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Preparation for Daytona

This engine, and others, then began their rigorous race-profile testing, and the dyno rooms in Highland Park reverberated with the unmuffled roar of 426 Hemis running at full power. With the Daytona 500 qualifying races just a few weeks away, the pace at Chrysler reached a fever pitch. The prestige of Chrysler Corporation was riding on the 426 Hemi and it was a make or break situation. Yet, for many of the engineers and technicians, these months of franticeffort are the most memorable of their careers.

"Some of my fondest memories," Simonsen recollects, "would be coming to work in Highland Park very early in the morning before daybreak in the winter. We were running three shifts of operators with the dynamometer crew. The engines ran headers with an exhaust system that dumped into a six or twelve inch stack that then went up and ex-hausted out over the roof on the third story of the building. As you came across the parking lot at 5:30 in the morning, it just echoed all over Highland Park."

Problems arose quickly, however. Weertman co-authored a 1966 SAE paper with Bob Lechner chronicling the saga of the 426 Hemi's development, and the first problem encountered would prove the most nerve-racking.

"Shortly after the first engines were run at full power," Weertman and Lechner wrote, "several engine failures occurred due to vertical cracks in the thrust side of the right hand bank bore walls. A quick analysis showed that these block cracks were occurring in the bore wall opposite the piston pin pier.

"A reduction of this load concentration could have been obtained by increasing the piston cam so that the bore wall would be loaded more uniformly by adding load to the center of the bore while reducing it at the crack location area. The piston, however, had just undergone an intense development program of its own and further changes to it were ruled out."

"We were bringing the engine up to as much power as we could get out of it with this deadline of the Daytona race in February in front of us," Weertman says. "It was in fairly quick succession that they found cracked cylinder bores in the lab engines. I was in my office when Larry Adams, who was in charge of race engine development, came into my office, just sat down in the chair and said, 'Bill, that engine isn't going to last. We aren't going to finish the race.'

"I told him, 'Well, Larry, what's it going to take?'

" 'We have to thicken up the bores. There's really no other way.'

"I said, 'OK, we'll see what we can do.' The date was January 28,1964.

"What we did on the board," Weertman reveals, "was we made a template that could be used to take an existing water jacket core at the foundry, scrape it away and as we scraped the sand away, we would add metal to the block. So we made up these templates to give the thickness in the areas we thought would do the job. We handed them off to our foundry liaison who worked in engine design by the name of Louie Taylor. He flew down to the Indianapolis foundry where the blocks were being cast. He took with him another man—Earl Pinches.

"Louie took the templates we had set up and he attempted to scrape some cores and get the cores ready to make castings, but the cores cracked apart. We took away so much sand, that he couldn't get a good core. He called from Indianapolis and said, 'Bill, we can't get any good cores with these templates. You're going to have to come here and help me.' So, at that point, I flew down to Indianapolis and I saw that we had added too much metal to the bore walls to solve the cracking problem, but now we couldn't get a block casting. We then proceeded to file a number of cores in batches of twelve cylinder blocks which required both the right- and left-hand cores. We did these by hand with modified templates so the foundry could reproduce this, because at some time Louie, I and Earl Pinches were going to leave that foundry, but we would want them to continue to make good blocks for us.

"We put the cores through their normal process, which requires a core wash, then the core is dried out before it's put into the mold and the casting made. We had worked late on a whole bunch of castings and we went back to the motel to get some sleep, and the people called us from the foundry and said, 'All the blocks are scrapped that came out.' We went back to the foundry and the blocks were missing large segments of the metal. We had a giant mess on our hands.

"The foundry people were really cooperative. They were doing whatever we wanted them to do. We looked at it and we got our heads together. They said, 'What we think happened is that those cores were not baked out enough and that there was still water retention in the cores.' When those cores went in the mold and when the iron went into the mold and hit the moisture, it blew the metal away, and we were seeing voids in the metal.

"We went through the process again, and I think we went through that about three times. The whole process took about three hours, from scraping the cores, processing them, putting them in the mold, pour the iron, and let the iron cool down before going through shakeout before we got a casting at the other end. We were so anxious to know if we had a good block, we just kept at it. We indeed worked twenty-four hours straight. We were totally exhausted, but we finally came out with a block that looked like a sound casting. We had several blocks and we said, 'Ship it!'"

The date was February 3,1964. Three blocks from this group would be in the final race. These blocks, however, were not shipped directly to the engine plant for machining. They were shipped first to a stress-relieving furnace for a reheat and slow cool-down. This was done because, along with the bore-wall cracking, bulkhead cracking was also found during engine testing. Considering the substantial design of the Hemi block, the consensus at Chrysler pointed to this being a problem of residual stress in the block casting and not to a design problem. The stress lab and the metallurgists went to work on it. Oscar Willard began work in Chrysler's stress lab in 1956, and remembers well the problem with the 426 Hemi block.

"We worked as a service group almost exclusively in the stress lab," Willard says. "Anytime a problem arose in the corporation from a strength stand-point with failures involved, they usually came to our area to get help to determine what the cause of failure was and what had to be done to remedy it. I worked with some pretty brilliant people and I was at the working level. The problem was presented to them, and the engineers and technicians would stress analyze the blocks.

"We were heavily into residual stress back in an era where it was an art more than a science. There was so much that was unknown about metallurgy: how it reacts when it is poured, where does the residual stress come from? The time after pouring the metal until it is taken out of the mold and cleared of sand is very crucial.

"We were working around the clock in the stress lab along with the people who were running the dynos," Willard says about the 426 Hemi's pre-Daytona 500 race development. "We had prepared an engine block, heads— anything that was having problems. We had completely strain-gauged the block, and that meant bringing the wires out of the crankcase so that we could get to them and hook them up to the electronics. We worked in shifts around the clock for the whole weekend when we were having this crisis. We would come in for our eight-hour shift, compile the data and give it to the next shift, and by Monday morning we had all the answers. We got in the think tank and the decisions of what had to be done were based on that. This was within two weeks of the Daytona race."

With the data and recommendations from the stress-lab engineers in hand, the foundry received new instructions to eliminate the 426 Hemi's residual stress. All previous core preparations and casting procedures were followed. After cool-down and shake-out of the sand core, with care to ensure all sand was removed so as not to allow a temper-ature concentration, these blocks were placed in a large furnace and reheated to 1,200 deg. Fahrenheit to relieve the blocks' internal stresses. Then the furnace temperature was slowly lowered before the blocks were removed and shipped to Trenton for machining, then to Highland Park for assembly into engines.

Car testing had already been started with the original-design Hemi well be-fore the dyno testing was completed. Steve Baker remembers the first vehicle test with the 426 Hemi.

"The first track test we did with a Hemi in the car," Baker says, "was at the Goodyear track at San Angelo, Texas, with Ray Nichols and his crew. Paul Goldsmith was the driver, and he complained the track was kind of rough. We went out and you could see where the car had become airborne and then came down, leaving tire marks. We had timed him at 180 miles per hour. This was the very first time the 426 Hemi was installed in a stock car."

The date for check and pre-race inspection for the Daytona 500 race was February 4,1964. Engines had been built and shipped to the teams ahead of this date to give the teams time to make the car installations and to start their own preparation and testing. These engines, of course, were the original design. The gamble had to be taken that these engines would hold up long enough to get through practice, the qualifying laps and the qualifying races. Then the miracle had to happen: beginning with the new, heavy-wall castings that American Foundry started making on February 3, the blocks had to be machined, built into engines and delivered to Daytona in time for all the teams to change their engines before race day on Sunday, February 23,1964.

As the first engines were built and shipped to the racing teams for installation in their Dodges and Plymouths, there was a secret among all of them that was never revealed to anyone else. The Hemi could develop power that would put the other cars to shame, but Chrysler didn't want to tip its hand. Troy Simonsen explains what that secret was.

"When we went to Daytona in '64, Ford had been dominating the race and Chevy had had the 'Mystery Chevy' engine the year prior and had done very well with that engine; it was the quickest engine on the track at that point. Chrysler had been getting beat regularly. We weren't much of a contender. Of course, NASCAR wants to have a good show, and they wanted three participants.

"We were coming out with the Hemi, and the NASCAR rules were essentially that it was to be a production engine in a production car. We intended that this was going to be a production engine in a production car, but at the time we went to NASCAR we didn't have any production cars out there. We were able to convince NASCAR—who wanted to be convinced because they wanted another participant—that it was going to be a production car in the spring, two months later, which we did make. We knew Ford was going to object if we were really wild and tough, and they would lean on NASCAR not to say it was a recognized production car, so we were careful when we went to Daytona.

"During the weeks of qualifying and getting the cars ready," Simonsen reveals, "we never, during that time, did a wide-open lap. Never. Junior johnson was one of our drivers. He had driven the Mystery Chevy engine the year before and he said it was just unbelievable the amount of difference in the power between the Mystery Chevy engine and this [Hemi] engine. Going down the back stretches, they would lay their foot in it and feel what it did, and they would feel what it did in the corners, but they never, ever made a complete lap wide open, because they didn't want somebody in the stands timing them and finding out they were eight or ten miles an hour faster than Ford. We were turning 170 mile an hour lap times just like the Ford guys were doing. It looked like it was going to be a good race. NASCAR was happy and ev-erybody was getting comfortable with the fact that we were there. That was the whole plan."

Plan or not, the drivers couldn't resist using enough of the Hemi power to set new course records. On Friday, February 7,1964, Paul Goldsmith qualified with a two-lap average of 174.91 mph. Richard Petty qualified at 174.418. The next day two fifty-mile pole position races were held with half of the qualifiers in the first race and half in the second race. Goldsmith won his race at an average of 170.94 mph. Petty won his at an average of 171.99 mph. With his original qualifying speed. Goldsmith won the pole position, with Petty on his right, for the Daytona 500. The rest of the starting positions were determined in two 100 mile qualifying races held on Friday, February 21, 1964. junior johnson won the first race with a speed of 170.777 mph. Bobby Isaac won the second race at 169.811 mph. Every one of these speeds broke prior records.

Not everything went according to plan, however. The qualifying races served to put the Hemi through actual racing conditions, even if the engine was not being run flat out. Yet another weakness had surfaced during the qualifying races.

"In the car that junior Johnson drove," Simonsen says, "the engine finished the race with twenty pounds of oil pressure. We knew what we were going to find without tearing the engine down. The block cracked right down the oil line between the cam and the main-bearing bulkhead." The fears about the durability of the first cylinder blocks had been underscored.

Two days after the fifty-mile pole position races, a ladle of molten iron at 2,600 deg. Fahrenheit was poured in a mold at American Foundry. This casting would become the cylinder block of the engine that was destined to win the final race.

As each heavy-wall, stress-relieved block arrived at the engine labs, assembly of the Daytona 500 426 Hemi engines began with all the other, pre-inspected parts to expedite assembly. The assembled engines were painted, then sent to the dyno labs for performance confirmation. Each engine was then bolted to an engine stand for transportation to the waiting racing teams at Daytona.

Millions of dollars had been spent to develop the 426 Hemi, and there were fears about sending the engines by plane. Oscar Willard remembers with bemusement this crucial next step to the hoped-for Daytona 500 win.

"I remember we had a bunch of skeptics here," he laughs. "I asked a question once and they said, 'They're building an engine over there in the motor room right now, and they're going to be sending it down to Daytona tonight, so make sure if there's anything you have to add that it's included.'

"'They're shipping it down tonight?' I asked.

" 'Oh yeah. They've got a truck waiting for it.'

" 'Truck? Why don't they put it on a plane and fly it down? Why don't they take two at a time?'

" 'What if they have a plane crash?'

"The thinking was, at the time, they did not trust the plane. The mechanic from, say, Petty's crew, would come up here, pick up the completed engine, drive it down there, throw it in the car and they'd be testing it the next day. They couldn't stand the thought of shipping two in an airplane at one time because there was such a scarcity of the parts."

Bob Lechner was assigned the task of taking additional 426 Hemis to Daytona, with the added bonus of watching the race.

"I took three or four Hemi engines down to Daytona in a pickup truck with another fellow," Lechner says. "Most of the major racers already had theirs; these were strictly spares. I had tickets in the grandstands area. It was the first time I had ever seen a Grand National race."


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