Classic Car

1966 Dodge Hemi Coronet Is A Four-Door Unicorn Built By Don “Big Daddy” Garlits


Introduced in 1964 as a race-spec engine, the iconic 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) HEMI V8 founds its way into street cars for the 1966 model year. Dodge and Plymouth originally offered it in a total of four nameplates, but the HEMI became available in no fewer than 13 different American models before it went out of production in 1971.

The HEMI powered mundane vehicles like the Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Belvedere, as well as range-topping muscle cars such as the Dodge Charger and Plymouth GTX. It was also fitted in the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda, as well as the Daytona and Superbird homologation specials. All these cars had one thing in common: they were two-door models. Officially, Chrysler did not offer four-door sedans and station wagons with the 426 HEMI.

But that’s not to say that the mill wasn’t fitted in Mopars with more than two doors. Because a few privately-built dragsters did hit the track with HEMIs under their hoods. But more importantly, Dodge went wild and dropped the 426 into the four-door sedan version of the 1966 Coronet, creating the rarest Mopar sleeper out there.

Unknown even to most Chrysler enthusiasts, the HEMI Coronet sedan is also engulfed in mystery. There’s no info as to how many were built and whether Dodge was planning a regular-production model, but some sources suggest that only five sedans got the mighty HEMI.

And while detailed info is scarce, it seems that three of them were sold in the United States, one in Canada, and the fifth car was shipped outside North America. Of the three U.S. cars, two were reportedly built as special orders for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

All five HEMI sedans were fitted with automatic transmissions, Sure-Grip rear ends with 3.23 gears, heavy-duty batteries, and front sway bars. But like most HEMI models, they were devoid of air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, and power windows.

Where are they now? Well, it seems that the whereabouts of the export cars are unknown. However, the three U.S. examples are still around, with one of them having been auctioned off for $660,000 back in 2007. Another car is in Minnesota, while the third one is resting in the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.


This brings me to the awesome car I’m here to tell you about. Yup, it’s also a HEMI-powered Coronet sedan, but it’s not one of those vehicles that were put together in a Dodge factory. This one got its 426 V8 after it left the assembly line. But here’s the cool thing: the mill was installed by drag-racing legend Don “Big Daddy” Garlits. And it’s more than just a Coronet Deluxe fitted with a HEMI.

Don wanted to recreate the original HEMI sedan he owned, so he also installed a Sure Grip rear end with factory specifications, a heavy-duty battery, and even a front sway bar. All told, it’s as authentic as HEMI Coronet four-door sedans get, only that it was built a while later than its siblings. There’s no info as to when it was sold by Don Garlits, but the car now sports his signature on the dashboard.

And interestingly enough, the plate it comes with says it’s a recreation of one of two (not five or three U.S. models) four-door sedans built by Chrysler in 1966. I told you this HEMI Coronet is a bit controversial.

Anyway, while it might not be the real deal, this Mopar is one of those cool sleepers that’s as close to factory-built status as possible. On top of that, it’s been upgraded and owned by one of the greatest racing drivers out there. The fact that it’s also a low-mileage example with less than 17,000 miles on the odo makes it even better.


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