There were plenty of winning Mopars before the modern Hemi debuted in 1964. At the top of the list were the Max Wedge equipped Plymouths and Dodges. Typically, these engines were found in plain Jane lightweight sedans. Their sedentary looks left many competitors slack-jawed.
The Max Wedge designation first appeared on the 1962 413 cubic inch Max Wedge. The Max Wedge label was Chrysler’s way of saying that this wedge engine (so called for its wedge shaped combustion chambers) was the epitome of performance development.
The larger bore Max Wedge 426 Stage II quickly superseded the Max Wedge 413 in 1963. The 426 Max Wedge Stage III followed the Stage II in 1964. This was a drag racing engine that easily put Max Wedge Plymouths and Dodges in the winner’s circles at national NHRA events. The ’64 Max Wedge Stage III was also referred to as the “Super Stock” engine. The versions intended for drag racing had dual four-barrel carburetors while the NASCAR versions had a single carb.
Even though the 426 Race Hemi was introduced in 1964, production was limited so the 426 Max Wedge cars were still very popular and successful racers. Stage III cars were great at the track but temperamental on the street. The tamer 426 Street Wedge (single carb) was a streetable, but still powerful option.
1965 DODGE CORONET HEMI-CHARGER
Increased supplies of the new Race Hemi meant that Dodges and Plymouths were cleaning up in the very popular Super Stock drag racing classes. Most cars equipped with Race Hemi engines were austere to say the least. Totally stripped lightweight models like this 1965 Dodge Coronet sedan were what racers wanted.
The window sticker on this “bad in black” ’65 Coronet lists the car as a Hemi-Charger (notice the use of “Charger” a year before the actual Dodge Charger debuted) with a retail price of $4,717. There were credits for the heater and rear seat belt deletes so with the destination charge the bottom line was $4,721.30. That seems like the deal of the century today, but in 1965 that was huge money for what was normally a sub-$3,000 sedan.
Most Hemi-Chargers went straight to the racetrack. White was a very popular color as most racers repainted them or at least added lettering and sponsor decals. Black paint really fits the “gunslinger” personality of this car. It’s all business and serious as a heart attack. The huge hood scoop feeds air to the twin Holley carburetors mounted on the cross-ram style intake manifold. The staggered carbs were mounted at 90-degrees off of the traditional front-to-back carburetor mounting.
Seemingly at odds to all the weight saving tricks is the massive battery mounted in the right rear corner of the trunk. This was a trick designed to aid traction.
1967 PLYMOUTH HEMI GTX
The Race Hemi was such a dominant force that sanctioning bodies imposed stricter production requirements. So, instead of barely meeting the rules with expensively prepped Race Hemis Chrysler had to make the Hemi more widely available in regular production cars. That situation led to the Street Hemi.
The Street Hemi had many similarities with the Race Hemi. Changes were aimed at making the engine more drivable. The most notable differences were in terms of intake and exhaust manifolds. The Street Hemi used two Carter four-barrel carburetors mounted in tandem. The Street Hemi had a 10.25:1 compression ratio compared to 12.5:1 for the Race Hemi. The Street Hemi was conservatively rated at 425 horsepower.
With the greater availability and increased drivability of the Street Hemi the engine turned up in more stylish, better optioned Mopars as well as the stripped down racecars. The very handsome ’67 Plymouth GTX hardtops were arguably the best looking of the “boxy” Mopars. These cars were higher content cars than the base model Belvederes. GTX models had lots of bright trim, bucket seats, dual exhausts, and two small non-functioning hood scoops.
The ’67 GTX was available in hardtop and convertible form. Only 686 GTX convertibles were produced compared to 11,429 hardtops. The GTX was obviously a high performance model since the two engine choices were a 375 horsepower 440 or the Hemi. Most GTXs were equipped with the 440. Hemi equipped GTXs accounted for 108 hardtops and a mere 17 GTX Hemi convertibles. TorqueFlite transmissions were installed in 73 cars with 4-speeds in the remaining 52.
1968 DODGE CHARGER R/T
The 1968 Dodge Charger was a styling sensation. Not only was the Charger a stunning design in and by itself, but it was also a major departure from the much more conservative, boxy styling of previous models. The 1967 and 1968 Dodge Chargers were worlds apart in almost every department except for similar drivetrains.
The huge popularity of the 1968 Charger was reflected in the sales figures. The 1967 Charger sold 15,788 units and the ’68 Charger upped that figure to 92,520--quite an improvement. The ’68 continued the general performance/personal luxury car theme of the first generation Chargers. Compared to the new Plymouth Road Runner with its taxicab interior the Charger was positively sumptuous.
The ’68 Dodge Charger R/T (road and track) was the high performance version. The base Charger could be equipped with the 145 hp 225 c.i. Slant Six engine (only 906 were produced), the 230 hp 318 V-8, the 290 hp 383 V-8 and the 330 hp 383 V-8, but the Charger R/T came standard with the 375 hp 440 V-8. The 425 hp Hemi 426 was available as a $605 option on the R/T.
Given the heavier weight of the Dodge Charger it wasn’t as quick as its lighter, less stylish siblings, but it was still a strong contender on the street. The fastback styling of the Charger seemed well suited to NASCAR racing, although there were problems with aerodynamics related to the grille area and recessed rear window. These problems were resolved with the ’69 Charger 500. On the drag racing front the lighter Dodges dominated although the famous engine builder/drag racer “Dandy” Dick Landy did campaign a ’68 Dodge Charger R/T.
1969 DODGE CHARGER 500
The 1968 Charger was somewhat disappointing on high-speed NASCAR tracks. Wind tunnel testing showed that the recessed grille and backlight were problem areas. It was determined that more flush grilles and backlights would yield huge aerodynamic improvements. By installing a ’68 Coronet grille flush with the hood and reworking the rear window for a flush fit Chrysler engineers came up with the hybrid Charger 500. The reworked rear window extended the glass into the trunk area so special shortened deck lids were made the Charger 500. Production of the Charger 500 was subbed out to Creative Industries in Detroit.
The Dodge Charger 500 got its start later in 1968 so it was marketed as a 1969 model. The ’68 grille is somewhat confusing, but the rectangular side marker lamps and the wide horizontal taillights are clearly 1969 Charger features.
Although the ’69 Charger 500 was designed as a racecar it still had to sell in sufficient numbers to qualify as a production car. Sales were slow with the original Hemi-only powerplant so the less expensive 440 was offered to boost sales. It’s questionable if Dodge sold the full 500 units required for NASCAR homologation although they came close. The Charger 500 was a successful racer, but the streamlined Fords frequently kept Chrysler out of the winner’s circle. That problem would soon be rectified with the updated version of the Charger 500, the Dodge Daytona.
1969 DODGE CHARGER DAYTONA
The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 went back to the wind tunnel for more testing and the result was the Charger Daytona. The names Daytona and 500 were not too subtle hints at the cars intended purpose (i.e. win the Daytona 500). Testing determined that an aerodynamic 18-inch nosecone would make major improvements in how the Charger sliced through the air. Tests also showed that more rear downforce was needed for stable high-speed handling.
Chrysler engineers took inspiration from noted road racer, Jim Hall and his Chaparral racecars with their enormous rear wings. Hall was an expert in racecar aerodynamics and handling. The result for the Daytona was a massive 2-foot tall rear wing that was anchored inside the trunk. The new nose and rear wing worked spectacularly on the track and made for a tough-to-miss highway cruiser. Due to their race track prowess the Charger Daytonas quickly earned the nickname “Winged Warriors.”
The improved aerodynamics proved so successful that Daytonas quickly dominated NASCAR racing. Bobby Isaac set a closed course record of 201.104 miles per hour that stood for thirteen years. At their namesake track, Charger Daytonas finished in first, second, third and fourth—quite a victorious sweep.
Two other distinctive Daytona styling features were the reverse facing scoops on top of the fenders and the hidden headlights. The scoops exhausted engine heat on race Daytonas and provided additional tire room on their lowered suspensions. The scoops weren’t functional on street Daytonas.
Charger Daytonas were offered with either the 375 hp 440 Magnum or 425 hp Hemi engines. Today Dodge Charger Hemi Daytonas are among the most desirable collector cars in the world.
7. 1969 ½
1969 ½ PLYMOUTH ROAD RUNNER 440 SIX PACK
The 1968 Plymouth Road Runner successfully merged a big-block V-8 and a relatively light intermediate body into an affordable musclecar. The initial Road Runner concept was “maximum bang for the buck.” It was a noble idea, but customer demand for more comfort and options soon started an upward price creep.
The 1969 Road Runner sold almost twice as well as the inaugural edition. Still, competition in the musclecar market was fierce. In an effort to reassert themselves as affordable performance leaders Chrysler brought out two 1969-½ quarter mile combatants—the Road Runner 440 Six Pack and its sibling, the Dodge Super Bee Six Pack.
The heart of these two drag strip superstars was a new engine option—the tri-power equipped 440 V-8. An Edelbrock aluminum high-rise intake manifold was topped with three Holley two-barrel carburetors. Hemi valve springs and a dual-point distributor helped boost the 390’s power rating to 390 hp at 4700 rpm with 390 lb-ft or torque at 3600 rpm.
The 440 Six Pack cars were a total performance package being equipped with a Dana 9 3/4 –inch rearend with 4.10 gears, Sure-Grip, a 4-speed manual transmission and 15x6-inch flat black painted wheels. The crowning (and most distinctive) touch was the special flat black fiberglass hood with its gigantic functional hood scoop. The hood was secured with four racing pit pins. The hood had no springs. To service the engine the hood was removed and placed on the roof. Foam pads on the hood underside protected the paint.
If the huge hood scoop and lack of wheel covers weren’t enough to convey a no-nonsense racer look, there were red 440-6 bbl decals on the sides of the scoop. The Super Bee hood decals simply stated “SIX PACK.” There was no need to ask what was under the hood. The 440-six pack was a $463 option on the base Road Runner.
1970 PLYMOUTH SUPERBIRD
The 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird took up where the 1969 Dodge Daytona left off. The racing success of the Daytona convinced former Plymouth golden boy, Richard Petty, to return home after a brief stint with Ford. Petty and Plymouth both wanted to win races and they were convinced (correctly) that the new Superbird was the car that would get them to the checkered flag first.
Although the Daytona and Superbird might seem nearly identical to the casual observer, there are no common body parts. Plymouth used its B-body Road Runner hardtop coupe as the basis for the Superbird. Modified Dodge Coronet front fenders were used instead of Belvedere fenders. The rear wing has a steeper rake to the uprights. Big Road Runner decals adorn each side of the wing supports. A similar decal is located on the cover of the left retractable headlight.
The Charger’s rear roofline was better suited for flush glass, so the Road Runner needed a filler panel to aid the flow of the special convex rear window. All Superbirds have vinyl roofs, not as a styling statement but as a way of hiding the roughness of the rear window conversion. Creative Industries performed the custom work on Superbirds as they did for the Daytonas.
Superbirds were available with three engine packages: the 375 hp single four-barrel 440, the 390 hp six-pack 390, and the 425 hp Hemi. Automatic and four-speeds were available. Some options, such as air conditioning weren’t available.
Superbird production far surpassed that of the Daytona because the NASCAR homologation rules changed for 1970. Instead of a minimum 500-car production run, manufacturers were now required to build one car for every dealership. In Plymouth’s case that was almost 2,000 dealerships.
1970 PLYMOUTH AAR ‘CUDA
The Plymouth Barracuda and ‘Cuda were radically restyled for 1970. Styling followed the traditional pony car look of a long nose and short deck instead of the previous generation’s fastback and notchback body styles. Sales nearly doubled those of the previous year/design.
Plymouth (and Dodge) was well established in drag racing and circle track venues, but they also wanted to participate in the highly popular SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Trans Am series. The series’ Manufacturer’s Cup was hotly contested by Ford, Mercury, Chevrolet, Pontiac and American Motors. The series ran on road courses so handling was as important as speed.
The Trans Am series had a 305 cubic inch displacement limit, but the liberal rules allowed Chrysler to de-stroke their already potent 340 cubic inch small-block V-8 to 303.8-inches. Series cars were limited to a single four-barrel carburetor, but the production AAR ‘Cudas had three Holley two-barrel carbs.
The AAR part of the name comes from Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. His AAR logo is on the rear quarter panels at the end of the full-length strobe stripe. A flat black hood with functional scoop and racing pins was another strong visual part of the AAR package. Front and rear spoilers were also included.
The 340 V-8 (rated at 290 hp) used high performance cylinder heads and the block had thicker webbing so race versions could be fitted with four-bolt main caps. The cars had front and rear spoilers, heavy-duty suspension, a Sure-Grip differential, front disc brakes and unique side-exit exhaust pipes.
The combination of stunning styling, a great small-block engine and excellent handling made the 1970 AAR ‘Cuda one of the best all-around Mopars ever built.
1970 DODGE CHALLENGER T/A
Like a pair of jealous siblings, Dodge and Plymouth both wanted a part of the SCCA Trans AM glory, so Dodge brought out the Challenger T/A as a counterpart to the AAR ‘Cuda. Both cars are similar in content and both were designed for Trans Am homologation, but there are differences between the two.
One of the biggest differences is that the Challenger rides on a 110-inch wheelbase while the ‘Cuda has a 108-inch wheelbase. The Challenger was fitted with a more aggressive fresh air hood scoop than the ‘Cuda. The Challenger T/A side graphics were simpler than the strobe stripe on the AAR ‘Cuda. The T/A name was a not-too-subtle reference to the Trans Am race series, but at least Dodge didn’t have to pay royalties to the SCCA like Pontiac did.
Mechanically the Challenger T/A and AAR ‘Cuda were identical including the staggered tire sizes. The front tires were E60-15 and the rears were G60-15. Rear springs rates were stiffer than on standard Challengers. The stiffer springs elevated the rear slightly for added clearance for the larger tires and the side-exit exhaust pipes.
As Dodge’s first foray into the hotly contested pony car market the Challenger was an instant success. The handsome styling was widely lauded and the tremendous range of engines, transmissions and options made it possible to easily build a highly personalized Challenger. The Challenger sold approximately 50% better than the Barracuda.
1971 PLYMOUTH HEMI GTX
Since 1971 marked the end of the Street Hemi engine option any Mopar that was originally so equipped is an easy Hall of Fame candidate. Hemi sales in 1971 were dismal (just 356 for all Chrysler products), but those few clairvoyants that bought ’71 Hemi cars and held on to them look like financial geniuses today. Even collectors who bought them five years ago are doing great.
The GTX was drastically restyled on now based on the Satellite body. The shape was much more rounded. Many critics liked the fresh styling, but sales figures were minimal. A mere 2,626 Plymouth GTXs were sold in 1971. The less expensive, but similarly styled Road Runner managed to ring up 13,046 sales.
A large, chrome bumper dominated the front of the ’71 GTX, although a more attractive color-keyed elastomeric bumper was optional. The GTX got a unique transverse stripe on the hood and fenders.
With low sales to start with, it’s no surprise that Hemi GTXs are exceedingly rare. The Street Hemi was unchanged from 1965, but insurance premiums and fuel economy concerns were not. Only 30 cars were ordered with the 426 Hemi. Of these cars, 19 had the TorqueFlite automatic and 11 had the 4-speed transmission.
1971 HEMI ‘CUDA CONVERTIBLE
Often considered the Holy Grail of Hemis, the 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible is the rarest of the rare. They command astronomical prices when offered for sale. All eleven ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles have been accounted for including seven domestic, two for Canada and two for Europe. The white with black graphics car shown here was brought back to the states from Europe. It’s thought to be the last Hemi ‘Cuda ever built. That fact only intensifies the car’s rarity and desirability factor. This car truly marks the end of an era.
Compounding the rarity factor is the fact that 1971 was the last year of a limited two year run of second generation ‘Cuda convertibles. Although Barracuda convertibles were produced from 1967 through 1969, the soft tops from that series haven’t generated the intense collector interest of the 1970 and 1971 ‘Cuda convertibles.
The Hemi ‘Cuda convertible featured here had about 12,000 kilometers (approximately 7500 miles) on it when noted Mopar expert, Roger Gibson, performed a ground-up restoration. The car was very solid, but a few European oddities such as fender-mounted mirrors had to be undone. The car came with an export tag that read “Chrysler France.”
As wild and rare as a ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible is in the US it must have been a traffic-stopping sensation in France. Of course, the car still affects the pulses of Mopar enthusiasts wherever it’s shown.