Q: Greg, I'm enjoying your recent articles on the Hemi, car models and the Dick Harrell 427 Nickey, Gibb and Yenko Camaros. However, I'd like to let everyone know that those famous 426 Hemi engines came out way before 1965, but in smaller dimensions. My dad had a 1953 Dodge with a Hemi in it. Do you remember those? Jim L., email from Illinois.
A: Jim, I sure do remember those 1953 Dodges. Matter of fact, my brother and I bought a 1953 Dodge Hemi for $25 in 1966, but never did anything with it and sold it back to the same guy for $20. (Right-depreciation!)
The 1953 Dodge Hemi came with a scaled down version of the already introduced in 1951 Chrysler 331 Hemi V8. It measured 241 cubic inches and produced 140-horsepower. The Dodge line called this engine the "Red Ram" Hemi, and it was equipped with red valve covers that had the same script.
In 1953, Dodge designers restyled the new car from the boxier 1952 Dodge, the latter which was the first post war Dodge in 1949. If you wanted a Hemi in ‘53, you had to start with the Coronet Club Coupe, which listed at just under $2,200. Of note is no fully automatic transmission was available in 1953 as Dodge introduced its first one, called the "Powerflite," in 1954.
As for the first 331 Hemi, it produced 180 horsepower and replaced the 135 horsepower Inline-8 in Chrysler models. The Hemis were great motors, and were also used by in many military applications and air raid sirens that were popular in U.S. cities in the decade of the 1950s. (You Tube is loaded with examples of the Hemi 331 Air Raid Siren in action).
Of course, I remember the air raid drills at my grade school in Ranshaw, PA, and later Vineland, NJ When the air raid sounded, we had to get under our desk even if we were having our morning milk (delivered by the milk company).
As for sales, the 1953 Dodge did not set any records. Matter of fact, the re-designed car did poor as the other manufacturers were building bigger cars while the 1953 Dodge was a bit smaller than the 1952. Dodge stayed with the design in 1954, and sales were even worse. However, with the introduction of the all-new 1955 Dodges, things started to turn around for the better.
Thanks for your letter.