There is little question about the Hemi's legend here in the United States. After all, who else but Chrysler had the stones to put a true race-breed 7.0L engine on the street for six consecutive seasons? As the supercar era progressed, that street legend circulated around the world, and the very word "Hemi" was associated with performance engineering. For Chrysler of Australia, it was a term that would herald a brief, albeit exciting, foray into history.
The American 426-inch version of the motor was sighing its final breath as a production option by the time the '72 Australian Chrysler Charger R/T made its debut late in 1971. The car was actually an offshoot of the A-Body-sized VH Valiant, which was the mainstay of the Chrysler of Australia lineup, but featured a reduced wheelbase and lighter weight. Even with new innovative advances in design and styling, the base Charger was priced below the redesigned Valiant that year. However, for street savvy, one wanted the same packages as offered in the States, the performance R/T and premium "SE"-type 770 models. Sales for 1971 were strong enough for the factory to upgrade the package for the following year. With the debut of the E37 and then the E38 six-cylinders, the hottest version for 1972 would be coded E39, powered by what became known as the Six Pack Hemi.
The engine was a bit different from the 7.0L U.S. version. Engineers took the 265-inch straight-six Highand Park had created as a truck motor in the '60s and developed it into a literal screamer. The new Hemi Six engine featured a brace of three Webers mounted to a short intake that had been scienced out on prototype vehIcles in Italy, where Weber was based. With a static compression ratio of 10.5:1 and a brake horsepower rating of 302, the 14.40 e.t. capability of the E39 four-speed made it the quickest quarter-mile machine ever built by any factory in Australia (ate the V8 GM Holdens and Ford Falcons for lunch), as well as the quickest, normally aspirated production six-cylinder in the entire world, ever. In fact, the pride the Australian engineers took in their 1.13hp-per-cube design probably kept V8 sales in the model to a minimum (the 318 as well as detuned 340/360 mills were available during the Charger's production run, none as quick as the E39). The best-remembered ad in the "Hey, Charger!" campaign featured an E39 engine with headers glowing cherry red after dyno pulls.
The four-speed transmission, the first such unit for performance in Australia, was designed by Borg-Warner and featured a 2.82 First-gear ratio that allowed the car to pull out of the hole like a big-block. The car was built to run at Down Under road courses such as Bathurst and Mount Panorama, but a spate of rules changes coupled with political pressure on the manufacturers regarding performance vehicles in general prematurely ended the Charger's run as a true performance offering midway through the '72 model year. It would die in 1978 much like its American counterpart-overweight, ugly, and underpowered.
The example you see here has a story behind it even greater than this legend. Brian and Kenny Bayer bought a 770 model and had it shipped to the States in 1993, only to have it tied up in customs due to environmental and DOT regulatory changes. After months of frustration and red tape, the Bayer Boys finally worked a deal where the '72-model car would go on display at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum in Talledega, Alabama, for three years until it reached its 25-year age requirement to be kept in private hands. No crash test or documentation is available on the cars, as Mitsubishi Motors destroyed all the old records and parts stocks when they purchased Chrysler of Australia in 1980.
Kenny and Brian were able to get a set of decals and repaint the car as a Charger R/T, and the car is very much like it was when Chargers reigned as street champs Down Under. But most importantly, once they were able to get the car in July 1997, it didn't sit in a garage. In fact, we found it by accident while driving back from a photo shoot at Talledega last fall, sitting in front of their shop near Douglasville, Georgia, and still warm from a trip into town. No, the Boys have no problem driving the Six Pack Hemi like it was intended to be driven, as seen in the pictures. One deviation from stock was the addition of an 8 3/4 axle, which allows things like the picture above.
How rare is the E49 package? No one seems to know what the production figures were any longer, but Brian's sources believe only 165 left the plant before the factory pulled the plug on its performance programs. Regardless, the cars were thrashed hard like most of the performance cars in this country, and attrition was probably quite high. This was the first such example brought to America, and less than a handful are here. The lucky ones that remain in the land of their birth are as treasured as the Hemi cars found here in the States, and with good reason. So, was the Six Pack Hemi Charger R/T the best Australian performance car ever? We would have to say a resounding "yes!"
The Six Pack Hemi may seem like a tame beast to those of us here in the States, weaned on big V8s. That lack of respect quickly changed as we strapped into the lefthand passenger seat for a quick roll down to the "petrol depot" off of I-20 in Douglasville. The lope of the high-compression engine and its hot cam was evident as soon as the engine was started, and the tight gearing in the transmission and rear (a calculated ratio of 6.92) had the engine whining even at 15 mph. A glance out the window to make sure the coast was clear, and the accelerator pedal was against the firewall. The 265 Hemi was breathing freely as it drew air/fuel power through the three Webers until 7,000 rpm, and the rear tires broke loose and the car went sideways for a moment as the next lefthanded gear shift was made. Quickly reeled in, the roaring engine had the car almost immediately near the top of Second, and another power shift was enough to blur the vision out the windows, send the speedo above the legal highway limit, and cause an involuntary grab for anything solid. No question there are a lot of 5.0 posers at stop lights in central Georgia who have learned to quickly respect the car that was driven from the wrong side of the cockpit. Six Pack Hemi indeed.