Q: Greg, I'm enjoying your recent articles on the Hemi, car models and the Dick Harrell 427 Nickey, Gibb and Yenko Camaros. However, I'd like to let everyone know that those famous 426 Hemi engines came out way before 1965, but in smaller dimensions. My dad had a 1953 Dodge with a Hemi in it. Do you remember those? Jim L., email from Illinois.
A: Jim, I sure do. Matter of fact, my brother and I bought a '53 Dodge Hemi for $25 in 1966, but never did anything with it and sold it back to the same guy for $20. (Yep – depreciation.)
The 1953 Dodge was available with a scaled-down version of the already introduced Chrysler 331 Hemi V-8. It measured 241 cubic inches and produced 140-horsepower. The Dodge line called this engine the "Red Ram" Hemi, and it was equipped with red valve covers that had the same script.
In 1953, Dodge dropped its Wayfarer model and relied on Meadowbrook and Coronet lines for the dealers. The car was restyled from the boxier 1952 Dodge, which debuted as the first post war Dodge in 1949. If you wanted a Hemi, you had to start with the Coronet Club Coupe, which listed at just under $2,200. Of note is no fully automatic transmission was available in 1953 as Dodge introduced its first one, called the "Powerflite," in 1954.
As for the first Hemi, it was introduced in the Chrysler line in 1951 and developed 180 horses from its 331 inch size. The Hemi replaced the Inline-8, which developed 135 horses in the Chrysler line. The Hemis were great motors, and were also used by Chrysler in many military applications and also in air raid sirens that were popular in U.S. cities in the 1950s. (YouTube is loaded with examples of the Hemi 331 Air Raid Siren in action.)
Of course, I remember the air raid drills at my grade school in Ranshaw, Pa., and later Vineland, N.J. When the air raid sounded, we had to get under our desk even if we were having our morning milk (delivered by the milk company).
As for the 1953 Dodge, it did not set any sales records. As a matter of fact, the redesigned car did poor as the other manufacturers were building bigger cars and the '53 Dodge was a bit smaller than the '52. Dodge stayed with the design in 1954, and sales were even worse. However, with the introduction of the all-new 1955 Dodges, things started to turn around for the better.
Thanks for your letter.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader input or questions at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.