The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
When the Chrysler 426 Hemi factory racing engine made its historic debut at the 1964 Daytona 500, it powered the first-, second- and third-place finishers. Two years later, the company was offering a tuned-down street version of the engine to the general public in select Chrysler models. By then, the engine affectionately known as “the elephant,” due to its enormous size, was the most coveted automobile power plant on the market.
Naturally, Tim Stewart wanted one. The Land O Lakes area resident had owned a couple of 1969 Plymouth Roadrunners, with powerful 383 engines and four-speed manual transmissions, but they were not Hemis. The Roadrunners were fairly Spartan as far as options and comfort are concerned, and it was not until about eight years ago that Stewart finally purchased a vehicle powered by the legendary 426 Hemi engine. His 1969 Plymouth GTX is truly in a class of its own.
“Plymouth only made 186 Hemi GTXs in 1969,” Stewart says. “Half of those had automatic transmissions and half had four-speed manual transmissions. True Hemi cars started out as convertibles and the manufacturer welded a top onto the car to give the vehicle extra body strength to handle the torque of the engine. It has heavy duty rear springs, a pinion snubber reinforcement plate and a skid plate by the old pan. You can look underneath the car and know if it is a real Hemi car or not.”
The GTX is a beautifully-preserved Jamaica Blue hardtop with a three-speed automatic transmission and nearly every option available at the time on a GTX.
“As far as I know, the only available option it does not have is a vinyl roof,” Stewart explains. “It is one of the most highly-equipped GTXs known to exist. It has a console automatic transmission, power windows, a rear window de-fogger, bumper guards, additional chrome, an additional mirror, hood stripes, power steering, power disc brakes, functional “air grabber” hood scoops and an eight-track stereo with four speakers.”
Two options that were widely available on 1969 cars that Stewarts GTX does not have are air conditioning and cruise control, but he says that was typical of Hemi-powered cars. The enormous 426 Hemi elephant engine occupies nearly every square inch of the engine bay, leaving no room for such amenities.
Stewart says the original purchaser had to specifically order all of the options to be included on his 1969 Plymouth GTX, including the heavy duty Dana 60 rear axle, which features a nine and three-quarter-inch ring gear.
Despite the powerful 426 Hemi engine, fed by a pair of four-barrel carburetors, the 1969 Plymouth GTX was not just a muscle car.
“The GTX was based on the Plymouth Belvedere series,” Stewart explains. “The Belvedere was mostly used for police cruisers and taxi cabs, and the Plymouth Sport Satellite, Roadrunner and GTX were all based on the Belvedere. The Roadrunner was a minimally-equipped car that was designed to be light and to go fast, but the GTX was more geared toward comfort and luxury. In theory, the Hemi GTX would be as fast as a Hemi Roadrunner, but it is heavier.”
The 1969 Plymouth Hemi GTX may not be as instantly recognizable to the general public as the Roadrunner, but similar vehicles in less pristine condition and with fewer options than Stewarts GTX routinely command in excess of $80,000 when they come on the market. Such is the reputation and continued infatuation with the Chrysler 426 Hemi engine. Although the elephant was no longer offered in Chrysler vehicles after 1970, one would be hard pressed to find a funny car or top fuel dragster not powered by some version of the Chrysler 426 Hemi engine.

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