Is this the earliest 426 Hemi block in existence? We haven’t seen any older ones.
Sometimes, history is created in the words and pictures of those who were there then. And, sometimes, it falls out a back door that was open then. So it is with what may be the earliest known 426 Hemi cylinder block, which is in the collection of Mopar enthusiast Jim Ludera.
Before we get in to how Jim found it, a little history behind this block and the 426 Hemi development program is in order.
In December of 1962, Chrysler boss Lynn Townsend approved the 426 Hemi engine program, with the goal of having a race-ready engine in time for the 1964 Daytona 500.
That didn’t leave much time for Willem Weertman, then Chrysler’s assistant chief engineer, and his crew in the labs at Highland Park. They proposed a hemispherical head for the RB block, and the new head was designed in March of 1963, with more new parts coming off the drafting boards that spring and summer.
Promo picture from Chrysler in the spring of 1964 showed off their then-new 426 Hemi, fres
The first complete 426 Hemi engines went on the test stands in Highland Park’s Building 135 late that fall. With the exhausts routed through pipes that led to outlets on the lab’s roof, the sound of Hemis at full song could be heard all over the city of Highland Park and nearby Detroit neighborhood--sand likely spooked some critters at the Detroit Zoo about five miles away.
On January 28, 1964, when that testing was simulating 500 miles of race conditions at Daytona, big problems appeared. Blocks cracked in the right-side cylinder bore walls and opposite the piston pin piers. As it was now about one week before the factory Dodge and Plymouth teams would roll into Daytona, something had to be done to stop the blocks from cracking--and fast!
Weertman and Larry Adams, who was in charge of race engine development, came up with a fix: Make the cylinder bores thicker. In turn, that meant the sand cores used at the foundry had to be filed down by hand to permit more iron to flow in to create the thicker bores. Weertman flew to Indy to work with Chrysler’s American Foundry Division in Indianapolis to put the fix into the next batch of blocks to be cast.
When Jim Ludera found this rusty chunk of cast iron at a swap meet in Melbourne, Florida,
Once that next batch was cast, came another disaster. These had huge voids in them, which led to round-the-clock thrashes there and back in Highland Park. The cause was identified as too much residual moisture in the sand cores, solved by more thoroughly baking the cores before they were put in the core boxes to make the molds used to make the Hemi blocks.
24-hour work at Highland Park also identified another problem area: residual stress in the blocks, caused by the casting process. The metallurgists in the stress lab came up with a plan to relieve it by annealing the blocks once they’d cooled. They’d go into a furnace, heated to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and then slowly cooled down to "bake out" the stresses in the block.
Those fixes came none too soonthe teams (including two-car teams from Petty, Ray Nichels, and Cotton Owens) were already at the "Big D," and they’d agreed among themselves not to run the Hemis they had flat out during early practices; that way they were not tipping their hands to the Blue Oval teams, who’d complained long and loud to NASCAR the year before when a Ray Fox-prepared Bow Tie 427-inch Mystery V-8 blew them away in practice, time trials, and one of the 100-mile qualifying races.
The first batch of good Hemi block castings was poured at American Foundry on February 3, 1964--the day before tech inspection at Daytona. From the foundry in Indy, they were trucked to the Trenton, Michigan, Engine Plant for machining, then to the engine lab at Highland Park for final assembly.
If you can read upside down, you might find an interesting set of numbers on the side of t
De-rusting the block revealed plenty of its secrets, including the stampings on the pad at
After Jim Ludera got this block, he had it Redi-Stripped to remove years of corrosion, the
A closer look at the stampings on the block show it’s an A864 (NASCAR) EX (Experimental) i
While that was going on, the factory Mopar teams--including Richard Petty and Buck Baker in the Petty Plymouths, David Pearson and Jim Paschal in Cotton Owens’ Dodges, Paul Goldsmith and Bobby Isaac in two Ray Nichels-built B-Bodies (Plymouth and Dodge, respectively) and one-car entries by Ray Fox (Junior Johnson) and Burton-Robinson (Jimmy Pardue)--"stroked" their early-version Hemis. On February 7, Goldsmith made a two-lap run to claim the pole at an average speed of 174.418 mph, with Petty not far behind at 171.99 mph.
In Highland Park, as the Hemis were completed, they were hot-tested--spooking the zoo critters even more--then bolted to shipping skids and loaded onto trucks to take them to Daytona via the overland route. Top brass at Chrysler thought shipping them by air was too risky, in case of a cargo plane crashing with all the good engines aboard it.
As those trucks worked their way south, the two 100-mile qualifiers for the 500 were held, and the drivers let their Hemis rip. Junior Johnson won the first one, setting a race record of 170.77 mph and edging Buck Baker for the win, while David Pearson finished third. In the second race, Bobby Isaac took the checkers ahead of Jimmy Pardue and Richard Petty, while Jim Paschal came home fifth.
An early 426 Race Hemi with its left head off. Cracking problems were found in the oil lin
The trucks arrived at Daytona none too soon. Goldsmith’s engine had blown 25 laps into the first 40-lap qualifier, and Johnson had only 20 pounds of oil pressure when his No. 3 Dodge won that 100-miler. Post-race teardowns showed bigger problems: cracking down the oil lines between the camshaft and main-bearing bulkhead. Out went the early-build engines (or, what was left of them), and in went the fresh ones with their stress-relieved, thicker-walled blocks.
On the following Sunday, February 23, 1964, in the sixth Daytona 500, the 426 Hemi revealed itself to the world. Petty won the race, with Pardue and Goldsmith taking second and third, the first-ever 1-2-3 sweep by Plymouth in any NASCAR race. Add in two more Mopars in the top 10 (Paschal in 5th, Johnson in 9th), plus Buck Baker in 12th and Bobby Isaac in 15th (after he ran out of fuel), and the Blue Oval boys had been hit with a Hemified spanking.
After the race, Mopar PR folks handed out stickers that said "Total what?"--a dig at the Blue Oval’s company-wide Total Performance slogan. Richard Petty won his first of seven NASCAR Championships that year (with six more Hemi-powered wins), while other 426 Hemi-powered Mopars won 12 races on the ’64 GN schedule including the World 600 at Charlotte (Paschal), Daytona’s Firecracker 400 in July (A.J. Foyt), and the Southern 500 at Darlington (Baker).
It’s possible that the block that Jim Ludera now has was used as a test fixture, looking s
So how does all this lead us to the 426 Hemi block we see here?
As far as anyone can tell, it may have been shipped to Daytona for the ’64 500 either as a spare block, or it may have been built into a short-block or complete engine, then stripped of all the "good" parts and discarded before the factory Dodge and Plymouth teams loaded up and headed home from Daytona.
Some years later, Mopar collector and historian Jim Ludera enters the story. "I was meeting up with a buddy, Rusty Gillis, who raced Super Stocks back in the ’60s and ’70s, and he was going to a local show and he talked me into taking my ’70 Hemi ’Cuda (featured in Mopar Muscle’s June 1998 issue --Ed.) there."
That led to meeting up with Stewart Pomeroy, a racer who’d worked for Chrysler. He was friends with the original Ramchargers, who had owned a couple of ex-Ronnie Sox/Sox & Martin cars. Jim and Stewart became friends, and before long, Stewart told Jim that he was headed to a swap meet in Melbourne, Florida, and asked if Jim would like to go along.
Some of the thrash needed to make the 426 Hemi a reliable race engine included one being h
On the skid and ready to go in. From the looks of this historic photo from Jim Ludera’s co
Fresh Hemis being unloaded at Daytona in February 1964.
Ready-to-run 426 Race Hemi, under its air cleaner, which used the heater/defroster inlet u
At that swap, Jim saw a big, rusty chunk of cast iron that looked like some kind of big Mopar engine block. Cast into one side of it was "10-17-63," and stamped on a pad at its front was "A864 EX0 1356." Jim recalls, "Joe Pappas and a couple of the Ramchargers were with us, and they took some pictures of it, because it was kind of strange."
Strange in that it looked like something out of the past. Jim continues, "They got with some of their buddies in Detroit, and they got back in touch with me and said that if we could locate the block, we needed to because it was kind of special."
As luck would have it, that ferritic find hadn’t sold at the Melbourne swap, but one of Jim’s friends knew who had it. We got back in touch with him, got hold of the block, and through the research we found out that it actually was pretty special!
Here’s one of the two Petty cars getting a trackside engine transplant.
That research--including queries to Chrysler engineers back then--pedigreed it as one of the early 426 Hemi blocks. Cracking near one of its head-bolt bosses in the valley at the top of the block identified it as one that wasn’t built into a complete engine--or it may have been, but the cracking developed and it was used for another purpose. Per Willem Weertman (in a message to fellow Chrysler Engineering retiree Pete Gladysz, that Jim obtained), that crack may have happened during initial tightening of the bolt, making the block useless for a test engine--but still valuable as a test fixture that prototype heads would be attached to. With the valve gear activated from outside the engine, engineers would see how well the new Hemi’s valvetrain would function when bolted onto an engine block.
Paul Goldsmith’s Nichels-built ’64 Plymouth after its scary high-speed flip-over crash in
But Jim also has some ideas on how this block was used. "Because it has thermocoupler plugs and some oil-pressure plugs inside, it was probably built into a running engine later, because they really had a hard time coming up with blocks that would stand up when they were built into engines," he says.
Retired Chrysler engineer Pete Gladysz also had an idea of what happened next to this block. In a response to one of Jim’s emails, he said, "That block fell out the back door at some time."
Ordinarily, once development work was done, any surviving engines or parts were scrapped. But this block’s appearance at that Melbourne swap meet leads one to believe that it may have been shipped to Florida in 1964. Possibly as a spare, or possibly in an engine provided by Chrysler to NASCAR--and in turn to the Blue Oval guys--to silence their complaints that this was not a production engine. The Bow Tie guys had reportedly done this the year before--supplying their Blue Oval competitors who wanted one of the new "Mystery V-8s" with a worn-out test engine that wouldn’t have survived a lap at Daytona speeds.
A fresh, ready-to-install 426 Race Hemi.
This block was made ready to speed through time. Explains Jim, "We took it to Redi-Strip, and when they gave it back (after their alkaline immersion de-rusting process), it was in really beautiful shape. Then, we had a local painter clear it, to try and preserve it, because we didn’t want it to keep degrading in the shape that it was."
Jim takes it around to Mopar shows, and he says people enjoy seeing it. Some of them, he says, think it’s a new piece. "We have to point it out to them that it’s very special, because they confuse it with the new Hemi engine blocks. It looks like one of the factory’s new ones."
It’s amazing that an artifact like this has survived this long, despite its intended use as a test piece, to be scrapped after Ma Mopar’s engineers were done with it.
Take a good look at it...it’s an undeniable piece of Hemi history!
Maurice Petty with one of the ready-to-install 426 Race Hemis.
A 426 Race Hemi minus its carbs—and race car.
When Jim Ludera takes this earliest-known 426 Hemi block to a Mopar show, it never fails t