We've been lusting after a Hemi anything ever since the announcement that DaimlerChrysler would once again include the engine in something that wasn't a truck. Those two Mopar guys on TV driving a Duster didn't help, as the only difference between those dudes and us is they weren't wearing Car Craft T-shirts. So you can imagine our thrill when our long-shot phone call to Chrysler PR netted us a genuine Hemi street car right from the factory. We drove this car knowing the heritage behind it, and we were wondering if they'd get it right. Let's go.
Back to the '50s
To understand this car you have to go back to 1955 when Chrysler installed the Firepower 331ci Hemi in the New Yorker coupe body and added custom parts from the Windsor and Imperial trim levels to form a lighter, faster luxury sedan. The nomenclature within the company was C-300, named for the horsepower rating of the freshly tweaked engine, so the production name became the Chrysler 300. At the time, the 331 represented the first passenger-car engine to produce 300 hp and put it to use through power goodies like two four-barrel carbs and a bigger camshaft. The chassis was lightened to 4,000 pounds and had a simple unadorned interior. This was street machine stuff and was a defining point in the company's history. The 300 opened the door for the 300B, a bigger engine with more power. Soon Chrysler became the company we love, joining the horsepower wars and dominating NASCAR and drag-racing venues throughout the '60s with a group of racing and street 426 engines.
The '05 version is called the 300C. It's not really a retro car, but it's true to the original design with the first Hemi engine in a Chrysler passenger sedan (as opposed to a Dodge or Plymouth) in nearly 50 years. We hope this is the beginning, as it was in 1955, of a series of Hemi engines in modern musclecars. The Charger is coming, but what else? The possibilities are endless.
The New Hemi
From our viewpoint, whether this is a real Hemi or not can't be argued since just as the first version went away in 1959 and reappeared as the 426 in 1964, the 345-incher represents the redesigned Hemi of today. The new engine uses the same basic combustion-chamber concept from the days of the 331 with a couple of quench areas that allow the thing to make EPA standards, and it uses the multi-displacement system (MDS), which disables four cylinders to save fuel. It's still a basic pushrod V-8 with aluminum cylinder heads and two valves per cylinder designed to accommodate large valves and put the spark plugs close to the center of the combustion chamber just like back in the day.
This new engine is a rodder's dream with a bottom-end clearly designed for punishment. A deep skirt and cross-bolted mains combined with a cam position placed high in the block make it a natural for a displacement-enhancing stroker kit. In fact, we've already heard the news about the 425hp normally aspirated 6.1L Hemi from the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) division. It will make 420 lb-ft of torque and have a bigger bore, steel crankshaft, and an orange block and black valve covers just like the Street Hemi did in 1966.
We have to give the Chrysler guys a lot of credit for actually building a performance engine based on the original engineering instead of just using the Hemi nameplate. They've put a 13-second stock 300C on the horizon.