NEVER MESSED WITH

A Hemi Coro­net 500 Note­wor­thy for Its Lack of a Col­or­ful Past

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Barry Kluczyk

A Hemi Coro­net 500 note­wor­thy for its lack of a col­or­ful past

“You’re kidding, right?” That’s gen­er­ally the re­ac­tion most peo­ple have when they learn that Chris Ste­wart’s fac­tory-Hemi­fied 1966 Dodge Coro­net 500 wears its orig­i­nal paint. We asked the ques­tion our­selves a few dif­fer­ent ways be­cause the white paint job looks aw­fully fresh. But the car has been doc­u­mented within the col­lec­tor car world for at least 30 years, and the story— and the smooth fin­ish—have been con­sis­tent.

“I haven’t done any­thing to the body or paint­work since I bought it a num­ber of years ago,” Chris says. “It’s in re­mark­ably good con­di­tion. I know it’s hard to be­lieve, but as far back as I can tell with the pre­vi­ous own­ers, the car has never been re­stored or re­painted.”

Credit goes in part to Chrysler’s re­liance on com­par­a­tively durable enamel (like the paint on your par­ents’ old wash­ing ma­chine), which held up well, com­pared to the crack­ing and craz­ing that plagued Gen­eral Mo­tors’ lac­quer paint jobs. It’s true that enamel was prone to fad­ing over time, but it was less of an is­sue when the car was care­fully pre­served and garaged, as this one has been.

In fact, in the more than half a cen­tury since it rolled off Chrysler’s Lynch Road as­sem­bly line, the Coro­net has recorded only 20,900 miles on the odome­ter. It has taken nearly 30 years to rack up the last 1,000 of them.

Although the orig­i­nal own­er­ship lin­eage is not well doc­u­mented, the Coro­net was or­dered through a Texas deal­er­ship and pur­chased by an Ok­la­homa res­i­dent, who drove it spar­ingly. About 25 years later it rolled across the block at a Kruse auc­tion in the Sooner State, where it made head­lines for its $41,500 sale price. It was a record sale at the time for an orig­i­nal Hemi car, and it zoomed past a cou­ple of note­wor­thy Mus­tangs at the same event, in­clud­ing a 1969 Mach 1 428 Co­bra Jet that went for $10,000, and a 1968 Shelby GT500KR that ham­mered sold for a whop­ping $27,000. Those were the days!

But then, as now, an orig­i­nal Street Hemi car held a mys­tique that was as strong as the dom­i­na­tion that orig­i­nally got the rac­ing ver­sion booted from NASCAR. Here’s a quick recap: De­spite some teething pains dur­ing de­vel­op­ment, Chrysler’s forth­com­ing rac­ing en­gine was a mon­ster. The com­pany tried to keep a lid on it for as long as pos­si­ble, but when the top four start­ing po­si­tions for the 1964 Day­tona 500 went to Hemi Mopars, the jig was up. When the clutch dust set­tled, four of the race’s top five fin­ish­ers were Hemipow­ered Mopars, in­clud­ing win­ner Richard Petty, who went on to win his first Cup cham­pi­onship that year.

NASCAR banned the Hemi for 1965 be­cause it wasn’t of­fered in reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion cars. “Fine,” said Chrysler. “We’ll take our ball—and all-con­quer­ing Hemi heads—and go home. And you’ll be sorry, too, be­cause, you know what? We’re go­ing to send Petty to the dragstrip. How do you like them ap­ples?”

NASCAR didn’t like them at all. Fan in­ter­est suf­fered a siz­able hit when NASCAR be­came es­sen­tially an all-FoMoCo show, thanks to Gen­eral Mo­tors’ self-im­posed mo­tor­sports ban. NASCAR didn’t want Ford’s SOHC en­gine, ei­ther, but the sta­tus quo cer­tainly wasn’t sus­tain­able. Cooler heads pre­vailed later in the 1965 sea­son, with Chrysler’s pledge to of­fer the Hemi in pro­duc­tion mod­els for 1966. It was about time. Stock car rac­ing was los­ing its edge, and for all his tal­ent be­hind the wheel, Petty just wasn’t a drag racer.

So in 1966, the 426 Street Hemi could be or­dered in any

Mopar B-Body in the brochure, ex­cept for the wag­ons. Savvy Dodge shop­pers who leaned more to­ward the dragstrip tended to fa­vor the lighter, less-ex­pen­sive base-model cars such as the Coro­net two-door sedan, but the vast ma­jor­ity went for the high­end Coro­net 500, such as Chris Ste­wart’s hard­top.

“Vast” is a rel­a­tive term when it comes to the early Street Hemi days. The new ele­phant didn’t ex­actly go for peanuts, and that “vast” ma­jor­ity to­taled only 339 cars (204 of them with the four-speed trans and 135 with an au­to­matic). Still, that’s about 10 times the num­ber who ticked the Hemi box in

“Few were made, and only a frac­tion made it to the end of

the 1960s”

a fleet-spe­cial Coro­net base two-door sedan.

Opt­ing for the Street Hemi also added a unique ver­sion of the A-833 four-speed trans­mis­sion, which would log­i­cally be­come known sim­ply as the Hemi four-speed. Its beefier specs in­cluded spe­cific gear tooth an­gles de­signed for strength, as well as a larger, coarse-spline in­put shaft. It was used with a heavy-duty 11inch clutch. The Hemi’s torque was sent to a bul­let­proof Dana 60 axle, which was new to pas­sen­ger cars in 1966 and sup­ported the out­put of the un­prece­dented en­gine.

Apart from the nec­es­sary driv­e­line up­grades and dis­creet fen­der badges call­ing out the en­gine, a Hemi­fied B-Body looked just like ev­ery other gro­cery get­ter in the shop­ping cen­ter park­ing lot, in­clud­ing elemental steel wheels. Dog dish caps came on low­erend mod­els, while the top-line Coro­net 500 of­fered full wheel cov­ers, as de­liv­ered on Chris’ car.

For all the car’s orig­i­nal­ity, a cou­ple of items are worth point­ing out. The hood lou­vers didn’t ap­pear on the Coro­net un­til the 1967 R/T model. The orig­i­nal owner re­port­edly pur­chased them over­the-counter at the deal­er­ship, and they’ve been on the car for the bet­ter part of 50 years. Also, ea­gle-eye Mopar­i­ans will no­tice the dual-cir­cuit mas­ter cylin­der, which long ago re­placed the car’s orig­i­nal sin­gle-cir­cuit sys­tem. It’s an un­der­stand­able and jus­ti­fi­able safety up­grade for a Hemi-pow­ered mus­cle car with nonas­sisted four-wheel drum brakes.

What’s more, the orig­i­nal en­gine block was re­placed at some point. It’s a 1969-vin­tage block, but all the other num­bers line up. This isn’t a com­plete sur­prise—it didn’t take much ex­u­ber­ance be­hind the wheel to send these mus­cle cars to the in­fir­mary.

To be hon­est, cars like this leave writ­ers like us in a bit of a quandary. It’s amaz­ing to find a 50-plus-year-old un­re­stored, low-mileage car that sur­vived be­ing drag-raced to death in the 1960s, avoided hav­ing its rear fend­ers flared and a tun­nel

ram shoved through the hood in the 1970s, didn’t get wheel tubs and neon yel­low roll bar padding in the 1980s, or ex­pe­ri­ence one or more ro­tis­serie restora­tions in the last 20 years. But that’s also the prob­lem. There’s no warm, “pulled from the weeds af­ter Dad raced it for 25 years” story to lean on, no “we found the orig­i­nal en­gine sit­ting be­hind a chicken coop across town” color to weave into the nar­ra­tive. No con­flict. No re­demp­tion. No tri­umph over ad­ver­sity.

But we’re talk­ing about an orig­i­nal, first-year Street Hemi here. Few were made, and only a frac­tion made it to the end of the 1960s with their orig­i­nal en­gine in­tact. That this one has sur­vived more than 50 years with­out com­mon mod­i­fi­ca­tions or a restora­tion is the story.

“That’s what I like about the car,” says Chris. “No­body messed with it, although the temp­ta­tion over the years must have been great. There are no ex­cuses to make with it, ei­ther. It’s as hon­est as they come—and a blast to drive.”

That’s good enough for us.

n Coro­net styling was new for 1966 and de­cid­edly more an­gu­lar, un­der the di­rec­tion of de­signer El­wood En­gle, while re­tain­ing the trade­mark tapered rear pil­lars. Sim­u­lated vents in the rear quar­ters dis­tin­guished the Coro­net 500 model.

n Fac­tory-ap­plied white enamel paint is smooth and vir­tu­ally blem­ish-free af­ter more than 50 years. The hood vents are for a 1967 Coro­net R/T and were re­port­edly added by the orig­i­nal owner.

n Although it fea­tured lower com­pres­sion and a dif­fer­ent camshaft, the orig­i­nal Street Hemi was very close in con­fig­u­ra­tion to the rac­ing en­gines that nuked NASCAR in 1964. This one starts ef­fort­lessly and pulls sat­is­fy­ingly hard.n

A pair of CarterAFB (Alu­minum FourBar­rel) carbs drew in a com­bined 1,250 cfm worth of at­mos­phere to feed the hun­gry ele­phant en­gine. The early NASCAR ver­sions breathed through a sin­gle Hol­ley four-bar­rel.

n The red vinyl in­te­rior con­trasts beau­ti­fully with the white ex­te­rior. Every­thing from the car­pet to the slightly worn seat up­hol­stery and crack-free steer­ing wheel is orig­i­nal. The op­tional con­sole-mounted tach (a $48.70 op­tion and lo­cated ahead of the shifter) could be swiveled by hand into sev­eral po­si­tions.n Dodge ditched the Hurst shifter in 1966. Most cus­tomers missed its pos­i­tive feel, although the re­place­ment of­fered re­verse lock­out. The com­plaints were loud enough and nu­mer­ous enough to bring it back by 1968.n Since it was sold new in 1966, the odome­ter had racked up only 20,938.9 miles by the time of our photo shoot in the sum­mer of 2018.n Orig­i­nal doc­u­men­ta­tion with the car in­cludes the alu­minum Cer­ti­card and the broad­cast sheet. The price tag edged just over $4,000, with the Hemi en­gine, beefy four-speed, and Dana 60 axle ac­count­ing for nearly a third.

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