Back in the mid sixties the muscle car era was just getting started, and the leader of this revolution was arguably Chrysler, along with its Dodge and Plymouth lines helping to round out their product offerings. Chrysler offered many high horsepower options that were based on their “HEMI” and Wedge engine designs. The “HEMI” engines have become famous for their cubic inch to horsepower ratings, and these power plants dominated racing for many years.
The word “HEMI” represents the word “hemispherical” which is the special domed combustion chamber design in the heads of these engines. The opening in the head is actually domed instead of angled or flat, which allows the intake and exhaust valves to be a bit larger, and also lets the in and out air passages be in more of a straight line in and out of the engine. This one mechanical attribute helps the engine to aspirate much more rapidly with less restriction on these flows. This helps to generate much more horsepower from the engine.
There were a handful of car designs at Chrysler which were instrumental in ushering the muscle car era in. One of the first radical designs to come from Chrysler in the mid sixties was a “Pony Car” class car called the Barracuda, it did not have a giant engine, but its weight to horsepower ratio was significant. This model was very popular with drag racers since it could be built to hold the largest big block “HEMI” engines that Chrysler had to offer.
There were plenty of other high horsepower, large cars coming from Chrysler at that time, but the original Barracuda’s were a sign of the many changes coming from Chrysler in the very near future. So without further preamble, here is my list of the top ten Chrysler muscle cars from back in the heyday of “HEMI” engines and Wedges. My opinion on this topic may appear to be one sided here, but I have owned quite a few cars over the years, and the only ones which I would really love to own again are these old Chrysler products from the time period between 1965 and 1971.
1) 1965 barracuda formula S. This sporty little hot rod offered a High performance commando 273 cubic inch V8 engine delivering a stout 235 hp. The rally pack suspension, bigger tires and wider rims, plus disc brakes up front made this car handle fairly well considering the horsepower under the hood. This car has a huge piece of glass in the back, which had to be custom designed by PPG with Chrysler engineers collaborating. At over 14 square feet this was the biggest piece of glass in a production car up to that time. This compact class muscle car was a platform which became renowned for its drag racing abilities. Teams would stuff enormous big block engines into these tiny cars, and then tear up the asphalt all weekend.
2) 1966 dodge charger fastback, with dual quad 426 “HEMI” V8 with 425 hp, my personal favorite body style ever made by Chrysler. This was a long car with very clean body lines, and a really long fastback rear end. When I was a kid, my stepfather had one of these with the 383 engine, and it was pretty awesome on straight roads, but it cornered like a turtle going down a mudslide. There was pretty much nothing keeping the car from under steering, and the body roll when cornering was sometimes quite frightening.
3) 1967 dodge coronet r/t convertible with 440magnum V8 @ 375 horsepower, this was a fairly large car compared to the Barracuda and the Dart, but it got straight down the road really well. These were based on the Dodge Coronet cars which had been winning on the racing circuits for Chrysler teams in a number of separate classes. To me the body style on this car, with all the little bits of chrome, was one of the most timeless styles that Chrysler ever put out. This model eventually spawned the classic road runner design which came later.
4) 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX came with a new 440 wedge engine that boasted high performance and drove well street, and on the track. The output was 325 hp. Some have called this model Plymouth’s first truly “identifiable muscle car.” It was also called an “executive muscle car” These were one of a series of what Chrysler enthusiasts coined “dual purpose” machines, suitable for both street and strip. This is exactly the niche which the GTX filled. The body was nothing really unique for the time except that it was well proportioned, and it had a certain sleek look that makes them appear to be moving fast even when they are sitting still. If you have ever seen the car which they destroyed in the movie Tommy Boy, then you have seen this car.
5) 1968 Dodge Dart GTS. This sporty little model was the fastest production Dart which Dodge had ever built up to that time. When you ordered this car with the big block 383 cubic inch wedge engine, plus the optional four barrel carburetor, it pumped out a very respectable 300 hp. These cars were really fast, and looked very sharp due to the GTS package. Due to its low cost, this model was very popular as a street racer and daily driver. One of the rarest Chrysler products ever made were fifty special GTS darts which were purpose built race cars. Chrysler contracted to have factory GTS Darts rebuilt at the Hurst factory, with the Chrysler 440, or the 426 race hemi engine put into them. You could buy these directly from a local dealership. They were shipped in primer gray paint so that you could paint your own racing colors and logo on them.
6) 1970 Plymouth “CUDA” with 426 “HEMI” engine that had dual four barrel carburetors and put out an awesome 425 hp. This was an amazing looking car with nice curves, and a lower longer hood, and a shorter higher rear end. The small amounts of chrome on these cars really stood out due to the soft curves on the body panels. Again it is my humble opinion that this was one of the sexiest cars ever made. It was also fairly difficult to drive on the street, mostly due to having an extremely powerful engine in a mid sized car. These were very popular on the street and the drag strip. They had stiffer suspension than some of their Chrysler cousins, but still suffered from front end steering and cornering issues. It seemed to me they were meant to go straight and fast.
7) 1970 duster 340 cubic inch 275 hp engine with a 4 barrel carburetor. This model replaced the valiant. My wife’s mom had one of these Dusters, and she raced it on weekends out at Thompson drag raceway, this was way back when the car was still fairly new. She ran mid 13’s in the quarter mile with high test gas and bigger 4 barrel carburetor. This was more of a mid-size than a compact car, and it had plenty of trunk space. Until last year I had a 1975 duster which was the last year Chrysler made that body style. It was a great car for buzzing around town, and I used it to drive to the golf course. I loaned it to a friend while I fixed his Saturn, and he said it was really different than what he was used to, not sure if that was a good or bad thing.
8) 1970 sport fury GT with optional engine package consisting of 440 with the three two barrel carburetor option generating 390 hp. This car was super rare, super fast, and super big. This car is really unique in that not many full sized two door luxury cars were getting the speed treatment back then. This model was so special that today it has become highly sought after by collectors. it was nicknamed the Q-ship by Chrysler insiders because it was relatively quiet and quite unassuming. This car was the ultimate “sleeper” racer because no one would suspect that this big luxurious ride could actually be so darn fast!
9) 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T with the classic 426 “HEMI” putting out 425 hp. This was the last year Chrysler offered a street “HEMI”, and it heralded the beginning of the end of the muscle car era. Only 71 of these challenger models with the 426 “HEMI” engine were made. It is hard to imagine how rare one of these “HEMI” machines must be today! What an amazing car this would have been if you had bought one new and kept it all these years. My ex wife’s uncle owned one of these that he had bought new, and it was pristine when I last saw it back in 1989.
10) In 1971 Plymouth made a few Barracuda convertibles with 426 cubic inch “HEMI” engines with 425 horsepower. This was the last year of the street “HEMI” and when I say a few, I really mean it since only 7 of these were made. This was an awesome balance of cool and brute force. A car this small and light with that much horsepower was a scary thing to be in control of if you did not already have some solid driving skills. The body style was not much different as the previous years, but the convertible option makes this one of the rarest of rare convertibles. Plus it is drop dead sexy in almost any color configuration. I have seen one in a factory blue with matching wheels and moon style hubcaps, and it was a truly beautiful thing to see.
There is one extra muscle car which is known for its rarity and its beauty, and it would be the 1969 GTX convertible. This car has both style and speed in abundance. With nice clean body lines, just enough chrome, and a potent power source under the hood, you could hardly get more performance for your hard earned dollar back in 1971 there were only 625 of these convertibles built that year.
it is interesting to me that Chrysler and others are putting great effort into bringing back some of the more nostalgic designs, and the modern challenger is one that pays perfect homage to it’s muscle car heritage and roots. Obviously the engineering is much more advanced, and the new model “HEMI” looks great, but they seem a bit too generic for my tastes. The sound and feel you get when driving a big chunk of classic American made metal is nothing short of amazing.
Quantity of vehicles sold data was found at: http://musclecarfacts.net
Engine specifications were found in a Chrysler shop manual from that Era.