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Having Fun With a HEMI

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All photos by Joe Wilssens

Think you’re too big to ride a tricycle? What if that tricycle has a 4-foot-tall tire in front, regulation-sized racing slicks in back, a Dodge Viper bucket seat, and a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine? How’d you like to take that baby for a spin around the block?

While you won’t find the HEMI trike at your local toy store, it really does exist! Marcus Braun of Vancouver, BC, dreamed up the monster trike for Chrysler’s “What Can You Do With a HEMI?” contest, taking grand prize for his super-powered adult-sized version of the childhood classic.

The contest drew over 360 entries, but only the five finalists saw their ideas become reality. Here’s a peek at the four inspired runners up:
A HEMI Snowblower, conceived by Tim Flucht of Belleville, Michigan, boasts 345 horsepower and 375 foot pounds of torque. Take that, Old Man Winter!
A HEMI-Go-Round, designed by Jonathan Brzon of Topeka, Kansas, spins at nearly twice the speed of most Merry-Go-Rounds. Instead of horses, naturally, passengers ride in scaled-down versions of classic and modern HEMI-powered cars and trucks.
A HEMI-powered Zamboni, or "HEMI-on-Ice," was the brainchild of Dan Burg of Lindenhurst, Illinois. Rather than a propane-powered engine, Burg included a HEMI with Mopar performance headers and a Borla exhaust system on his super-charged version of the classic ice-rink resurfacer.
The HEMI Shredder, entered by Randy Fredner of Earlysville, Virginia, is every cubicle dweller’s dream. This industrial-strength desk-shaped office machine shreds full reams of paper, CDs, phone books and more. It even includes a HEMI-powered pencil sharpener, but if you want to keep all ten fingers, we don’t recommend you try it at home!

What Is a HEMI?
What makes a HEMI unique is the shape of its combustion chambers: Rather than being flat on top, they’re formed into a dome or “hemisphere.” When the HEMI was designed, the shape allowed for more efficient fuel burning and enhanced airflow compared to the more common flat-top models of the time. The HEMI design minimized heat loss, a major factor in performance problems, because a great deal of heat is lost near an engine's surface and a HEMI has a smaller surface area than a flat-head engine. Less heat escapes, so peak pressure is generally higher.

Another advantage of the HEMI design is the size of the valves. Because the valves are on opposite sides of the head, there’s more room for them than in an engine where the valves are in line with each other. Larger valves mean improved airflow.

So why doesn’t every car have a HEMI? Although still a favorite in racing, there are some disadvantages to the HEMI design when it comes to passenger vehicles. For starters, the hemispherical head can’t accommodate more than two valves per cylinder. Two valves are standard for NASCAR, but the average street driver might prefer four slightly smaller valves to let the engine breath more efficiently. Also, HEMIs are big. Many car manufacturers and consumers would rather have a smaller combustion chamber for even less heat loss during combustion. The pentroof design of most modern engines includes a smaller combustion chamber and four valves.

History of the HEMI
The HEMI was introduced to the public in 1951, setting off “horsepower wars” among the major U.S. automobile companies. In 1959, Chrysler stopped making the engine because it cost so much to manufacture, but after cars sporting the 426 HEMI won first, second, and third place in the 1964 Daytona 500, the engine remained a favorite for motor sports. Its reputation for exceptional power and performance has been legendary -- especially in muscle car and NASCAR circles -- ever since. In 2002 Chrysler brought the HEMI back to the public with a new 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 on its Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 models and today Chrysler offers the power of HEMI on several other models as well.

Build Your Own HEMI
Whether or not you'd opt for a HEMI on your own vehicle, if you love cars, you've gotta love the HEMI. In fact, the engine design is so unique and so popular that some toy manufacturers offer scaled-down models of the HEMI to introduce young mechanics to the innovative, once-revolutionary design. The Dodge 426 HEMI V-8 Visible Engine, for example, is a one-quarter scale model replica of the legendary 426 HEMI that took NASCAR by storm over 40 years ago. Assembling the model gives you an inside look at the HEMI design and how it works, including all the details: It's got the crank-shaft and bearings, connecting rods and pistons, cam, cam bearings and push rods, valves, rocker arms, headers, intake manifold and valve covers. The battery-powered engine “works” at the push of a button, and it even sounds like a HEMI!

If you’re really interested in engines, don’t stop there! Once your 426 HEMI is up and running, check out the Visible V8 Model Engine Kit, which includes the illustrated guide, “How an Auto Engine Works.” The interior engine parts move to give you an up-close look at how an internal combustion engine operates, and a hand-crank lets you adjust the speed so you can see every detail in action. Another great engine-building kit is the Smithsonian Motor Works Model Engine, a battery-powered 4-cylinder model engine with working lights and sounds. And let’s not forget about motorcycles! The Harley-Davidson Visible Twin-Cam 88 Engine Model lets you build a one-half scale model of the Harley powerhouse. Sure, these kits are made for kids, but we won’t tell if you let your dad get his hands on them, too!

For even more exciting toys and kits that teach about mechanics, check out Mechanics at discoverthis.com science kits.

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