Chrysler Corporation was considered by many people to be an engineer’s company. That’s a compliment to the technological innovation showcased by Chrysler products. Sometimes this engineering excellence was at the expense of styling, but for engineers, performance always beats appearances.
Some of the late fifties/early sixties Mopars seemed to exist in their own little styling galaxy, but by 1964, a more conservative look had emerged. A far more important 1964 event was the introduction of the new 426 cubic inch Race Hemi. This engineering masterpiece was an engine to be reckoned with.
The motive behind the revised Hemi was winning NASCAR races, which it did from the drop of the green flag. For starters, the 426 Hemi-powered Mopars finished first, second, third, and fourth at the 1964 Daytona 500. Richard Petty won the race in his Petty Blue 1964 Plymouth.
Besides winning on the high-banked ovals of NASCAR, the 1964 Race Hemi was also designed to decimate the competition at sanctioned drag racing venues. The new Hemi succeeded in all forms of racing, both circular and linear.
The instant and almost total domination in NASCAR was too much for competitors and NASCAR rule makers. Chrysler had met the existing rules when it introduced the Race Hemi, but NASCAR changed the rules and substantially upped the production car requirements. Chrysler sat out the 1965 NASCAR races, but came back strong in 1966 with the Street Hemi.
The Race Hemi continued its winning ways in 1964 and 1965 Mopars like the blue 1964 Plymouth Belvedere hardtop feature car owned by Rico Petrini. A pair of sideways-mounted Carter four-barrel carburetors tops the massive 426-cubic inch Hemi. The front two barrels of each carburetor face the fenders. The carbs are slightly offset from each other with the unique throttle linkage mounted between them. The large, flat-topped intake manifold is an aluminum plenum-ram manifold. In 1965, the manifold was magnesium and the cylinder heads were aluminum for weight savings. Barely visible under the big Hemi cylinder heads are the racing style exhaust headers with 2 ¼-inch primary tubes.
Internally, the new Hemi was designed for racing. The cast iron block was stress-relieved; the forged crankshaft was shot-peened, Nitride-hardened, and secured with cross bolt main bearing caps; the connecting rods were forged; and the pistons were impact extruded with a 12.5:1 compression ratio. The lifters were mechanical. Horsepower was conservatively rated at 425.
The 1964 Hemi could be had with either a 4-speed manual transmission or Chrysler’s tough TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission. Rico’s Hemi Belvedere has a TorqueFlite and its unique push button dashboard shifting system. The Mopar TorqueFlite was the transmission that made automatics acceptable for drag racing.
Except for the massive hood scoop and cheater slicks, there isn’t much to suggest the surprising performance capabilities of Rico’s Belvedere. The no frills interior doesn’t even have a radio, just a radio block off plate. A hidden traction aid is the oversized trunk-mounted battery with its special vented caps. The 1964 Race Hemi Belvedere is Clark Kent on the outside and Superman under the hood.
1964 Plymouth Race Hemi
Owner: Rico Petrini
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