What Makes the 426 Hemi So Special

The 426 Hemi is probably the most known engine throughout the muscle car world. The accomplishments of the engine and how it has affected the racing world qualify it as legendary. What makes the 426 Hemi so special?

The 426 Hemi is special because it was the first Nascar engine to go 200 mph. The 426 Hemi dominated Nascar and the NHRA making them change their rules to even the competition. The Hemi set land speed records in the 1960s and 70s. Cars with the original 426 Hemi engines have sold for millions of dollars.

This article will take a closer look at the engine’s influence in Nascar and drag racing. In addition we’ll examine its legendary status on the street, salt flats and marine use.

The following Hemi specifications and facts were learned from my personal experience and research, Mopar brochures and engine manuals, videos, webinars, books and articles.

426 Hemi and Nascar

How the 426 Hemi was Born

When discussing the Hemi, there is no better place to start than Nascar. Nascar is where it became special. It’s because of Nascar why we later had the street version placed in Cudas, Challengers, Roadrunners, GTXs and more.

In 1963 the President of Chrysler, Lynn Townsend, wanted to know what it would take to win the 1964 Daytona 500. His question during a meeting with engineers resulted in the production of the greatest American based racing engine.

When Townsend took over Chrysler in 1961 sales were down and profits were poor. In 1962 and 1963 the 413 and 426 Max Wedge engines were seeing success on the drag strips but not so well at Nascar.

426 max wedge engine
426 Max Wedge Engine

With things improving at Chrysler the past two years Townsend wanted to see more improvement at the oval track. So the answer he was given about winning Daytona was to use the Hemi head design used in their 1950 cars on the 426 Max Wedge block.

Given the green light to move forward the engineers had to figure out a way to fit a Hemi head on the 426 engines.

Adjustments were made to the wedge block, valve train, ports and oiling. The width of the heads was a concern because the body of the car had to be lowered over the engine during future production.

In about 10 months time the 426 Hemi was born. The first race versions had the cross ram intake with dual four barrel carbs.

The first engines were assembled at the Chrysler Engineering Center in Highland Park, Michigan, and trucked to Florida just in time for the 1964 Daytona 500.

426 race hemi
426 Race Hemi

Dominates Nascar

Prior to the race Ford was dominating the ovals and had a 10 race unbeaten streak in races of 500 or more miles. On the other hand, a Plymouth car hadn’t seen victory lane for 14 years.

This was about to change as fast as the Hemi’s were. For the up coming Daytona race, Plymouth or Dodge had the pole position and all the poles to number seven.

Richard Petty running a 426 Hemi in his Plymouth dominated the race. He led for 183 of the 200 laps and won the race.

The engine also won 2nd, 3rd and 5th place. The mighty powerplant took four of the top 5 and five of the top 10 places. The following table shows the top 10 finishes:

PositionStart#DriverCar
1243Richard PettyPlymouth
2654Jimmy ParduePlymouth
3125Paul GoldsmithPlymouth
4921Marvin PanchFord
5105Jim PaschalDodge
6211Billy WadeMercury
71116Darel DieringerMercury
81429Larry FrankFord
933Junior JohnsonDodge
101917Dave MacDonaldMercury
1964 Daytona 500 Results

The Hemi not only dominated the race but the whole season. Richard Petty won the Championship in 1964.

A Plymouth or Dodge won the season championship for 7 out of 12 years between 1964 and 1975. For one of those years they didn’t compete for the whole season.

The engine broke track speed records never seen before. The 1964 season was the beginning of something special.

After the strong 1964 season and because of the 426 Hemi being so dominate, Nascar imposed rules. They mandated all engines competing in the series must be in a production vehicle available to the public. For this reason Dodge and Plymouth didn’t race for most of 1965.

This didn’t mean the elephant was going to be a sleeping giant. Many Nascar teams moved their operations to the drag strip. This brings us to the next reason a 426 Hemi is so special.

Find out the all differences between a Race and Street Hemi in my article, The Difference Between a 426 Street Hemi and a 426 Race Hemi.

Richard petty's nascar plymouth with a 426 hemi
Richard Petty in his Plymouth with a 426 Hemi

The Winged Cars

On March 24, 1970, at Talladega, Buddy Baker drove a 1969 Dodge Hemi Daytona and was the first to set an official lap speed of 200.447 mph. The first one to make it over 200 mph alone makes the 426 Hemi special.

Of course it was helped with the aerodynamics of the newly designed Dodge Daytona. Although it probably wouldn’t have been achieved without the mighty Hemi sitting under the hood.

On November 24, 1970, Bobby Issac set a new record of 201.104 mph at Talladega with a winged car. That record stood tall all the way until 1983.

Bobby Isaac won the pole position 20 times with a Hemi in 1969 which is still a record today. Check out Isaac’s land speed records with the Hemi down further in the article.

In 1971, the winged car with a Hemi came to an end in Nascar. They added a rule change limiting a winged car to just 305 cubic inches.

The engine itself is worth a good deal of money without the car. Find out how much they are worth in my article, The Worth of a 426 Hemi Engine.

The NHRA

Big name drivers like Richard Petty and David Pearson kept their steering wheels straight and moved over to drag racing in 1965.

Don Garlits (“Big Daddy”) was already drag racing with the earlier, first generation Hemi. He received one of the first shipments of the new 426 race Hemis in early 1964.

Garlit’s first 426 Hemi was raced in his Swamp Rat 8. It was Garlit’s opinion the new engine was the best production engine ever manufactured by the automotive industry.

After a successful 1967 season Chrysler released two ultimate factory drag cars, the Super Stock Barracuda and Dodge Darts equipped with 426 Hemi engines. Sox & Martin raced the Hemi Barracudas in 1968.

They won six of 11 major events and were undefeated in 30 match races. They totally dominated the drag strip.

In 1969, Sox & Martin won Top Stock and the U.S. Open. In addition they won the NHRA Super Stock titles at the Springnationals and World Finals.

In 1970, Sox & Martin, Dick Landy and the Motown Missle dominated the Pro Stock class with their Hemi powered cars.

Since the engine is so special, it must be worth a bunch. Find out the latest Hemi car prices in my article, How Much An Original 426 Hemi Car is Worth: Recent Prices.

Because Hemi powered cars were putting Boss Mustangs, Comets and big block Chevy Camaros on the trailer, the NHRA made it harder for the Mopar to win.

In 1972 they made the Mopar Pro Stockers run 100 pounds heavier to try and even out the playing field.

Fast forward to 2018 and it’s happened again. The domination of the 3rd generation Hemis spurred the NHRA to make things tougher on Mopar again. They added rules to add 25 lbs. to the Dodge Challenger Drag Paks while removing 25 lbs. from the COPO Camaro and Cobra Jet Mustangs.

Today Nitro burning Top Fuel dragsters have 11,000 horsepower and run 3.7 seconds at more than 330 mph. Guess what they are powered with. A supercharged and fuel injected engine adaptation of the original Hemi engine.

Funny cars which run slightly slower, 3.8 seconds, than Top Fuel run the same Hemi inspired engine.

Since 1964, the Hemi or an engine based on its design has continued dominating the drag strips. This makes it more legendary and special than any other street engine manufactured.

Find out what cars had the Hemi in its first year by checking out my article, The First Year of the 426 Hemi.

sox and Martin Hemi Cuda
Sox Martin 1970 Hemi Cuda

The 426 Street Hemi

Nascar outlawed the 426 Hemi in 1965 by changing the rules. Moving forward the engines used by racing teams had to be available in production vehicles.

For this reason and their complete domination, Chrysler sat out most of the 1965 season and started to develop a Hemi for the streets. The first year of the Street Hemi was in 1966 and Plymouth and Dodge were back at the ovals.

Chrysler put in a milder cam, reduced compression, changed the intake, carburetors and the headers to exhaust manifolds. This made the powerful engine suitable for the streets.

The first time I heard a street Hemi I was in awe. It was in a ’67 GTX next to us at a stoplight. Hearing it at idle and revving up through the gears was a special sound. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Even in detuned form the engine was proven to catapult cars into the 13 second 1/4 mile range. Very few other muscle cars can claim 1/4 mile times equal to the elephant motor.

Due to the extra price tag and insurance premiums, not many of the street Hemis were sold. As time has passed, an original numbers matching car may bring in millions at auction.

Learn more about the carburetors in my article, The Carburetors on a 426 Hemi.

1966 426 Hemi Belvedere
1966 426 Hemi Belvedere

The horsepower and torque of the engine sure makes it special. Find out the complete details of its power numbers in my article, 426 Hemi Horsepower and Torque – Rated and Real HP.

Land Speed Records

I already mentioned the 426 Hemi was the first engine to break the 200-mph mark in Nascar. Many people aren’t aware of the land speed records it was able to record.

In 1965, the Summers Brothers Goldenrod streamliner set the world land speed record for wheel-driven vehicles at 409.277 mph. This land speed record remained for over 25 years, from 1961 to 1991 when it was unofficially broken.

If your guessing the Goldenrod had a 426 Hemi, you’d be wrong! It actually had four of them. They were mounted inline and produced a total of 2,400 HP.

goldenrod with 426 hemi engines
Goldenrod with 426 Hemi Engines

The Goldenrod is on display at the Henry Ford Museum.

In 1991 the Spirit of ’76, powered by one supercharged Hemi went 409.986 mph, an unofficial record.

It took 45 years for the Goldenrod record to be officially broken. The Spirit of Rett set the new world record at 414.316 mph.

Bobby Isaac, who broke the lap speed record at Talladega took his winged Hemi to Bonneville Salt Flats in 1971. He set over 28 land speed records including a flying mile at 216.946 mph and 217.368 mph for the flying kilometer.

Bobby Isaac and his 426 hemi dodge Daytona
Bobby Isaac and his 426 Hemi Dodge Daytona

Find out why the Hemi was banned twice in my article, Why the 426 Hemi was Banned From Nascar.

Marine Racing

In 1966 and 1967, the Miss Chrysler Crew hydroplane was powered by two 426 Hemi engines.

They had a total of six of the engines, two in the car, two in the trailer and two back at Chrysler for maintenance. After each race the engines would get rotated around.

Miss Chrysler Crew was a bold attempt to introduce an automotive engine into a marine racing category dominated at the time by fighter plane engines.

The Miss Chrysler Crew, with the supercharged engines, was mostly remembered as the boat powered by car engines to win a race in the APBA Unlimited Class.

In 1966, they finished second in points for the series.

426 Hemi Engine with oval air cleaner
426 Hemi

Wrapping Up

The unlimited potential of the 426 Hemi was recognized in all of the motorsports. For this reason, it thrived and was used in all types of racing.

It’s a rare occurrence an engine with limited production can have a huge influence on all car enthusiast markets so many years later.

From 1964 to 1971 cars equipped with it sold for $3,000 to $4,000. Today, many of these cars top the lists of the most expensive cars sold at auctions.

From Nascar to the drag strip, the street, salt flats and water, the 426 Hemi is legendary. It has an overall record setting history unmatched by any other mass produced engine.

This makes it truly special.

Read More 426 Hemi Articles!

Transmissions a 426 Hemi Used

The Last Year of the 426 Hemi

How Fast is a 426 Hemi? 1/4 Mile & 0-60 Results

426 Hemi Specifications – Complete Engine Specs

What cars Had the 426 Hemi: Street and Race Hemis

What Hemi Means in an Engine: Generation 1, 2 and 3 Hemis

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