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The 426 or "late" hemi was a replacement for the very sucessful "Max Wedge" engines that Dodge and Plymouth used to dominate Super Stock drag racing in the early and mid 1960's. The 426 hemi was Chrysler corp. "bigger hammer" way of assuring thier dominance. The sucess of the "early" hemi that went out of production inspired engineers to rethink its design. The drawback to the earlier versions was its weight. By basing the new version on he already proven "wedge" block and designing a new, lighter hemi head casting they were able to overcome the early versions shortcommings.
The new hemi was introduced in the later part of the 1964 model year in just a few special built Super Stock Dodges and Plymouths. This really shook up Ford who had evened up the score against the Max Wedge cars with its ultra light weight Thunderbolt. Just as Ford was in a even race with the Mopar's, along came the hemi. Ford complained that the engine was not available in producton cars and thus not eligalbe for competition. The NHRA ruled in Fords favor and the new hemi's were forced to race in the A/FX (factory experimental) class in the 1965 competition season.
The Chrysler corp. was not about to spend all that money on the design of its new engine and not be able to run it in the class it was supposed to dominate. so, for the 1966 model year, they introduced the "street hemi" in its mid sized car line. It was at this point anyone could walk into a Dodge or Plymouth dealer and by checking off the apropriate boxes on the order form, drive home in a car with a honest to God detuned race engine under the hood! The engines came with mecanical camshafts and 2 four barrel carbs. The factorys horsepwer rating was 425 with 500 ft/lbs of tourque.
Actually the true nuber was closer to 500 horsepower in factory trim but they tended to fudge the number to place the cars in a more favorable power/weight bracket for super stock drag racing. A stock street hemi with a blueprint job an fine tuning can produce close to 550!