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Weekly Motor Fix: carryin’ loads and haulin’ arse, the 426 way

15 December 2015

Is there anything on this ’86 Dodge Ram that looks slightly out of the ordinary to you? Perhaps that stealthy side-exit exhaust, or the late-model Ram wheels? Or was it the plate, bearing those three numerals signifying what is, quite likely, the absolute pinnacle in muscle car folklore? 

In the muscle car universe, the number 426 is a magic one — synonymous with Chrysler’s 426ci Hemi. The legendary 426 Hemi was introduced in February 1964. It powered Richard Petty’s Plymouth Belvedere to eight victories, claiming the Nascar championship for that year, and its racing prowess would be proven again when Don Garlits ran a 7.78-second quarter-mile at 201.34mph, breaking the 200mph barrier for the standing quarter. The success of the 426 Hemi has carried it through the years, and it is still one of the highest-regarded engines ever produced. 

However, the power plant beneath the bonnet of this sedate-looking pickup truck is not a Hemi, but a 426ci Max Wedge big block. While the Max Wedge engines never earned quite the same universal appeal as their big brother Hemis, they are still extremely well respected by those in the know, and this one has been warmed up a fair bit since it left the factory. 

The engine is not true to the truck, but it is a genuine 426ci Max Wedge of 1964 vintage. It doesn’t look stock, and that’s because it isn’t — Manley rods and Wiseco forged pistons, with a static compression ratio of 11.5:1, take care of the immense bottom end, with cast-iron Max Wedge heads, a dual plane intake manifold, and Quick Fuel 750cfm carb rounding off the top end. All of the above is good for approximately 475hp, which is more than enough to get the old girl moving. 

Look through the window, and you’ll spot another unexpected surprise — a Hurst four-speed floor shifter. As a factory four-speed manual truck, the only change in the transmission department has been the move to an overdriven A833 four-speed, which allows for a lazy 2000rpm at 100kph, as well as open-road economy of around 16mpg. 

The rear end is a suitably chunky Chrysler 8¾-inch diff, and, while it is more than up to the task of the 426’s immense power and torque, the tyres weren’t. As such, the Ram’s tray has been lined with around 300kg of 16mm bed plate, to both aid in traction and drop the rear ride height a tad. 

The net result of all this firepower is a mechanical package that is more than capable of tearing a licence into shreds on the spot, although you’d seriously struggle to pick it at first glance. And, while the term ‘sleeper’ is being thrown around a lot — and sometimes rather questionably — this is a vehicle that we really think is deserving of the label. Sometimes, it’s the plainest-looking cars that are the most interesting.