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The Myth of the Hemi

Discussion in 'Car Forum' started by fnfalman, May 6, 2005.

  1. fnfalman

    fnfalman Chicks Dig It

    Oct 23, 2000
    California & New Mexico, US

    By Joe Oldham

    Hemi Hype: It Ain't What It Used to Be

    I have to laugh every time I see one of those Hemi-powered Mopar muscle cars sell at an auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The poor sap making the purchase congratulates himself on his wise investment. After all, he didn't buy just a car. He's invested in a coveted objet d'art, one of only 11 such objects ever built. And who knows how many have actually survived?

    What's never discussed, though — not by the buyer, not by the seller, and certainly not by the know-nothing commentators broadcasting the auction — is why Chrysler only built 11 Hemi 'Cuda convertibles in 1971. Or why it only built two Hemi-powered '66 Dodge Coronet four-door sedans.

    I know why.

    Because they were lousy cars and nobody wanted them then. How do I know? Because from 1964-'74, I was a writer for Hi-Performance Cars, Supercars Annual, Speed and Supercar and other publications produced by Magnum-Royal Publications in New York City. It was my job to track test, street race and photograph all the muscle cars of the '60s and early '70s. I lived through the muscle car era, not as a consumer but as an industry insider with every conceivable hot car at my disposal.

    And I can tell you this without equivocation: Chrysler muscle cars were terrible. I used to dread it when the boss, Marty Schorr, used to assign me to pick up some Mopar and do a story on it. Yes, I actually dreaded having to drive Mopar muscle cars, especially Hemi-powered cars.

    Granted, the 440-powered wedge cars ran very well. They had excellent low-end torque and could hold their own on the street with anything out of GM — GTO, 442, Gran Sport, SS-396 (Ford was a nonentity on the street until the 428 CJ Mustangs came along in late 1968). But as cars, the Mopars were crude compared to GM — cheap upholstery, pieces of plastic falling off, carpeting that didn't lay flat, etc.

    The Hemi? Hemi-powered Dodge Coronet R/Ts and Superbees, Plymouth GTXs and Road Runners and Mopar models with this engine were even worse. They compounded poor fit and finish with an engine that would barely run on the street and weighed almost 200 pounds more than the wedge. That's right. The Hemi engine, as it came from the factory in showroom stock condition, would barely run on the street.

    Hey, it wasn't the engine's fault. Let's face it. It was a race engine, introduced in 1964 to do one thing — win races in NASCAR and NHRA competition. Did you ever look at a Hemi cylinder head? The ports are the size of a Los Angeles sewer. The valves look like New York City manhole covers. And it had two huge four-barrel carbs sitting on top of it. The engine was designed to run at full throttle on a track at 6,800 rpm. As such, it developed zero low-end torque.

    Then in 1968, things got worse with the addition of the first emission controls — retarded ignition, leaned-out carburetion, air pumps. When you punched the throttle down on the street, the Hemi coughed, sputtered and choked. Literally.

    Chrysler knew this, too. That's why in 1970 it introduced a much milder profile camshaft. But aside from that change, the rest of the engine was essentially the same.

    Performance on the street was pathetic. And we said so in print many times. So did other magazines. We ran several Hemi-vs.-wedge comparison tests back then and the wedge car always won. Even Hemi fanatics had to give ground on the engine's performance. Of course, today, over 30 years later, all these cars have been overrestored and many of the engine's faults have been sorted out and corrected.

    With all the negative press, it's no wonder hardly anyone ordered Hemi-powered cars — unless they were going to race it on a track. Street rats stuck with the 440 wedge and rightly so. It was $800 less than the Hemi and ran better. Why would you want a Hemi?

    The sales figures tell the story with crystal clarity. Only 14 Hemi 'Cuda convertibles were built in 1970. That included two for the East and West Coast press fleets. So only 12 people actually ordered such a car in 1970. If Chrysler had orders for 20,000 Hemi 'Cuda convertibles in 1970, don't you think it would have built them? You're damn right it would have. The same holds true for all the other weirdo Mopar engine-body combinations you now see at auctions selling for gazillions.

    When I drove these cars back then, I was just doing a job and they were just cars, not revered rarities valued by collector fanatics as more valuable than Faberge eggs. Hey, there's one born every second.

    Of course, if someone wanted to give me one….

  2. Old news. The Hemi was a race engine and most folks in the know bought them as toys to race for money, pink slips, or both. GM fuel injection from the late 50s also ran badly if you weren't prepared to make adjustments as soon as the weather changed.

    More old news - drag cars like the Hemi were often sold on narrow rims that couldn't hook up. It was expected that the new owner would tear the car apart anyway, so why bother with anything worthwhile?

    Mopar is synonymous with a terrible car with a hot engine.

  3. fnfalman

    fnfalman Chicks Dig It

    Oct 23, 2000
    California & New Mexico, US
    I think that the guy is just trying to enlighten the younger generation on the old Hemi engines and the cars that they were sold in. Frankly I would prefer the Chevy 454 or the Ford 429 Cobra Jet over the Hemi back in its day. The Chevy and Ford big blocks were more reliable, that's for damn sure.
  4. Rikki

    Rikki Pathetic Loser

    Apr 10, 2002
    Behind the curtain
    I guess you are right- but, so what? I still remember Wig Everhart's Dodge with the pistol grip shifter, and Mike Dunham's '70 Dodge Challenger. MAN did we have fun crusin' in those cars..
    HEY! you're such an expert on "HEMI'S"...Tell us who Eldon Palmer was and what he did with a Hemi...
  5. Geeorge

    Geeorge Sarcasm Inc.

    eldon was the only person ever to wreck a Indy 500 pace car pulling back into the pits after starting the race.And it wasn't a hemi car;g


    FN touting a domestic brand? He would rather have a CJ or a 454? Where is your loyalty to eurotrash? Would you rather not have a piece of eurotrash from back then?

    Oh, and a Hemi would spank a CJ or 454. Go to your local drag strip and watch the classic stock class. You'll see. Don't expect to see much eurotrash though, unless it's current stuff.
  7. spanky99l


    Jan 4, 2005
    i'll take my lightning over a ****box of a truck with a hemi

    here hemi hemi hemi




    How about an SRT-10 against your Lightning? Or let the hemi owner slap a supercharger on his hemi. I don't think you would like that though. Lightnings are nice trucks, but lets compare apples to apples.
  9. spanky99l


    Jan 4, 2005
    sure bring it.

    srt10's are slow pieces of **** and are over rated.

  10. fnfalman

    fnfalman Chicks Dig It

    Oct 23, 2000
    California & New Mexico, US
    FN touting a domestic brand? He would rather have a CJ or a 454? Where is your loyalty to eurotrash? Would you rather not have a piece of eurotrash from back then?

    I would rather not have a piece of Eurotrash from any era. But I would definitely like to have a nice Ferrari California V12. I think that it will let all of the Hemis and whatnots sniff its exhaust rather handily, wouldn't you say?
  11. engineer151515


    Nov 3, 2003
    I've owned a couple MOPAR 70's era muscle cars and driven even more. Roadrunners, Superbirds, Chargers, Cudas, Dusters.

    I can't disagree with most of the article.

    That doesn't take away from the legendary status. People vote with their wallets.

    I've always argued that a 440 (especially the 440- 6 pak with three two-barrel carbs) was a better engine than the 426 Hemi for the E-bodies (Cuda/Challenger). The engine weighed 200 lbs less (on an already nose-heavy design) and the narrower engine configuration did not convolute the exhaust piping for superior "breathing".

    And the interiors, well - hope you liked black vinyl. And you better put a towel on that before you have your girlfriend in the swimsuit sit on it. YEEOOOOWWWW!

    Anyway, I still have 440 Shaker Hood Plum-Crazy Cuda on my computer Desktop - gorgeous car. But I wouldn't knock myself out to own one again. They were heavy on gas and heavy in the turns. Even with the 340 - just felt like a heavy car when you got into the turns. Drum brakes front/back that faded. Stock wheels of the day were relatively narrow, performed poorly and were even dangerous in the rain. Nothing quicker in swinging your butt to the front than hitting the gas pedal on a rainy day in a Cuda. Newer sport car designs are superior in almost every way. Car and Driver couldn't get their 1970 440 Challenger to perform 13's in the 1/4 brand new.

    All that said, I go to musclecar shows and still remanence.


    Desktop Image

  12. Ramtuff


    May 15, 2005
    Glenmoore, PA
  13. engineer151515


    Nov 3, 2003
    Not a Hemi - but a better overall performance package with the 340 - 6bbl

  14. One Ragged Hole

    One Ragged Hole Dis ain't funny

    Nov 13, 2002
    Just hangin around
    In High School my girlfriend's uncle had a Charger with a Hemi. It was a drag car, pure and simple. Single ring pistons (NOT stock) dual 4's, 4 Caddy mufflers, the works. It snorted, bucked, smoked like crazy, jumped up and down and was VERY hard to drive on the street. When it got up on the cam though, you'd better be pointed in the right direction. I still can smell the Sunoco 260! It was a genuine 10sec ride.


    Although the Challenger T/A's and AAR Cuda's were great performer's, don't put them against Hemi cars, they will get eaten alive. Put a stock 4 barrel 340 against a 383 car though, and you'll see one pissed big block owner, lol. Trust me, I have had 2 340 cars, and there was not a stock 383 (my 340's were stock) that could keep up.


    And another thought. Is there a car as good looking as the E body Mopars? I don't think so. The 1st gen Camero comes close, so does the 69 1/2 Charger, but man, those Challengers and 70-74 Cuda's are just in a class by themselves!!
  17. proactive


    Feb 15, 2004

    For your reading pleasure:

    I'll give you this: The Lightning is hands-down the better value in the comparison (you'll have 12,000-15,000 left in the bank for mods or guns). I've seen both get smoked by one another at the strip and on the internet (driver error or not, it seems like a coin toss between the two). I'm a big fan of the Lightning myself, but to call the srt-10 a "slow piece of..."? Lets be real here.
  18. streeter69

    streeter69 This is Kewl

    Nov 25, 2001
    I like annoying people.
    I feel the same for 12-15G's saved. You could add those into mods to be faster;f
    Don't get me wrong, Dodge made some awesome vehicles. I loved my buddies 440 6pack coronet.
    I wish Ford would build the Lightening again
    ;+ ;D
  19. G22 Kid

    G22 Kid

    Sep 20, 2001
    Eugene, OR
    Dude, Mopars kick ass!

    I got a '70 Challenger myself, with a small block 360. I've emabarrassed plenty of big blocks...

    And on the Hemi, they kick ass, if you know what your doing.

    My dad has one, and he has 440s too.

    I like em all.