My Max Wedge
As a kid growing up in the seventies, my first exposure to Mopars was through plastic model kits. In particular, I was taken by the beauty of the Hemi engine. The 1/25 scale blown fuel Hemi in the 1973-issue Revell Gene Snow Charger funny car, the tunnel-rammed Hemi in the 1972-issue MPC Butch Leal “California Flash” Pro Stock Duster and the awesome Street Hemi found in many JoHan kits (complete with block casting numbers) all looked so mean compared to other model kit engines. I was hooked. As I began to read up on them in car magazines I drew a clear distinction between Hemi powered Mopars and wedge powered Mopars, with the Hemis being my favorite. Then I discovered the Max Wedge.
With its factory-issue aluminum cross ram intake, dual Carter AFB’s and amazing tuned exhaust manifolds, magazine photos were my primary windows on this new (to me) chapter of Mopar metal. When it came to 1/25 scale models of Max Wedge power, the only offering was the amateurish rendering found in the AMT 1949 Mercury kit. Remember, I’m talking about when I was a kid in the seventies. The Lindberg Max Wedge Dodge and Plymouth models of the nineties were still two long decades away. Then one day a friend gave me a bunch of junked engines from model cars he’d parted out. Among the heavily painted, glue smeared assemblage was the most accurate Max Wedge power plant I’ve ever seen – before or since.
A little conferring with older model builders identified it as coming from the original-issue JoHan Dodge kit from 1964. By 1977, the JoHan Dodge kits I was buying new off the shelf had been de-contented by a struggling JoHan and came with a Race Hemi and made up “Re-Charged” decals (maybe the Rams wouldn’t sign a deal?). Not so the original issue from 1964. It packed true Ramchargers candy stripe decals and a Max Wedge or Race Hemi. There was also a Cotton Owens Dodge and a few Plymouth Belvedere Golden Commando / Richard Petty model kits that packed this great miniature Max Wedge.
Oh, that Max Wedge. I compared it against magazine photos of real ones and quickly noted that it rivaled JoHan’s excellent small scale renderings of the 426 Race and Street Hemi. The key thing was the contours, proportions and surface details were all spot-on. As a bonus, JoHan fitted the engine with those super-rare Tri-Y cast iron exhaust manifolds right out of the box. By comparison, the Chrysler big block tooled by MPC for use in their 1960’s Mopar muscle cars was goofy looking. The valve covers were too long, the heads were too angular, the over simplified block just looked wrong and the single four-barrel intake was flat. I don’t know about other kids, but I noticed this stuff and quickly learned to swap the JoHan motors into my AMT and MPC Mopar model kits.
All of which brings me to my infatuation with Max Wedge engines and cars. By the late 1980’s, I had enough resources (just barely) to piece together a Max Wedge in real life. I had a 1964 Polara with a mild 383 that I wanted to turn into a Max Wedge replica. I didn’t want to fool anybody with it, I just wanted to open the hood and see the Orange Monster!
So I sniffed among the numerous Max Wedge offerings in Hemmings and on October 24, 1989 I sent a money-gram for $4,750 to a guy named Bob West in Lewisville, TX. A little over a week later, on Friday afternoon, November 3, 1989 a big orange and blue Roadway shipping truck arrived in front of my (Dad’s) house. What I got for my money was a 1964 Stage III 426 block, a set of bare 518 Stage III Max Wedge heads, a pair of Carter 3705 750-cfm Stage III AFB carburetors, a 1962-vintage cross ram intake manifold, a set of clean Max Wedge exhaust manifolds (not the rare Tri-Y type), a set of 8 “886” Max Wedge connecting rods and a used up “no guarantees” welded Max Wedge crankshaft.