World’s Biggest Hemi Crate Engines

World’s Biggest Hemi Crate Engines

10/01/2021

There’s a saying whispered between the super-rich that is aimed at the rest of us: “If you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it.” If you’ve ever found yourself window shopping on vacation at some schmaltzy high-end store or gallery by accident and noticed the absence of any price tags, you’ve been drop-kicked into this twilight zone. We’re not going to drop-kick you into that nightmare; this time, you’re going to walk into it by choice with eyes wide open. All this is to manage your expectations regarding the price of super large Hemi crate engines, and explain why your dollars are well spent.

We’re talking, of course, about the second-generation version of the vaunted Hemi, which in street form was originally built by Chrysler between 1966 and 1971 in 426-cubic-inch form. While the late-model third-gen Hemi (2003 to present) is far more prevalent—and quite frankly, the smart hot rodder’s choice—the classic muscle car era Hemi is the jewel we dream about under the hood of that vintage Charger or Road Runner. It can’t be beat in terms of raw intimidation, whether that’s by means of its imposing looks, mechanical valvetrain clatter, locomotive-like power, or bellicose exhaust note. The street Hemi is a thing of beauty that emits a symphony like no other engine on earth.

Hemi Crate Engine Sizes

When the second-generation Chrysler Hemi came out in 1964 as the race Hemi and in 1966 as the street Hemi, it was offered at 426 cubic inches (4.25-inch bore x 3.75-inch stroke). That was large for its day, but in later years it would bloom to 472 ci (4.25-inch bore x 4.150-inch stroke), 528 ci (4.50-inch bore x 4.150-inch stroke), and even 572 ci (4.50-inch bore x 4.50-inch stroke, the largest you can go with the camshaft in the stock location). These days, with an aftermarket block almost certainly part of your Hemi crate engine equation, it only makes sense to slide all the way down to the bottom of the page; unless you are limited on the induction (that’s hard with a Hemi!), there is little cost downside to going with a 572.

Hemi Crate Engine Sticker Shock

For those whose net worth is at least that of a second-string NFL quarterback, the cost of a second-generation street Hemi in crate engine form is not likely to cause you to break out in a sweat. For the rest of us, a giant-ass street Hemi is an aspirational dream and, believe it or not, a highly searched topic on the interwebs that can’t be explained by merely a handful of hardcore gearheads alone. We wondered why, until we realized we were overthinking it, because, well, Hemi.

The Hemi: Still Punching Above Its Weight Class

The Hemi’s mystique is rooted in solid engineering principles that, even 70 years after the Hemi’s first appearance, remain incredibly effective. While it may seem odd to think of it in this way, horsepower is a function of cylinder pressure and, when scaled against the total swept volume, gives engine builders a rough idea of its power potential. In the Hemi’s case, cylinder pressure is its strong point; the Hemi’s design simply makes a bigger bang than other combustion chambers because it enables more air and fuel mass in to begin with, then lights it all off in a shorter interval of time. This is a recipe for high power density, and because the Hemi’s unique cylinder head design has a manifestly different appearance, the Hemi has a look all its own.

Why Are Hemi Crate Engines So Rare and Expensive?

In the rarefied atmosphere of vintage muscle cars, only 10,904 street Hemis were built in the six years between 1966 and 1971. These days, Stellantis (the parent company of Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram) makes that many third-generation Hemis in a week. The existence of usable second-gen Hemi engine cores is nearly zero due to attrition and hoarding, so most Hemi parts—including cylinder cases—are new items, not junkyard finds. A street Hemi isn’t something you “will” from thin air like a junkyard Chevy LS; for a Hemi to land under your hood, somebody’s got to pour molten metal, and that ain’t cheap. Blocks, for instance, start at just over $3,800 for the Dart Machinery Big M Hemi, Callies Performance Hemi block, Bill Mitchell Products Hemi block, or Muscle Motors’ THE Block (all were unavailable as of this writing) and go up to $6,500 for an aluminum Indy Maxx Hemi block (those are available). If you’ve got cash to burn, the Keith Black aluminum Hemi block is also available for a cool $7,495.

A good set of aftermarket aluminum Hemi heads like the Edelbrock Victor Jr. starts at around $3,000 for an assembled pair, so before you even tally up the cost of the valvetrain, rotating assembly, lube system, ignition, machine shop labor, and induction, you’re staring $10,000 in the face. From a practical standpoint, you’ll need to get comfortable with spending no less than $20K for any turnkey second-generation Hemi crate engine.

Ready, Set, Wait (for a Hemi Crate Engine)

Unless you are lucky enough to find somebody who bought a Hemi crate engine and then decided against using it, all second-gen Hemi crate engines are bespoke, built-to-order affairs. Notwithstanding, Hemi crate engines do pop up regularly on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist, and since these were custom-built for someone other than you, you’ll have to settle for what you get. The idea of a second-generation Hemi crate engine is a bit of a misnomer; most crate engines are high-volume commodities made in large numbers and stocked in warehouses, but the high cost of Hemi parts means the seller has to tie up a huge amount of capital to finance and floorplan such an effort.

Because of cost and a dearth of parts, Hemi crate engines are nearly always custom-built with wait times of 12 months or more. Our advice: If your next project involves a second-generation Hemi, you should spec it out and have your chosen engine builder start gathering the parts immediately rather than waiting until you need the engine. If all this preamble sounds like negative Nancy to you with the issues of high cost, sketchy block supplies, and long wait times, it’s for a good cause; nothing else has the impact of a Hemi, and your heart will swell with pride whenever you pop the hood. Trust us—it will be worth the wait!

Who Builds the Best Hemi Crate Engines?

Asking an expert, “Who builds the best Hemi crate engines?” is a bit of a loaded question because any engine builder can order the parts and screw one together. With YouTube and other hardcore engine-building sites like EngineBuilderMag.com, building a 572ci second-generation Hemi is within the realm of possibility at home and certainly at most local mom-and-pop machine shops. Our goal here is to flush out the shops that not only have institutional knowledge in building second-gen Hemis, but that also go on the record publicly and actively court that business online. Under that criteria, companies are few and far between, but some that we’ve been able to identify include Indy Cylinder Head, Ray Barton Racing Engines, For Hemis Only, Muscle Motors, and Prestige Motorsports. Let’s look at these company’s offerings.

Ray Barton Racing Engines Hemi Crate Engines

Of all the second-gen Hemi engine builders, the shop that gets the most recognition within the Mopar community is Ray Barton Racing Engines. Barton’s shop, based in Robesonia, Pennsylvania, has been building NHRA class-winning Hemis for decades. Like all Hemi crate engine builders, Barton builds all Hemis to order, so the bill of materials, horsepower rating, and final cost will vary. Wait times on a Ray Barton Racing Engines Hemi is normally between 12 and 18 months, with a great degree of variability based on whether engine blocks or other parts are immediately available. As Barton is a known Hemi builder and race winner, there is typically a waiting list for one of his engines, but like we said earlier, it’s worth it. We brought you a deep dive of a build-up and dyno test of a Ray Barton 528ci street Hemi crate engine that made 825 hp on pump gas here, and an example of an 822hp Ray Barton 426ci Super Stock Hemi crate engine currently for sale on eBay for $28k can be seen here.

Indy Cylinder Head “Legend” Hemi Crate Engines

With the recent passing of Indy Cylinder Head founder, Russ Flagle, the torch has been passed to longtime Mopar racers Chris and Charli Wheatcraft, who have doubled down on Indy “Legend” Hemi crate engine production since taking over. In addition to the original Indianapolis facility, the Wheatcrafts have opened a second Indy manufacturing location in Xenia, Ohio. As a crate engine builder, Indy is unique in that it manufactures in-house most of the major components going into its Hemi crate engines, including engine blocks, cylinder heads, and intake manifolds. This gives Indy an added degree of cost control and typically shorter wait times. Choose from a Mopar/Callies iron block or Indy Maxx aluminum block, Indy “Legend” Hemi heads, and displacements that include 426ci, 472ci, 526ci, and 572ci. There’s even a choice for a low-deck 451ci Hemi—something the factory never made—that fits in spots no other second-gen Hemi can. Read how Indy built a 572ci Hemi for Popular Hot Rodding.

Muscle Motors Hemi Crate Engines

Muscle Motors of Lansing, Michigan is neck-deep in the Mopar engine-building game, with crate engine programs for every Mopar engine family including LA-series small-block, R/B-series Wedge big-block, third-generation Hemi, and of course, the second-generation Hemi. As a smaller outfit relative to Ray Barton Racing Engines and Indy Cylinder Head, Muscle Motors proprietor Mike Ware is aggressive in pursuing his Hemi engine building operation, and even embarked on a Hemi engine block manufacturing program (called “THE Block”), which, for the time being, has yet to see fruition. Muscle Motors’ line of Hemi Street and Killer Krate Hemi engine packages are among the most affordable you can find anywhere, with iron-block 426ci Street Hemi crate engines starting at the unheard-of price of $14,999. This does come with an asterisk, so you’ll want to call Muscle Motors for details.

For Hemis Only Hemi Crate Engines

We must not forget the Canadians in the audience, as our brothers to the North are big into Chryco machinery, and that includes Hemi equipment. We know relatively little about For Hemis Only (Bewdley, Ontario, Canada), but the name certainly speaks volumes. Hemi crate engines are their stock-in-trade, and if you can untangle any confusion of exchange rates and cross-border shipping, then you’ll want to look hard at FHO’s line of 528ci, 540ci, and 572ci second-generation Hemi crate engines. FHO makes a point to mention that any of their Hemi crate engines can be dressed as stock appearing, show-n-shine Pro Street, or race-ready. Like all our Hemi crate engine builders in this feature, few prices are quoted on FHO’s website as the equipment you choose can greatly affect cost.

Prestige Motorsports Hemi Crate Engines

Prestige Motorsports of Concord, North Carolina, is the only engine builder in our group that builds a significant number of non-Chrysler engines alongside its line of Hemi Super Street crate engines. That might not be fine with true-blue Mopar gearheads, but know that Prestige has much experience in this area; a closer look at this specific 572ci Hemi crate engine offered for sale on Prestige’s eBay storefront for $22,499 may prove instructive. At this price, a verified dyno sheet showing over 700 hp is produced from 572 cubes via a 4.5-inch stroke forged steel crank in a 4.5-inch bore filled with custom forged JE pistons in an aluminum Indy Maxx block. CNC-ported Edelbrock Victor Jr. heads are filled by a proprietary solid-roller camshaft, but induction and ignition are left to the buyer. We must point out that, in our experience, Prestige quite often has crate engines on hand in its eBay store, ready to ship. Long waits are often a deal breaker for those in a hurry, and Prestige does better than most at having bespoke engine on hand at a moment’s notice.

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