Collector Car Corner – Can a 440 wedge block accept Hemi heads?
Q: Greg, when I was 20, I was going to buy a new 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. The salesman told me he could get me a 426 Hemi for it. I never bought the car because Uncle Sam drafted me and sent me to Vietnam. Was the salesman telling the truth about being able to buy the 426 Hemi for the Belvedere? I now have a 1965 Belvedere with a 440 engine. Is there a kit to make my 440 into a Hemi? Thanks for any help you can provide. Ed DeZutel, email.
A: Ed, that salesman told you the truth as the 426 “race” Hemi was available as an option on the 1965 Belvedere. However, only 360 were ever built as the race Hemi was not engineered for driving on the street. The tamer Street Hemi appeared in 1966, and over 3,000 were sold.
As for putting 426 style Hemi heads on a 440 block, I went to my good friend Max Naylor, of New Buffalo, Pa., to help answer your question. Max is a licensed NHRA professional Pro Stock racer who was the No. 1 qualifier at the U.S. Nationals in his Vegas Fuel Energy Drink MOPAR Dodge Avenger a few years ago.
Max agreed that the 1965-1972 style Hemi heads will not fit the 440 block without necessary component and machining upgrades, but a company called SVE (Stage V Engineering) makes the kit with cylinder heads that you will need if you decide to go in this direction.
Max emphasized, however, that the layman answer is no, the stock Hemi heads will not fit a stock 440 block. (See www.stageV.com for more on the kit). The Stage V conversion kits costs $4,000, but you’ll need lots more to finish it up including 440 block work, new rods, KB stroker crank, pistons, rods, etc. etc. It’s not a cheap process by any means, but certainly a great way to go if you can afford it. In the end, it might take you $10,000 to $12,000 or more to arrive at your new Hemi 440 based on rotating assembly, induction, etc.
Max, however, pointed to the fact that you probably have a great engine in your car right now just waiting for a rebuild. I also emphasize that any buildup should be based on the 440 wedge instead of an expensive Hemi if “size of wallet” conditions are part of the equation. Currently, Max is working on a restoration project on my 440 ’72 Challenger RT clone, and is ready to apply a new Edelbrock top end power kit (Part 2087), complete with aluminum heads, cam and lifters, intake, gaskets, timing chain and much more. The block will feature a stock steel 440 crank, .40 over 9.5 to 1 TRW pistons, Total Seal gapless rings and 440 steel rods. The Naylor-built 440 will mate to a brand new Hughes Performance 727 Torqueflite (Part 22-1E) and a Hughes Performance 3,500 converter (Part 24-35). We’ll keep you updated on this build as time goes on.
Both Naylor and I feel the 440 rebuild won’t break your pocketbook, and produce surprising horsepower. The choice is yours, however, based on your budget. Will it be 440 wedge or 440 Hemi? Let us know which way you go.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on collector cars and auto nostalgia at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at extra email@example.com).