Since the original production tooling had long ago been scrapped, it looked like the famed Hemi was doomed to die a slow and painful death. It seemed inconceivable that Chrysler would step up to the plate and do anything about the situation. Reviving the Hemi block would require investment in all-new tooling, and that kind of tooling doesn't come cheap. At the time, it was pretty hard to justify making such an investment just to provide small production runs to meet the needs of a handful of drag racers and musclecar fanatics. Chrysler had seemingly abandoned that crowd in favor of front-wheel drive and turbo four-cylinders, at least in terms of a product line. For a company constricting production engine offerings in favor of commonality of components and large-scale production runs, the notion of selling the brass on gearing up for production of a few Hemi blocks seemed ludicrous.
The rebirth of the 426-based Hemi really came about in the early '90s. The idea of re-introducing an engine that had been obsolete in the corporation's eyes for nearly thirty years took the dedication of key individuals at Chrysler's Mopar Performance division.
As Mopar Performance's David Hakim relates, "We knew it [the Hemi] was part of our heritage; it's a part of our DNA. There was a demand for it, not only for the restoration market, but also for the NHRA Stock and Super Stock racers. You couldn't find good used Hemi blocks anymore, they were beat to death, cracked, over-bored to the point where they were just no good. At Mopar, Joe Hilger had the foresight to approve the funds to do it. Joe even went as far as to get the Hemi name copyrighted by the corporation, because at that time the name was not copyrighted."
An investment of over a half-million dollars was required to create the required tooling, but that same tooling formed the basis for the re-introduction of the Chrysler wedge engine; produced on variations of the same tooling helped to spread the costs.
Hakim continued, "The Hemi would have been dead, it would have been something like a great dinosaur, something like you'd see in the Smithsonian. like look, behold the once great Hemi, and now they're extinct. It didn't turn out that way because of guys like Joe Hilger; they had the foresight to say we're going to do this, we're going to spend the money and make a commitment. in the early '90s, that showed a lot about the dedication to keeping this engine alive. You have to remember that Chevy (GMPP) has always offered a big-block, but they've always had big-blocks in their trucks, and because of that they can share tooling or commonize tooling to bring out 502s and things like that. Chrysler stopped making the B/RB in 1978.
"It wasn't like we were going to make this Hemi block, and, oh by the way, it's going to be a production piece in this vehicle or that truck. It was strictly an over-the-counter block, which eventually would lead to a crate engine. The strength and brand equity of the Mopar name helped to justify the decision even more. Mopar Performance fostered a tooling budget and gave dedicated engineering resources. We took feedback from guys like Tom Hoover and Ray Barton, looking for subtle changes to make it better, because the horsepower levels, normally aspirated, were increasing. The stronger block allows engine builders to put more power to engine without compromising the main saddle area. They can machine the deck surface without any issues to sealing. With the thicker lifter bores, they can bush the lifter bores for a specific application without worrying about it getting too thin in critical areas."
The dedicated Chrysler personnel responsible for getting the project off the ground and turning it into a reality undeniably stuck their necks out in order to make the Hemi blocks a reality. At the time, it was difficult to gauge the acceptance of the new block, much less anticipate volume or demand. Was it a success?