Geoff Stunkard provides an insight into his decades of experience as a photographer, writer and editor. If you have ever lifted a copy of Mopar Muscle magazine, you know who he is. Currently he is the owner of Quarter Milestones Publishing based in Johnson County, Tennessee. Geoff Stunkard has delivered what is perhaps the definitive history of the development and racing of the Chrysler 426 Hemi engine.
Geoff Stunkard traces the history of the Hemi engine’s development at Chrysler, from the first Hemi installed in the Republic XP-47H in 1945 to the last in 1969, the A279 project. Of course, Chrysler’s merger with Germany’s Daimler-Benz AG in 1998 has since resurrected the Hemi for street and competition, but Geoff Stunkard focus for this book is the first and second generation Hemi engines.
This history is profusely illustrated with 425 color and black & white photos, many that have never been published before. As World War II came to a conclusion, hemispherical combustion chambers became the foundation for the transition from Chrysler’s straight six engines to the 90-degree V-8 engine that was initially called A182, but later as refined into the A239. The A239 as a 331 ci Hemi was introduced to the American public as part of the 1951 Chryslers as “the great, new Chrysler FirePower Engine, the sensation of the century!”
Despite Chrysler’s emphasis on fuel efficiency, it soon became clear that the 331 was easily capable of 353 hp, leading into the A311 program as a possibility for the 1953 Indianapolis 500 race. Despite being championed by Rodger Ward and Joe James, the Offenhauser faction made sure that Chrysler would have no play at the Brickyard. Despite the political situation in automotive racing, the A311 engine beating three Indianapolis 400 bred Offenhausers open the gates in the summer of 1954.
Geoff Stunkard weaves in the development of the Hemi from that point with interviews and a background of the politics of racing. The photos show not only the drivers and cars, but of the engines and their components that made them special. What is truly fascinating is the mammoth effort that was put into the development of the 426 Hemi, and Geoff Stunkard dives in with all the behind-the-scenes details that had faded into history. Of course the stars like Richard Petty, Bobby Isaac and Buddy Baker are covered, along with Don Garlitis, Don Prudhomme, Sox and Martin and Dick Landry. You’ll also find stories on Joe Jacona, Jere Stahl, Paul Goldsmith, and Al Eckstand…and many more.
Interspersed among the chapters are many ‘mini-chapters’ that highlight off-shoots to the main body of racing. The first one, “Big Daddy’s First 426 Hemi Efforts in Top Fuel” describes Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat VIII. You will also find more, with “The Ramchargers Rail”, and “Flying Miles: A look at Land-Speed Racing” equally scrumptious. I especially appreciated the one on “Rooster Tales: Drag Boat Prowess” that describes Bill Sterett’s “Miss Chrysler” in the only time an automotive powered boat won an Unlimited Hydro event.
The 12 Chapters include:
- Foreword (Herb “Mr. 4-Speed” McCandless)
- 1953-1962: A Revolution Begins
- January 1963-February 1964: The Dawn of a Legend, the 426 Elephant Engine
- 1964: Seven Liters of Elephant, NHRA and NASCAR Domination
- 1965: Fuel, Freaks and the Factory, The Hemi Rules the Quarter-Mile
- 1965: Circle Tracks and Politics of Racing, NASCAR Bans and Then Reinstates the Hemi
- 1966: Road and Track, The Hemi Dominates Racing and Comes to the Street
- 1967: Conquering the Competition, Hemi Drivers Rack Up Wins and Championships
- 1968: Hemi Proliferation, Chargers, Road Runners, Super Bees, and A-Bombs
- 1969: Winged Wonders and Players, Arrival of the Dodge Charge Daytona
- 1970: The Super Season and Superbirds, Hemis Make History in Clashes Everywhere
- 1971: Winds of Change, The Factory Finale for the Street and a Racing Requiem
- 1972-1979: Upheaval, Hemi Racing in the 1970s
- Epilogue Hemi: Everything Changed but the Legend
- Reference Sources
I was extremely impressed with the coverage and quality of this tome. If you are a Mopar nut or a fan of racing during the reign of the muscle cars, this book is for you. You can order this book by calling CarTech at 1-800-551-4754 or by visiting www.cartechbooks.com.
My thanks to Specialty Press and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.