The 1965 Hemi Ban from NASCAR

Nothing screams “rebel” like being banned. In 1965, that’s what happened to the badass Hemi. The roarin’ engine was ineligible for the NASCAR season. Hemis had totally dominated the stock-car tracks in 1964, winning 26 of the 62 races, which had more than a little something to do with the 1965 ban. NASCAR patriarch Bill France told Chrysler its powerful new engine would be banned–not for technological reasons–but because it wasn’t readily available in cars from Dodge or Plymouth assembly lines (“readily” being the key concept). Well, how do you like them apples?

Read on in the excerpt below, yanked from the chapter titled “Where to Put the Elephant” in Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee, by James Manning Michels.

Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee
Drag racing wasn’t just for guys. Here’s Shirley Shahan in an altered-wheelbase 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. Photo Credit: Archives/TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC

“Our new 426 Coronet ought to have its head examined,” boasted a 1965 Dodge ad’s headline. “You know what a Hemi is,” began the body copy. “It’s that wailing stocker that’s about a car length ahead at the end of the quarter. It’s that bright red streak that’s taking home the lap records on the big ovals. And ever since the day the unmistakable sound it makes was first heard on the tracks, competitors screamed ‘unfair.’

“It is,” the ad admitted. “It’s got valves as big as stove lids. A plug jammed right in the middle of the combustion chamber. 426 cubes. And a thermal efficiency that is making a lot of people see red . . . taillights. If you insist on playing fair, forget it. But if you have just a trace of mean in your makeup . . . by all means, get one.”

Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee
A drag-racing Hemi; the oval-racing Hemis had only one carb. Both versions of the engine got aluminum heads in 1965. The aluminum heads were mainly developed for drag racers, who put a bigger premium on lighter weight. Photo Credit – Archives/TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC

Why the preoccupation with justice? Well, after Hemis dominated the nation’s stock-car tracks in 1964, winning 26 of 62 races, NASCAR patriarch Bill France told Chrysler its powerful new engine would be ineligible for the 1965 NASCAR season. Not for technological reasons, but because it wasn’t readily available in cars from Dodge or Plymouth assembly lines, “readily” being the key concept. France had done the same thing to Ford just before the 1964 Daytona 500, ruling that Ford’s new OHC 427 wasn’t eligible because it wasn’t a production engine and would cost too much for the average person to buy.

 Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee
Original Ramchargers team member Jim Thornton invented the Funny Car. Chrysler was following his vision late in 1964 when it built its radically altered-wheelbase A/FX drag racing cars. Not only did their wheel placement make the cars look funny, their bodies were dipped in acid to reduce weight. Here’s Thornton at the wheel of the Ramchargers 1965 Dodge Coronet A/FX “funny” car. Photo Credit – Archives/TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC

The NHRA, on the other hand, allowed the Hemi because it was “readily” available in competition-only cars that came from the factory with altered wheelbases and aluminum body panels. These special-order drag-racing cars competed regularly in the Factory Experimental class, but were only seen on showroom floors for publicity—every one that was built had an owner before assembly began. Which, France declared, wasn’t ready availability. Despite the fact that the aftermarket was already building parts for the new engine—the What’s New section of the December 1964 issue of Hot Rod included 426 Hemi headers from S&S Header Company.

Of course, it was always Chrysler’s intention to build a street-going version of the Hemi. Why invest gazillions of dollars creating an engine if not to get twenty gazillion back? Dominating NASCAR is fun and all, but it doesn’t keep the lights on. Selling cars to everyday drivers keeps the lights on; dominating NASCAR is just one of many ways to promote your cars to everyday drivers.

 Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee
This is the Plymouth version of Chrysler’s 1965 Torqueflite “funny” cars, a Belvedere. It’s racing in the S/SA class. A major challenge was to get the 426 drag-racing Hemi’s air-fuel mixture rich enough at idle to launch strongly, but not so rich it fouled the plugs before the run. Fresh plugs were required for every run. Photo Credit – Archives/TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC

The plan was to build 426 Hemi race engines, race them, discover weaknesses, fix them, and then build a bulletproof street Hemi. “You can learn in an hour of racing what would take months in the laboratory,” claimed legendary motorcycle manufacturer Francesco Laverda. But Big Bill France, for whatever reason—maybe he once again overestimated NASCAR’s role in the world, maybe he threw Ford a bone after disallowing their new engine the year before, maybe a little of both—interrupted Chrysler’s plan. So, beginning with the 1965 Daytona 500, Chrysler pulled its official factory support from all NASCAR efforts. They would concentrate on the USAC circuit instead. Testing would continue, and the 1966 target launch date for the street Hemi would be met. Chrysler just had to find a car to wrap around it.


Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee: 50 Years of Chrysler B-Body Muscle

From the Charger to the Road Runner and Super Bee, through the Shelby era, and to the 21st century Charger, don’t miss a single moment of Chrysler’s 50 years of muscle car dominance.

In 1966, a proper muscle car roared onto the market: the Dodge Charger, the first Chrysler product designed specifically for the baby-boom market. Within a couple of model years, the Charger went from stodgy to sexy, so much so that it became a darling of film and television, appearing in many of the hit cult films produced by the maverick breed of filmmakers taking over Hollywood at the time.

Even more important than the Charger were the B-Body muscle cars it spawned, especially the Plymouth Road Runner, which became one of the most popular muscle cars of the era. Dodge followed with a similar performance car, the Super Bee.

Charger, Road Runner & Super Bee: Fifty Years of Chrysler B-Body Muscle tells the entire B-Body story, from the original Dodge Charger through the popular Charger being sold today. The glory years of 1966 to 1971 are the focus, but the years between then and now are covered as well. During that time, the Charger first became a personal luxury car swaddled in Fine Corinthian Leather, then a hot hatchback imbued with the great Carroll Shelby’s mojo. Charger’s triumphant return to form beginning in 2006 wraps up this compelling, 50-year story of one of America’s great performance cars and its siblings.

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  • donald ohlinger

    I would love to add James Manning Michel : Charger,Roadrunner,Superbee 50 Years Of Chrysler B-Body Muscle : Quarto Drives Motorbooks and add that one it sounds awesome and I love bigblock and smallblock Chrysler-dodge,plymouth muscle cars however from reading this blog it sounds like Bill France was hard on Chrysler corporation and the dominating Hemi 426 engine that was winning races like it was going out of style back in the earlie 1960’s to mid 1960’s and the best part no domestic v-8 was capable of pulling in the wins that Chrysler was able to though eventually they would drop these engines into there street legal cars that customers could buy at the dealers and take home and modifie and drag race or street race the best car is the dodge charger wich started in 1966 based the coronet platform and used some coronet styling like the grille and headlights plus the interior was very dodge coronet like with large round engine gauges and a center console with a floor shifter and leather bucket seats wrapped in black the 1st gen charger from 1966-1967 also came with a convient folding back seat to slide skis or longer objects into and it added more cargo space for luggage and other items however the body style is rare produced only for two model years but the car came with some desirable options and standard equipment like a 225 slant six and a 383,440,426 hemi v-8 bolted to a 4-spd manual transmission or a torqueflite automatic transmission that came with a rear wheeldrive drivetrain in 1968 dodge would introduce a new charger the 2nd generation that came with a coke bottle profile and more options and standard equipment like a luxury model SE with a vinyl roof and thin white wall tires with a 225 slant six or a 318 v-8 mated to a manual 4-spd or an torqueflite auto but if it was foot to the floor tire pounding performance you wanted from your 2nd gen dodge charger then you would have to opt for a R/T model that came with tach,console,bucket seats, and black side wall tires or redline tires with either a 383,440,426 hemi the hemi would last until the earlie 1970s and would then be dropped from the engine avalbilty list were new engines would take over like the 318,440,225,360 however by this time the dodge charger would be sharing its platform with the new Chrysler entry the cordoba with came with the fine corithan leather interior and a engine options list wich would be similar to the chargers though Chryslers car would be based on luxury and style and would also be an attractive coupe that came with a well equipped interior and with some interesting customer preferred packages though the dodge would later into the earlie 1980s would become a downsized front wheeldrive K-car that carrol Shelby would some magic on to turn into a front wheeldrive hotrod with a manual transmission and a turbocharged 4-cyclinder wich would also come with a complete hotrod style interior and exterior body addenda wich included graphics like tape stripes and mag wheels this would be the hottest hatchback that Chrysler corporation would offer.

  • Jeff Holter

    I call bullshit. Chrysler never “planned all along” to put the 426 Hemi on showroom floors. Claiming that they just wanted to “find all of the issues” before offering to the public is an equally ridiculus statement. Chrysler reluctantly made them available in production cars in 1966 and they lost money on each one sold.