1600hp blown 392ci Chrysler Hemi – Mill of the month

Sydney’s Joe Kurtovic plonks a stonking blown 1958 Hemi into his gorgeous ’34 Ford coupe


IS THERE a more iconic drag racing engine than a blown and injected Chrysler Hemi? Considering they’re still the engine of choice for the quickest cars on the planet, there’s not much that comes near it. Admittedly, the 10,000hp-plus engines of today bear little resemblance to the engines that powered Chrysler products back in 1955, but the one you’re looking at here is the real deal – a genuine relic of cast-iron goodness from 1958 topped with a host of super-cool, mostly magnesium speed parts from the 60s.

Like all great ideas, it came about when a couple of mates got together over a few sherbets. But when those mates are Joe Kurtovic and Glenn Hogan, two hardcore Sydney hot rodders, you just know they’re going to come up with something a little bit nuts.

Joe’s no stranger to blown cars; his ’34 Ford coupe sported an 800hp SBC and ran low 10s, while his front-engined dragster runs deep into the eights with a blown 202 Holden. Glenn’s regular ride is a ’32 Ford coupe with a blown Hemi that has been all over the eastern seaboard. “We sort of laughed about putting a cackle engine in the FED, which would have been period-correct and looked great, but I didn’t have the heart to pull the 202 out of the dragster,” Joe says. “I just happened to sell the SBC out of the hot rod and decided to put the Hemi in, do a few burnouts and see what happens.”

Yep, this monster is going into Joe’s hot rod, and as if a blown Hemi isn’t crazy enough, this thing sucks down a healthy diet of 86 per cent nitromethane and will make somewhere between 1600 and 2000hp!

The whole deal came together in just three months thanks to the expertise of Queenslander Graham Slapp, a man who knows a thing or two about nitro engines. “I rang him to buy a few bits and pieces to build my own Hemi, and he said he could build me the whole lot with parts he’d collected over the past 20 years,” says Joe.

It’s not just for looks either, with the block grout-filled and converted to four-bolt mains that clamp down a billet Bryant crank. Aluminium GRP rods connect to JE pistons with just 6.0:1 compression, but combined with the 33 per cent overdriven 8/71 Bowers blower – rebuilt by Jim Reed – the squeeze factor will increase considerably.

The heads are factory cast-iron, but they’ve also received some extra special treatment from a legend of drag racing. “They’re killer Joe Mondello race heads,” Joe says. “They’ve got 2.00-inch intake and 2.00-inch exhaust valves, all set up for nitro.”

The engine – and the car itself – features a healthy dose of that lightweight wonder, magnesium. Whether polished to a mirror-finish like the Enderle Bug Catcher hat or left in its natural oxidised grey finish like the blower and wheels, it’s cool as hell and the perfect look for this all-business coupe. “The front spindle-mount wheels came off a funny car from the 60s, and the rear wheels came off a 60s hot rod from Sydney,” Joe says. “To get all those parts within the past three months has been ridiculous.”

Joe admits the tune-up at the moment leans more towards the cacklefest side of things, which will be a feature at the World Fuel Altered Challenge this weekend at Sydney Dragway. But it’s not all about the show: “We’ve tuned it to shoot the biggest flames possible and still be able to do a burnout and a pass here and there,” Joe says. “We haven’t had it on a dyno, but they reckon on methanol it will make about 1500hp, and once we throw the ‘pop’ in it, somewhere around 2000hp.”

In the meantime, Joe slotted the engine into the hot rod using the existing driveline, with a Wilcap adapter mating the Hemi to a Powerglide, but there’s a Reid-cased ’Glide going in soon. It’s a similar situation with the rear end, which is a tried-and-tested nine-inch, but that will probably be updated to a 40-spline full-floater. “If I want to do some burnouts it will be fine, but if I want to get serious I’ll have to rebuild the whole thing,” Joe says.

Speaking of burnouts, Joe thinks it’s about time to bring back the long-lost art of fire burnouts. “If we can find some outback regional track that will let us, we’ll head out there on a Saturday night, light a fire, do a burnout and see what happens! At the end of the day, the only reason we did it was to have fun, to bring a bit of fun back to the sport, where people can sit in it, we can fire it up and have a good laugh. That’s what it’s all about – having fun and hanging out with your mates.”

1. When it comes to building cool cars, the Outkasts don’t muck around. With the engine arriving the day before, the members got together to chip in to help, a car club ritual that seems to have been forgotten in more recent times. How else would you be able to swap a blown Nitro Hemi into a car in one night?

2. The Wilcap adapter allowed fitment of the ’58 392 Hemi to Joe’s existing Powerglide trans. He’s also got a Reid-cased ’Glide in the build to make sure everything hangs together.

3. Joe’s ’34 coupe has been on the road around 15 years and has been constantly evolving and getting ever quicker. Initially built fully fendered and with green flames, it’s slowly morphing into a fuel altered coupe.

4. That’s Joe watching the crane carefully. The Hemi is all genuine 1950s pig iron, and with a grout-filled block, it’s no lightweight

5. There was no other choice than zoomies for an engine like this. The night-time cacklefest is going to be amazing!

6. That 3.5-gallon – just over 13L – Moon tank isn’t going to last long! Joe reckons the car used four litres in 45sec of idling!

7. Figuring out the fitment and location of the Moon tank is a crucial part of the build.

8. Perfection. This hot rod was already a low 10sec car with an 800hp blown small-block Chev. The Hemi has over twice the power, so it will be a fun ride, that’s for sure!

9. The crew! From left to right: Andy Colalillo, Mike Palazzo, Glenn Hogan, Sean Hagerty, Matty John, Johnny Formosa, John Kuiper, Joe Kurtovic

10. Joe is merciless with the ’34, spanking it at the drags, dirt drags and on the burnout pad. Here she is in SBC-powered form at Throttlestomp earlier this year


Built by: Graham Slapp
Inlet manifold: Cragar
Induction: Bowers magnesium 8/71
Heads: Joe Mondello race heads, 110cc, titanium retainers, Titan rockers
Valves: Stainless-steel, 2.00in (in), 2.00in (ex)
Camshaft: John Dearmore Crane-spec cackle cam, Donovan gear drive
Pistons: JE, coated, 6.0:1
Crank: Bryant billet
Conrods: GRP aluminium
Pushrods: Jet Engineering
Preferred fuel: 86 per cent nitro
Fuel pump: Hilborn –4, 16gpm
Exhaust: 2.5in zoomies
Ignition: Vertex magneto