX Dodge slamming gears

8 minutes, 26 seconds: Wally Parks interviewing Don Garlits (driving a 392-cid Hemi)

11 minutes, 52 seconds: SS/A Dodges and Plymouths with Drag Hemi engines

14 minutes, 26 seconds: SS/A Dodges and Plymouths with Drag Hemi engines in semifinals

15 minutes, 02 seconds: SS/A Final—Jim Thornton’s Ramcharger Dodge vs Forrest Pitcock’s Golden Commando Plymouth

19 minutes, 39 seconds: Jim Thornton’s Ramcharger Dodge in the winner’s circle

22 minutes, 10 seconds: Jim Thornton’s Ramcharger Dodge vs Forrest Pitcock’s Golden Commando Plymouth second round eliminations

23 minutes, 27 seconds: Wally and Barbara Parks watching the Stock races

23 minutes, 34 seconds: Jim Thornton’s Ramcharger Dodge vs John Dallafior

23 minutes, 46 seconds: Roger Lindamood’s Color Me Gone II vs Dick Landy

24 minutes, 10 seconds: Roger Lindamood’s Color Me Gone II vs Jim Thornton’s Ramcharger Dodge

26 minutes, 43 seconds: Don Garlits’ record-setting win in Top Fuel with a 392-cid Hemi