http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Columns/articleId=105526 By Joe Oldham Hemi Hype: It Ain't What It Used to Be 05-05-2005 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 . Wanna kill these ads? We can help!