60 Years of 426 Hemi. Where It All Began?

- in Cars

Today the 426 Hemi is a couple of months more than 60 years old, if you count its birthday as Sunday, February 23, 1964, when Richard Petty, Jimmy Pardue, and Paul Goldsmith swept the Daytona 500 with First, Second, and Third Place finishes using the engine that made its debut at the event.

1964 Daytona race
As legend has it, the Hemi engine blocks were still warm from being cast when they were bolted into the cars. Of course we know that 426 Hemi blocks—based on the wedge big-block engine already in use since 1958—were in development in late 1963, but that Daytona event and the first 426 Hemi-powered 1964-model factory race cars justify 2024 as the 60-year anniversary.

While the Elephant wouldn’t be sold in street-intended cars until 1966, Chrysler’s promotion machine surrounding the engine began before Petty even pulled into the winner circle and continued with stock-body drag-racing victories (though the engine wouldn’t catch on for Top Fuel for several years). By 1965, the most genius dragstrip marketing machine of all time was born under Chrysler’s watch: the Little Red Wagon A100 Dodge pickup powered by a 426 aft of the cab. It became the first wheelstander and is often credited that way, and Bill “Maverick” Golden is known as the long-term driver. But rarely does credit fall on the Hemi’s contribution to the birth of exhibition drag racing.

426 Hemi emblem
” alt=”” width=”740″ height=”470″ />Almost immediately following the Wagon was another wheelstander with a distinct Hemi focus: the Hurst Hemi Under Glass, a concept attributed to HOT ROD’s Ray Brock in association with George Hurst. The car, built at Hurst and driven by Bill Shrewsberry and Bob Riggle, was a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda with Mopar’s monster engine on display under the A-body’s fishbowl rear window. That glass has been removed in this shot, and the seatbelt straps that held it down can be seen on the roof.

This is at the New York Auto Show in April 1965, as shot by Dick Day of Car Craft, which almost concurrently had a cover story on Tony Nancy’s 800hp blown-gas Hemi dragster engine and a feature story on the rear-engine Hemi-Cuda (the first use of that term) driven by Tom McEwen and sponsored by the Southern California Plymouth Dealers. ‘Goose flew that car and wrecked it at Lions; it wasn’t meant to be a wheelstander, but ended up with all four tires off the ground in a bad way.

The Hemi Under Glass had a long career, with Riggle eventually turning the 1965 into a 1966 model, and then a new one was built for 1968 (in the newer body style introduced in 1967). The Hemi Under Glass had a hiatus from the mid 1970s through the early 1990s, when Riggle re-created the car and campaigned it through 2009.

Tom Hoover creator of the 426 HEMI race engine
Tom Hoover, creator of the legendary 426 HEMI race engine, the man credited as the “Father of the 426 Hemi”, who also helped develop the Max Wedge, the 1970 Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda, and the 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express truck, died April 30, 2015 at age 85.

You can hear Tom Hoover’s story in the video below.

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