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Hemi Engine - Retooling - Hemi Cuda, Part I

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Chrysler's Hemicars were the stuff legends are made of. Their performance was awesome, but their unit volume was relatively low for an industry that measures production quantities in the tens of thousands. Among the rarest of the rare was the '71 Hemi 'Cuda. With just 107 hardtops and seven convertibles made, by now normal attrition has culled the ranks to a few hearty survivors. It should come as no surprise that buying and restoring an original factory '71 Hemi 'Cuda can set you back in the neighborhood of $70,000, so only a fortunate few will ever be able to own an actual production example.

One obvious alternative to the real thing is "cloning." Start with a plain-vanilla version of the same make and model, then swap in the high-perf drive-train. Unfortunately, Hemi engines have been long out of production, and even if a car crafter could locate a decent $7,000 used Hemi, mounting the big "Elephant" Engine requires a unique "K-member" (Mopar jargon for the front engine-support crossmember)--also long discontinued (figure $1,600, if you can find one). For a while, it seemed as if the only way the average car crafter could hope to see a Hemi was on the racetrack or in a museum.

Recently that's all changed, thanks to Mopar Performance (MP), Chrysler's performance parts program. MP has made practical what was once impractical, by retooling all the parts necessary to build up a Hemi engine and making them available through MP dealers. Besides casting reproduction-style blocks with original-configuration Hemi engine mounts, MP also offers a new casting with Mopar big-block wedge-engine (B-motor) mount pads that can bolt up to any standard V-8 K-member.

Presto! Hemi cloning is now a viable possibility, and to prove it Car Craft will be following along as Petersen Publishing employee Brit White's '71 383 'Cuda evolves into a modern-day Hemi monster. The plan is to retain the good looks and appeal of the classic musclecar but, because the clone isn't a "priceless" original, enhance it with '90s-style engine-technology upgrades and handling improvements. This month we'll take a look at MP's Hemi parts offerings as Dick Landy Industries puts together a modern Elephant that'll run rings around the original. In the following months, we'll visit the Mopar E-body resto specialists at Ultimate Rides in El Paso, Texas, and watch as they drop in the engine, upgrade the drivetrain, and modernize the suspension. Finally, we'll come back with a complete track test on the finished car.

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