The 1963 Dodge 426 Ramcharger was Chrysler’s knee-jerk response to the
escalation of the cubic-inch war. Known as
the Ramcharger and immodestly billed as the “hottest performing power plant to
come off a production line,” this Max Wedge design was the next step up from
the 413 V-8 of 1962.
The superpowered 1963 Dodge 426 Ramcharger was
a tough contender among muscle cars.
Chrysler’s quest for brute horsepower brought more changes than just a displacement boost, however. In essence, Dodge’s 426 Ramcharger was a 413 V-8, bored from 4.19 to 4.25 inches, though the former 3.75-inch stroke was retained. And except for a color change from Turquoise paint on the 413 to Race Hemi Orange on the 426, the two engines looked identical.
But there were many serious changes beneath the surface, including large-port cylinder heads, a forged-steel crankshaft, double shot-peened connecting rods with high-strength bolts, and forged-aluminum high-compression pistons.
Each rod was magnaflux-inspected to detect any hairline cracks or imperfections. Mechanical (solid) lifters were used and a heavy-duty valve train held stiffer springs and retainers to prevent high-speed valve “float.” Chrysler said the valve train was stable to 6500 rpm.
To ease airflow, Ramchargers used 2.08-inch intake valves and had exhaust valves that were 1/4-inch larger than standard. Port areas of each cylinder head were about 25-percent larger than in the standard 413 to boost volumetric efficiency. An oversized exhaust system used streamlined cast-iron, long-branch exhaust manifolds with three-inch outlet cutouts and two-inch tailpipes. The dual-point distributor offered full centrifugal advance.
In its initial form, two Carter AFB-3447SA four-barrel carburetors rode atop a short-ram intake manifold. A solid-lifter camshaft with 300-degree duration and .509-inch lift pushed valves toward 81-cc (minimum) chamber heads. Mid-year improvements included larger Carter AFB-3705SA carburetors, higher (.520-inch) valve lift, longer (308-degree) exhaust valve duration, and larger combustion chamber volume. Also added in the modified edition were Tri-Y exhaust headers.
Dodge rated the Ramcharger V-8 at 415 horsepower with standard 11.0:1 compression or 425 horsepower with the optional 13.5:1 compression ratio. Most observers believed the true outputs were much higher.
Sending all this horsepower to the back wheels was a special three-speed manual gearbox with floor shift and closely spaced ratios (2.10,1.44 and 1.0 to 1). A heavy-duty TorqueFlite automatic with pushbutton gear selection also was available and was set to upshift at up to 5600 rpm. A “Sure-Grip” rear axle carried a standard 3.91:1 ratio, but the option lists spanned ratios from 2.93:1 to 4.89:1.
If the regular heavy-duty rear springs weren’t sufficient, an optional stiffer right-spring setup delivered even more traction to the standard 7.50 × 14 Tyrex-cord tires. Those who wanted bigger grabbers out back could ask the dealer for 9.00´14 skins.
It’s important to remember that this engine was available in any Dodge except the compact Dart. Its most potent application was in the mid-size Polara range. Stretched three-inches from ’62, the 119-inch wheelbase Polara came in coupe, sedan, hardtop and convertible, though serious racers might prefer an innocuous wrapper for their Max Wedge, maybe a nice, base two-door sedan.
The Polara had taken on a new shape for ’63, with elongated front fenders, twin-set headlamps, and sculptured rear quarter panels. It was similar to the new, smaller compact Dart. Like the former (1962) Dart mid-size, the ’63 Polara had a rounded dashboard with pod-style “George Jetson” instrumentation, which appeared as a separate unit. Interior styling was futuristic overall, in fact, like all Chrysler products of the era, with tapered door handles, window cranks, and armrests.
Dodge performance fans had four 383-cubic-inch V-8s from which to choose in ’63, including the 383 B-Wedge High Performance V-8 that churned out 330 horsepower via a single Carter AFB or 390 horses with two. Known as the 383 “Polara” in Dodge installations, this smaller-displacement V-8 had good road manners and reliability well ahead of the 426 Ramchargers. The 340-horsepower 413 was the largest engine most buyers considered for the street.
With the 426’s brute horsepower came reliability and streetability problems that made it tough to manage for daily use. Even the sales brochure warned that the Ramcharger engine warmed up slowly because it put no heat on the intake manifold.
Dodge, in fact, issued a clear warning that the power-packed 426 Ramcharger was “not a street machine.” Instead, the brochure added, it had been “designed to be run in supervised, sanctioned drag-strip competition by those qualified....Yet, it is stock in every sense of the word.”
Dodge Chief Engineer George Gibson said development lessons learned on the Ramcharger trickled down to other Dodges. A “maximum-performance engine explores new ideas,” he said. “It subjects engines, transmissions, and other power-train components to stresses and strains far greater than will ever be encountered in normal driving. And as a result, we learn how to improve lubrication, ignition, carburetion, cooling and heat transfer -- just to name a few examples.”
On the track, the super-powered Dodge earned instant respect. The potent 425-horse, dual-quad 426 Ramcharger blistered the NHRA record books with quarter-mile times in the 12-second range. In factory lightweight form, wearing an aluminum front-end, the 1963 Dodge tipped the scales at 3200 pounds -- not bad for a mid-size with a big block under the hood.
With the available aluminum front fenders, hood and front bumpers, and two big air scoops feeding the twin ram-inducted four-barrel carbs, the 1963-64 Ramcharger was the toughest of contenders. The aluminum-component Dodges cleaned up in a special “Limited Production” category.
“When a Dodge loses these days,” boasted one MoPar ad, “it’s to another Dodge.”
During 1964, fans of street muscle could order a detuned version of the Ramcharger with 10.3:1 compression, a milder cam, and no ram-induction setup. That one idled a lot smoother, making it more practical on the street. The revived Hemi V-8 was also waiting in the wings for a early-’64 debut.
Still, the all-out 1963 Ramcharger Dodges (and equivalent Super Stock Plymouths) hold special meaning for MoParphiles as key players in the history of early muscle.
|Displacement (cid)||426 ||426|
|Horsepower @ rpm: ||415 @ 5600 ||425 @ 5600|
|Torque (pounds/feet) @ rpm ||470 @ 4400 ||480 @ 4400|
|Compression Ratio ||11.0:1 ||13.5:1|
|Bore (inches) ||4.25 ||4.25|
|Stroke (inches) ||3.75 ||3.75|
|Valve Lifters ||Mechanical ||Mechanical|
|Availability ||Dodge, all except Dart|
|0-60 mph (sec)||N/A|
|0-100 mph (sec) ||N/A|
|1/4-mile (sec) ||12.00 @ 117 mph |
|Top speed (mph)||120 (est)|
|Axle ratio ||4.56:1 |
|Engine type ||426 (425-hp Lightweight racer) |
*Source: Muscle Car Review (1987)
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