Hughes Engines: Mad Science for Mopars

One cool exclusive fix Hughes has developed is for you are a Magnum-type engine owner. This is a special sealing plate and gasket set to keep the intake manifold from leaking; if you’ve had this very common problem, a phone call to these guys and an afternoon might be a real plus in keeping your Dakota or Ram on the road.

Let’s be honest. Project cars always take more time then you think or believe they will. When we begin most of them, the hope is it will all come together quick and easy. For my son John, now 18, the 1971 Dart we began a couple of years ago has been something of a love-hate relationship. I’ll be very frank right now – since the 1980s, I have always been happier as a historian than a mechanic. I would rather spend time in a good book (you know, like ‘We Were The Ramchargers’ or a copy of Drag News circa 1964) then out spinning wrenches. It’s not so much that I hate it; I just find it takes more time then I expect it to, and things don’t always work out like I’d like (so I’d be up at 5:30 AM swapping intakes before school started).

So John has been on his own with some of this stuff. And he wants to do it. Recently, he’s considered ‘apprenticing’ with my buddy Tracy Hicks at Wizeguy Rod & Custom. Tracy offered to let him come down to the shop, learn the basics of bodywork, and get paid once he can do piecework without oversight. In the meantime, since I have tried to tune the Dart, it has gotten slower(!); we clocked a sputtering 16.6 at Bristol two weeks ago; it needs a little more gear and probably a little less carb on the stock cam. The pile of new parts for it has grown large enough that we are finally ready to pull the engine and do a true build-up on it. We’ve got our ducks lined up for that.

One stop we made last year was to Hughes Engines in Washington, Illinois. Dave Hughes has been at this stuff since the muscle car era, starting back in 1969 as a builder of Super Stock engines for NHRA and AHRA racers. When we had gotten our cylinder heads from AAEQ (these are iron Magnum replacements drilled for the LA series bolt pattern), we had called Dave for his advice since he offers these same units under his Iron Ram program. He had us ship them out to him for a competition-type valve job, and replaced the springs we had already gotten with a set of his 1111-design springs.

Now, we knew that John would be sorting out his skills with this package, but Dave wanted to set him up with a cam that would really work in the street environment. Indeed, Hughes spearheaded the ‘big blank’ Mopar effort when he introduced his cams; many aftermarket cam companies were simply machining the smaller Chevy blank for their Mopar applications. Hughes used a larger cam blank base to take advantage of the original larger Chrysler cam specs. The Whiplash models he created are loopy streetable cams that make power at lower RPM levels, a perfect fit when your bottom end will likely not see 6000.