Tom Hoover, “Father of the Hemi” Passes Away at 85

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Source: George Mattar for Hemmings

by Mariah Prescott
RacingJunk.com – Article published here

May 5, 2015

Tom Hoover, “Father of the Hemi” passed away on  April 30th at the age of 85 following a long-term illness. Born and raised just west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, his father was an auto mechanic. After high school, he went on to pursue a degree at Juanita College in his hometown, but it was interrupted by the Korean War. Hoover served 19 months overseas with the National Guard. He returned to Juanita College and completed his bachelor’s degree in physics before completing a master’s from Penn State. In 1955, he started at Chrysler Corporation and received a second Master’s degree from the Chrysler institute in automotive engineering.

While working at Chrysler, he made friends with guys who loved to race and founded the Ramchargers racing team with Wayne Erickson, Dick Maxwell, Don Moore, Bill Koger, Herman Mozer, and Jim Thornton. Hoover said that the team name comes from the then new ram manifold and that the cylinders were charged with air.

At Chrysler Corp, his first project was working on the development of an early electronic fuel injection system, the Bendix Electrojector. The project wasn’t quite a success.

Although Chrysler hadn’t really been in the racing industry, when Lynn Townsend came to the corporation in 1961 he changed that. His son had brought it to his attention that Chryslers weren’t exactly a favorite of young people.

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It was around this time that the 426 Wedge was being used in racing, and winning everything but according to Hoover, “It wasn’t enough in NASCAR.” So Townsend turned to the young, ambitious Hoover to change this and develop a racing engine able to compete with the others.

Develop he did. Fifty-odd years later, the Hemi design is still a staple. He said it “wasn’t accidental… We knew this thing was gonna be good.” They based it off the older raised B engine and combined their older Wedge block with a new cylinder head design that used their new hemispherical-shaped combustion chambers.

The 426 Hemi debuted with Richard Petty at Daytona Beach in 1964 and was a huge success, so much so that the 426 Hemi was banned from NASCAR in ’65 under the pretense that it wasn’t a production engine. The Street Hemi didn’t debut until 1966 when NASCAR lifted the ban and Petty took the season by storm.

Hoover worked with Chrysler until 1978, when he went to work for GE. Even in the 2000s when Chrysler was designing the 5.7 they supposedly sent engineers to his house to work out design issues and to let him have the final word.  He certainly has left his mark on automotive history and we will forever remember him as “The Father of the [426] Hemi.”

Cover feature photo via thenewswheel.com

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