Spring Has Sprung: Let's Make A Deal

Spring is in the air and this is always the time I get the itch to shuffle the deck and score a fresh Mopar for summer tinkering and cruising. It never fails. The snow melts, Daylight Savings adds extra sunlit hours to each day, the birds start chirping and some random old Mopar catches my eye. With no fewer than nine collector/drag/fun cars in my garage (six are Mopars) I know I don’t need another car. But I can’t help myself. It’s an addiction, y’know.

This year it went like this. The phone rings and it’s my Mopar buddy Jeff Allard from Ware, MA. He says he just scored a ’68 Chrysler Crown Imperial convertible. It’s one of 474 built but was stored outdoors for many years – with a tattered ragtop. So yes, it’s pretty rough. But Jeff’s a can-do kind of guy so when he say’s he plans to fix it up and get it running, I believe him.

Though this incredibly rare 440-motivated Imperial ragtop spiked my interest, it was another car Jeff mentioned that got my blood flowing. Also in Jeff’s inventory is a barn found 1951 Chrysler Saratoga 4-door sedan with under 64,000 miles showing on the odometer. Right here, you probably know why this car should ring every Mopar fan’s bell big time. That’s right, it is an example of Chrysler’s first ever Hemi powered production offering. Though GM launched the post WWII OHV V-8 phenomenon with the Caddy 331 and Olds 303 engines of 1949, Chrysler blew ‘em out of the water in 1951 with the innovative and potent new Fire Power V8 and really helped light the fuse on the great Detroit horsepower race.

The Chrysler ads of the day touted its “aircraft inspired” hemispherical combustion chambers – but nobody had yet coined the abbreviated term “Hemi” with a capital-H – at least not in any formal Chrysler ad copy. But you can imagine the development guys in Chrysler’s Powerplant Research and Engine Design departments probably got tired of saying “hemispherical combustion chambers” pretty fast and likely somebody in there referred to the new A239 331 Fire Power as the “hemi” project.

Who knows for sure, but since October 9, 1947, lots of hemispherical thinking had been going on. That’s when Chrysler Engineering released an internal Engineering Report defining its intent to create a new generation of post-war engine types for use in future production vehicles. As we now know, the 1951 Chrysler Fire Power V-8 was the fruit of the program – followed in rapid succession by the also-hemi-headed DeSoto Fire Dome in 1952 and Dodge Red Ram in 1953. To learn more about this exciting development program and the many, many varieties of these engines as they evolved over their life spans, grab a copy of Willem Weertman’s fantastic book; “Chrysler Engines 1922 – 1998”, available from SAE International or Amazon.com. It also features the design and production history of every Chrysler engine family from the first flat head fours through the Viper’s V10.

Getting back to Allard’s Chrysler (a very different thing than a Chrysler Allard), I asked; “Does it run and drive?” As I asked those words my inner brain had a nasty flash back to the 1954 Plymouth Savoy that’s been sitting in my garage – immobilized with stuck rear brakes – for almost a year. The rear drums are integral with the wheel hubs. You need a strong hub-pulling tool to get the rear drums off for servicing. Obviously, my garage lacks this critical tool – and so it sits.