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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Mighty HEMI Hits 50—Years, That Is

Mopar has declared this the year of the HEMI. The second generation 426 Race Hemi has just turned 50, and there will be celebrations. And stuff to buy, naturally. To start things off, Mopar has unveiled a 50th anniversary logo. Can’t say I’m crazy about it myself, but according to the official press release:
Copyright 2014 Chrysler Group LLC.

“The design incorporates an elephant in reference to the engine’s moniker, which resulted from the powerplant’s imposing size, strength and power. The logo also features the trademark HEMI-orange color that covered the engine and made it even more recognizable.”

The logo will be found on various items for sale at WearMopar.com. Despite the website’s name, there will be other items besides clothing, including coffee mugs, key chains, a special edition license plate, and even a Man Cave sign. Events are also in the works, but have not yet been announced.

So why is the second gen HEMI so legendary? Here’s a little back history, courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC. The first hemispherical combustion engine (hence the name, but I’m sure you knew that already) was designed for passenger cars and was first used in 1951. That’s not the one that’s famous, though. THE HEMI, a 426 cubic inch beast, was designed for race cars and came on the scene in 1964.

Actually there were two versions, one for circuit racing and one for drag racing. They both had a spectacular first season. The track version was first used at the 1964 Daytona 500. Richard Petty took the race in a HEMI-powered Plymouth, and three other HEMI cars were in the top five of that race. Off to a good start. Petty went on to win seven more races that year and the NASCAR championship.

Meanwhile, Don Garlits, also using a HEMI, ran a quarter mile in 7.78 seconds during a National Hot Rod Association drag racing competition, reaching 201.34 mph.

All looked good for the HEMI but NASCAR changed the rules for the 1965 season, so that only engines available in production vehicles could be raced. Maybe they were afraid Chrysler wouldn’t have any competition. So no HEMI in NASCAR that year, but the net result was that Chrysler brought out a street version of the HEMI in 1966. And the rest is history. Of course, HEMI-powered cars continued to burn up the track, but the HEMI also became a muscle car legend.


[SOURCE: Chrysler Group LLC]

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