Who Invented the HEMI Engine?

by Rob Wagner

The HEMI engine's long and varied history has led to confusion of the identity of its inventor. No single person has earned the distinction as creator. But the engineering feat began with the Welch Motor Car Company in 1904, and the concept has been massaged over the decades until perfected by the Chrysler Corporation.

History

Alan R. Welch and his brothers, owners of the Welch Motor Car Company, are credited for pioneering the hemispherical engine. The power plant was a simple 20-horsepower, 2-cylinder engine with a single overhead camshaft. Although the General Motors discontinued the HEMI in 1910 when it bought Welch, Peugeot developed its own hemispherical engine. BMW mass-produced a HEMI version before Chrysler engineered it for modern use.

Significance

The Welch design served as a blueprint for high-performance engines that were used in military aircraft during World War II and today in dragsters, racing stock cars and high-performance automobiles.

Function

The Ardun HEMI engine engineered by Zora Arkus-Duntov.

The HEMI's bowl-shaped combustion chambers, angled valves and twin spark plugs per cylinder allow for greater air intake that gives a more efficient mix of fuel and air to create higher compression and resulting in more power.

Types

A radial aircraft engine featuring the HEMI design.

Aside from automotive uses, Pratt and Whitney used HEMI heads on its radial aircraft engines during World War II, while Chrysler used HEMIs in 1939 for its V-16 engines for military aircraft.

Features

The HEMI achieved its greatest success with the 426-cubic-inch model that had a compression ratio of 10.25-to-1 to generate 490 foot-pounds of torque.

Identification

The 1904-09 Welch Model 4-0 Tourer models all sported the HEMI engine, while 1966-78 and 2007 Dodge Chargers were heavily marketed by Chrysler as HEMI-powered.

Misconceptions

Contrary to popular myth, Zora Arkus-Duntov did not invent the HEMI.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, who designed a HEMI head conversion for the Ford flathead V-8, is often credited for inventing the HEMI, but the Welch brothers pioneered the engine at least 30 years before his involvement.

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Chrysler Corporation, General Motors