The 1966 Plymouth Satellite Is A True Hemi With Great Looks And A Bad Four-Speed Attitude.


“You get lucky every once in a while, but not very often.” Depending on one’s perspective and concept of chance, this rule is questionable. But when it comes to having an early 426 HEMI Mopar – the original, of course – everyone agrees. Take the following Plymouth Satellite from 1966 and its numbers-matching mesmerizing 426 cubic-inch V8 with a close-ratio four-speed for this philosophical conundrum.

The quote at the opening of this story belongs to the owner of one of those legends. Right off the bat, die-hard Moparists will say that this car is one rare treat and a very desirable one at that. Being a 1966 model – the first year for the Street HEMI engine – and putting the 425 hp down via a four-speed manual transmission makes it one out of 503 hardtop Satellites built in this configuration. The Plymouth Satellite arrived a year earlier as a top-trim level for the Belvedere, and in 1966, Chrysler built 35,399 of them.

However, the business installed its most infamous engine in only 817 ordinary-looking Satellites. 1966 was a banner year for HEMI, with 2,729 hemispherical combustion chambers big-blocks sold. When you compare it to the legendary powerplant’s 1967 production of only 213 units, you get the idea. Fortunately, Chrysler made the correct decision to keep the Moster engine after the 1967 sales fiasco.

The infamously capable engine, a haughty and picky dragon, rose to fame on racetracks. In 1964, Richard Petty rode the elephant engine’s high(er)-performance variation to his maiden Grand National victory. Following a disagreement with Ford, the HEMI was expelled from NASCAR in 1965.

After being trashed by Dodges and Plymouths at Daytona – and the other tracks – FoMoCo protested the ‘race-only’ availability of the HEMI. At least, that’s the popular version of the story. The untold part is that Blue Oval also tried the same trick with their single overhead camshaft V8 – the famous Cammer – that NASCAR didn’t approve to take the fight to Chrysler. So, in 1965, both engines got sacked from the high-speed ovals.

Chrysler noted this and detuned the 550-hp race HEMI to a streetable variant – the 425-hp, 490 lb-ft (431 PS, 664 Nm) V8 that still thrills us. That started in 1966, and the legend lasted until 1971, when we all know what happened. The Clean Air Act and insurance premiums strangled performance, and the 426 cubic-inch (7.0-liter) HEMI was shelved forever.

To convert the championship-winning ‘King Kong’ V8 into an ordinary day-in, day-out driver acceptable for civilian (but not necessarily civilized) use, Chrysler engineers had to turn some wrenches. They met the corporation’s detuning target by swapping out a ram-type magnesium intake manifold for an aluminum non-ram one, scraping the aluminum cylinder heads for cast-iron counterparts, and swapping in two 625CFM Carter carbs for the Holleys. Shortening the camshaft’s duration, lowering the compression ratio from 11.0 to 10.25, using cast iron exhaust headers instead of fabricated steel, and incorporating manifold heat all contributed to the thoroughbred HEMI’s release.

The addition of cast iron parts put a heavy load on the front axle of every car that housed the monster engine, and this Plymouth Satellite from 1966 is no stranger to that burden. But, unlike the later muscle cars equipped with the torque ogre, the car we can see in the video is one discrete self-contained sleeper.


Apart from two easy-to-miss ‘426 HEMI’ badges on the front fenders, just behind the wheel arches, only a most inconspicuous 426 scripting adorns the minuscule hood ornament. Nothing else gives this car away for what it is – an environmentalist’s nightmare.

Even though this particular example is as green as it gets, inside and out, Greenpeace would likely not propose it for a ‘Stop the global warming’ medal. But back in 1966, the icecaps were not the mainstream popstars of later years, so gearheads weren’t concerned about their HEMIs’ greenhouse effect. The major headache back then was the motor’s price. Factor this in: the standard Plymouth Satellite had a base price of $2,810 when new.

The HEMI option was a $1,105 affair – almost 40% of the cost of the regular car. With several other options, the grand total would go over $4,000 – a lot of money for a car with very little to offer. Even performance wasn’t enough to justify the price tag. The demand, however, was not for creature comforts and amenities coupled with the HEMI but for pure tire-shredding fun.

And tire-smoking it delivered – which wasn’t a difficult job at all, given the skinny 7.75×14 rubbers that weren’t particularly grippy. This was another downside of the Satellite – while it could go fast, it didn’t stop very well once it got rolling. The 11-inch (228 mm) drum brakes on all four corners did a great job at locking the wheels beyond any hope of controlling the car, which would turn into a sleigh with fish-tailing habits.

The green HEMI we see here has been painstakingly restored; before the current owner purchased it, it belonged to the owner of a restoration firm. That’s why it looks so wonderful, and also explains the HEMI’s healthy heartbeat. The solid lifters play a role in covering a wide spectrum of noises and making the engine seem like it has no oil pressure (the street HEMI was manufactured in this architecture until 1967). Keeping it in tune (pun intended) needed regular attention and excellent competence, and an owner might occasionally fail to adjust the HEMI to its optimal power band.

However, after the engine received the necessary attention and maintenance, it became a lethal weapon – and the owner of this lean green-on-green mean machine has a story to tell. The car’s ‘rodeo behavior’ beyond second gear had been cautioned about by the previous owner. Nonetheless, this Mopar fan forgot about it.

He placed his foot down and went through the gears one day at the dragstrip. When the car reached 60 mph (97 kph) and he moved into third, the entire crowd gasped for air as the Satellite skidded sideways. Fortunately, no one or anything was harmed, and the HEMI returned to its trailer safe haven, where it still remains today.