The 1950s and early 1960s had shown the world that Chrysler products were nearly unbeatable in a straight line.

Early HEMI drag racing

As early as 1953, Mopar-powered cars had set records at Bonneville and numerous drag strips across the country. It was circle tracks that seemed to present problems. Chrysler showed well during the 1953 and 1956 NASCAR seasons but those victories proved to be isolated occurrences. By April of 1963, executives at Chrysler decided it was time to focus their efforts on a new engine designed specifically for NASCAR domination. It was to debut at the 1964 Daytona 500 – less than a year away. Though Chrysler engineers had no way of knowing it at the time, they were about build an engine that would literally change the rules.

The basic idea was to adapt Chrysler’s proven Hemi heads to one of their Max Wedge big blocks. The design process happened remarkably fast, with the first test mule running under its own power by December 6th of 1963. As the Daytona 500 grew closer, testing moved forward at a near frantic pace. The results were a mixed bag but the Chrysler team had no choice but to carry on. By race day on February 23rd, 1964, there was nothing left to do but watch and hope as these new engines did battle in their first NASCAR race. When the checker flagged dropped, Chrysler products had not only lead 195 laps of 200 lap race – they had finished in first, second and third place.

The 426 HEMI had arrived in a big way.

1966 Plymouth Satellite HEMI 426

Chrysler had long held a reputation for racing modified production engines but, as of 1965, the 426 HEMI had not found its way onto the streets. With the help of new NASCAR production regulations, that would soon change. The street HEMI debuted during the 1966 model year. Though not exactly the same as the race version, the similarities outweighed the differences. Cast iron heads replaced the aluminum NASCAR versions while a lower compression ratio, less aggressive valve timing, and different intake and exhaust manifolds helped limit the engine to an advertised 425 horsepower and 490 foot-pounds of torque.

Nicknamed the “Elephant” for its colossally large heads, very few street cars stood a chance against a HEMI-equipped ride. The 426 was a pricey option but that “HEMI” badge ensured any would-be competitors that your car was certifiably badass.

By 1971, the automotive world was beginning to change.

While the HEMI was still unquestionably the king of Chrysler’s engine lineup, high costs and the introduction of the Magnum 440 in 1967 had both played a roll in its demise. Federally mandated emissions requirements were the final nail in the 426’s coffin.

On a day that was, more than likely, just another day at Chrysler’s Lynch Road assembly plant in Detroit, a white HEMI-equipped Dodge Charger R/T rolled down the line. It was a special order placed by Glavic Dodge on behalf of a customer from Wickliffe, Ohio. A Glavic salesman told the customer the car would likely never be built as Chrysler had discontinued the HEMI.

Against all odds, the order was fulfilled. It was the last HEMI car ever built.

The Last HEMI burnout at event

Sometime in the late 1970’s a 14-year-old boy named Joe Angelucci was riding his bike when he noticed the back end of a 1971 Charger R/T sticking out of a garage. The son of a racer, he recognized the car immediately.

The HEMI badges were missing but something about the car made a serious impression. Through some door to door detective work, Joe found out who owned the car and made the initial contact. Though the Charger was not for sale at that point, it was an important step. For well over a decade he kept in touch with the Charger’s owner who, even when offered a pristine 440 Charger in trade, refused to part with his R/T. In the early 1990s Joe, now in his mid-twenties, found out that the Charger was finally for sale. Its owner had fallen into poor health and was forced to sell the car. The owner, remembering the young man who had called him religiously for over a decade, struck a deal with Joe and the Charger R/T finally had a new home.

A full 33 years after this story began, RK Motors is proud to announce that it will be restoring this 1971 Dodge Charger R/T - the last HEMI car ever built.

The Last HEMI at dealership

Since production ended, the value and mythology surrounding these engines has been elevated to heights unimaginable 30 years ago. As values have climbed, the level of documentation a car carries has become increasingly important. This Charger has two remarkably well-preserved broadcast sheets and a fender tag showing that this is indeed the last HEMI car produced by any Chrysler plant.

Joe has requested that the car leave the RKM Performance Center in better-than-new condition before the 2013 Spring Auto Fair at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Absolutely no aftermarket sheet metal will be used to restore the car. It’s both a privilege and honor for RK Motors to be involved in the restoration of such a significant piece of automotive history. We invite you to follow our progress.

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