Introduced as a race-only motor in 1964, the 426 HEMI engine powered Richard Petty to an upset NASCAR win at the 1964 Daytona 500, and 426-powered cars finished 1-2-3 at the event. Nicknamed the “Elephant” because of its size, the 426 HEMI was so dominant in its debut, NASCAR changed its rules for engines and began requiring all engines to be available in production vehicles.
The new NASCAR rules led Chrysler to sit out the 1965 season, but the company ultimately used this time to develop a street version of the HEMI. The street HEMI featured a lower compression ratio (10.25:1) than the race version and had milder timing and different intake and exhaust manifolds.
Chrysler returned to NASCAR in 1966 and soon 426 HEMIs were terrorizing both the street and the track. From 1966-71, the 426 HEMI appeared in a wide array of classic Mopar vehicles. To honor the Elephant’s 50th anniversary, we ranked our Top 8 (Gen II) 426 HEMI-powered production vehicles. Tell us if you agree or disagree in the comments section below.
#8: 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner
To many, the Plymouth Roadrunner helped save the muscle car era by making performance affordable again.
The Roadrunner offered light weight, fast speeds and an affordable price (most sold for under $3,000).
But if you wanted a little more Meep-Meep from your Roadrunner, you could opt for a 426 HEMI engine for an extra 800 bucks. Although the 1968 model is the original Roadrunner, we like the 1969 HEMI-powered Roadrunner because it came in a convertible version (granted, just 10 HEMI-powered Roadrunner convertibles were produced) and offered the famous Air Grabber scoop option.
#7: 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T
1971 was the swan song for the Elephant.
We picked the Dodge Challenger because—well, we’ve always loved the old-generation Challengers. And because history shows it was one of the last HEMI hold-outs before the engine (and the entire muscle car era) went out with a whimper.
#6: 1970 Plymouth Superbird
Say what you want about the Superbird, but it’s definitely one of the more memorable designs to hit the street.
Designed for NASCAR competition, the Superbird was designed with aerodynamics in mind, but the standard Roadrunner was actually quicker on the quarter-mile because of the bird’s added nose cone and wing weight.
Power was never the issue the Superbird—not with the 426 versions anyway.
#5: 1968 Plymouth Barracuda (Super Stock)
A sticker under the hood said the 1968 Barracuda with HEMI option was not for use on the street. But we know better.
Plymouth did two short production runs and offered only around 70 of these fastback models
And they were fast—as in mid-10s fast. Designed specifically for Super Stock competition, the ’68 Barracuda HEMI model was assembled by Hurst and featured fiberglass body parts. Many interior components were deleted altogether to reduce weight.
#4: 1966 Plymouth Belvedere
This, along with the Coronet, is the vehicle that introduced the 426 HEMI to the street.
Two years after Petty took NASCAR by storm with his HEMI-powered Belvedere, the street HEMI made its debut in 1966. Often overlooked in favor of some of Mopar’s later muscle cars, the Plymouth Belvedere gets the nod at #4 for historical significance.
#3: 1971 Plymouth HEMI ‘Cuda
The HEMI ‘Cuda has reached “icon” status among muscle car enthusiasts.
The distinctive car was even featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorated top American muscle machines. Once again, we pay homage to the 426 HEMI last year by including the 1971 HEMI ‘Cuda high on our list.
#2: 1968 Dodge HEMI Dart
The HEMI Dart was as bare bones as it gets.
It was shipped from the factory with no rear seats, radio, or unnecessary luxuries. And no paint either. It was delivered in primer with only a gel coat on the fiberglass pieces. It was built for speed—and lots of it. With minimal modifications, the HEMI Dart hit 10s in the quarter-mile.
Too bad only around 80 were made.
#1: 1969 Dodge Charger R/T
The 1969 Dodge Charger was voted as the #1 Mopar muscle car of all time by Mopar Muscle magazine.
Hot Rod magazine once called the General Lee, the 1969 Charger made famous by TV’s Dukes of Hazzard, the most influential hot rod of all time. And it didn’t even have a HEMI in it.
Dodge took the awesome up a whole ‘nother level by offering one of America’s most recognizable muscle cars with the venerable HEMI.
The 1969 Dodge Charger R/T is #1 on our list.