Celebrating the American Roots and Growing New Green Branches
©2009 Isaac Hernández
Bob Lee, the man behind the rebirth of the HEMI V8 engine in 2003, has recently been replaced by Paolo Ferrero as senior Vice President of Chrysler Powertrain. Lee continues at Chrysler, but now Ferrero, who served as vice-president of product engineering at Fiat, calls the shots when it comes to engines.
Fiat owns 20% of Chrysler Group LLC and has management power. As part of the investment deal, Fiat will provide its fuel-efficient engines to Chrysler. If Fiat were to manufacture these engines in the US, the Italian company would be allowed to purchase an additional 5% of the American brand.
Some people in America are afraid that the Fiat takeover would represent the end of the HEMI engine. At Chrysler LLC, they love the HEMI and they’re making sure that the Italians learn to love it too.
During a recent visit of the Italian Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola, to the Chrysler headquarters, the Italian delegation was shown the wind tunnel with no other than a HEMI Chrysler Viper SRT-10 ACR in it.
During the MotoGP Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix races in Laguna Seca, California, Fiat Yamaha Team riders former World Champion Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo drove a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter HEMI-powered Dodge Challenger SRT8.
I have been lucky to drive the Dodge Challenger HEMI on the Willow Springs racetrack first by myself, and then with Erich Heuschele at the wheel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu3G-HthIh4). Erich, Supervisor of Vehicle Dynamics SRT Engineering, is passionate about the HEMI. He later gave me a ride in the Viper ACR (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcbLujK2Gy8)
Today I want to celebrate the Hemi heritage, in honor of those men and women who have given their ingenuity to develop the hemispherical combustion chamber, which with its arched shape, allows for the spark plug to be placed in the center of the chamber and the position of the valves allows for better breathing of the engine.
The first Chrysler HEMI engine was an inverted V-16, rated at 2,500 horsepower, developed for WWII aircraft, but it never made it into production. Fiat’s own history has a hemispherical engine, the one that powered the A.L.F.A. 40/60 GP car in 1914. There have been other hemispherical engines before, in racecars from Peugeot, Pipe and Miller, as well as production cars from Duesenberg. Stutz and Offenhauser, among others.
Chrysler continued developing the HEMI after WWII, but it wasn’t until the Chrysler C300 came out in 1955 that the legend began to be written. It was the first production car in the US with over 300 hp. Chrysler won the NASCAR Grand National title and the AAA Championship, with a whooping 33 race victories. Many say the C300 was the first muscle car. The FirePower engine came to propel different models of Dodge, Chrysler, Imperial and DeSoto cars. The Hemi engine died with the 1959 model year.
The legend was reborn in 1964, specifically to win at NASCAR. And win it did. Richard Petty dominated in 1964 and 1966 with the blue Plymouth Superbird Number 43, powered by the 426 Hemi (426 for its cubic inches, or 7 liters). It became such an important part of American car culture, that in the 2006 film Cars, Pixar included a car inspired on the Superbird, named “King”, voiced by Petty himself. It was for this second generation that Chrysler trademarked the name Hemi. Its life came again to an end in 1971.
The first Chrysler HEMI lasted for four years, the second one for twice as long. If we were to follow mathematical logic, the third generation (built in 5.7, 6.1 and 6.4 liter variations, so far) born in 2003 should be around until 2015. Will it? Unfortunately, as much as Americans love their HEMI, sales may not be supporting its long-term survival.
The HEMI of the future?
American ingenuity will find a way to have fun with cars and be environmentally friendly, now that our main focus ought to be to reduce carbon emissions, so that our children don’t have to suffer extreme global warming.
Popular Mechanics (PM) modified a Dodge Challenger SRT8, turning it into an Eco+Muscle car. The idea is to use “inexpensive aerodynamic aids, a state-of-the-art electric drive system and some other helpful bits” to turn the Challenger “into a parallel hybrid plug-in/solar/electric that burns no fuel at all in everyday driving.“
PM paid $30,740.00 for the Challenger, and quite a bit more on gasoline, doing 9.0 mpg in stop-and-go traffic. On the freeway, because of the computerized cylinder deactivation, they could get as much as 25.4 mpg on the highway.
The tuners went all out, trying to squeeze as much power out of the V-8, even adding a nitrous system. Then they added a UQM electric motor, at a weight penalty of 89 lbs. producing 125 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor provides all torque from the very beginning, improving acceleration for the Challenger. How do you power it? With 28 Exide Select Orbital lead batteries in the back seat, producing 336 volts. This was the best compromise between power and price, according to PM. They’d prefer a lithium-ion system, but pricing was out of their range.
The racing stripes on the carbon fiber hood are actually flexible solar panels, which help charge the batteries. “On a sunny day, they recharge the battery at a rate of 2.5 amps”.
The rear axle was modified and so was the fuel tank. There’s also a fuel cell under the trunk. Making everything fit took some genius. You can read more about it in http://media.origin.popularmechanics.com/documents/ecomuscle/index.html.
The cool thing about the Eco+Muscle Challenger is that the foot pedal controls the combustion engine, while a hand throttle sends powers the electric motor.
To compensate for the extra weight, many body parts were replaced with carbon fiber. The car sports new lighter seats and no rearview mirrors, which were replaced by more aerodynamic video cameras.
There’s still work to do. The engineers are still trying to make the car work on fully electric mode in the city. Right now, the Hemi has to idle to power the power steering and power brakes even if the electric motor is driving the car.
The Eco+Muscle maybe a crazy idea, and an expensive one (PM doesn’t say how much it would cost to build one without all the sponsors), but it’s definitely a fun idea. My hat goes off to the people who want to reconcile the muscle with the eco, the past with the future.