Without a doubt, one of the most impressive looking engines of all time is the Chrysler Hemi. But before you get carried away with images of black wrinkle-finish valve covers installed on bright orange blocks and heads, there's something we need to remind you. The Hemi was around 13 years before all these muscle car guys came in and stole the Fire Power's thunder. Most of us are aware of the origins of the early Hemi and the fact that not only did Chrysler use them to power some of their passenger cars, among other things, but so did Chrysler's Mopar sibling companies: DeSoto and Dodge. And by the time those bright orange engines were running NASCAR, the older Hemis had already been proving themselves on the streets, at the drags, and at the lakes for years. Just ask Don Garlits, the Chrisman brothers, or Fred Larson and Don Cummins, all of which had very successful early Hemi-powered race cars in the '50s and on. When Chrysler pulled the plug in 1958, the Hemi's reputation had already been firmly established as the motor to beat.
This would be all fine and good if this were 1958 and there were piles of engines in the junkyard or available at the local Mopar dealer. Problem is, it ain't 1958, it's 2010 and 59 years have passed since the first-gen block rolled off the assembly line. But while the engines themselves are slightly more elusive than they were 50 years ago, there exists today a booming aftermarket industry that supports vintage engine builds such as the early Hemi, perhaps in a more progressive way today than ever before. A number of the weak spots in those old engines have been addressed, such as the water pumps, which companies like Hot Heads offers adapters to run readily available small-block Chevy pumps in their place, as well as adapters for more transmissions than you can shake a stick at. And internal items such as pistons, bearings, seals, gaskets, rings, cranks, and camshafts, and even CNC'd aluminum heads are all readily available.
The point is, it's easier today to build up a reliable vintage engine such as the Hemi than it's ever been. And with every John, Dick, and Harry running small-block Chevy crate engines, dropping a vintage mill in your truck ensures that it will standout from the crowd and separate you from the cookie-cutter guys. In a hobby where it's nearly impossible for the average guy to build a truck in his garage that competes with what the pros are doing, dropping in a vintage engine ups the ante that little bit that just may set it head and shoulders above the rest.
That was exactly my mentality when it came time to pick a mill for my '52 F-1 pickup. Sure I could have ordered up a crate engine from any of the suppliers across the country and I probably could have had my project on the road months ago, but who wants to take the easy way out? Always up for a challenge and wanting to do something different, I set out hunting for a good candidate to power my truck. As luck would have it, I found one locally in a barn that looked pretty clean and didn't appear to be too worse for wear. The price was right, a deal was struck and soon I was heading over to Speed-O-Motive with the engine in the back of my parts hauler to give those guys a thorough headache with my vintage "gem."
Speed-O-Motive has been known as the stroker experts since 1946, so there was no doubt in my mind that they would be the perfect choice to handle the machining chores. Another name synonymous with vintage engines is Egge Machine Company, who supplied all the internals for the Hemi, save the camshaft, crank, rods, and springs. They run a first-class business that cast pistons for everything from, well, Flatheads to Hemis, and also stock every internal part you can think of for vintage engines from 1900 to 1980. A camshaft was ordered up from legendary Mooneyes, ground by the master himself, Bill Jenks. With a spec sheet with that much history, I was sure to be in good hands!