With only 241 cubic inches, the Dodge Red Ram was the Chrysler Corporation’s smallest hemi V8 in the 1950s, but it was an able performer in its own right.
In a display of corporate extravagance we seldom see from an automaker today, the Chrysler Corporation produced three separate and distinct hemi V8 engine families in the 1950s. The senior Chrysler division came first with its 331 CID hemi V8 in 1951, followed by DeSoto’s 276 CID V8 one year later. In 1953, Dodge unveiled its own V8, the Red Ram, and it was the smallest of the three at introduction with just 241 cubic inches. (Plymouth would get a V8 in 1955 as well, but it wasn’t a hemi.) While the three hemi engines were very similar in design, each one boasted its own unique architecture and they shared no major internal components. As the tiniest of the three V8s, the Dodge featured a compact bore spacing of only 4.1875 inches. To provide scale, we note that the familiar small-block Chevy V8 is constructed on 4.40-in. bore centers.
The 241 cubic-inch displacement—very nearly 4.0 liters—was obtained with a bore if 3.4375 in. (87.3 mm) and a stroke of 3.25 in (82.6 mm). By the standards of the day, the Red Ram was considered a short-stroke layout, offering reduced piston speeds and longer engine life. And like many American V8s of the period, the Red Ram received periodic boosts in displacement as the cars grew in size and weight: 270 CID in 1955, 315 CID in 1956, and ultimately 325 CID in 1957, the final year. There were non-hemi variants with polyspherical combustion chambers that shared their basic architecture with the Red Ram V8, but we will set those aside for now.
While the Red Ram stood alone as an engine family, it shared many high-value attributes with its Chrysler and DeSoto big sisters, including a dual breaker-point distributor, and on cars that featured the early Gyro-Torque automatic transmission, the engine, transmission, and torque converter shared a common 12-quart oil supply. One distinct feature of the Red Ram was its conservative 7.1:1 compression ratio, which allowed the engine to run on regular gas. So while the marketing message for the Chrysler and DeSoto hemi V8s emphasized performance, Dodge’s advertising focused on economy and efficiency.
The ultimate versions of the Red Ram, from the horsepower angle anyway, were the 500-1 engines of 1956 (315 CID) and 1957 (325 CID). Known as the “Dash-One” hemi V8s among ’50s Mopar buffs, these engine packages, available in very small numbers, featured dual four-barrel Carter carburetors and other speed tricks. (A 1956 Dash-One with 296 hp is shown in the lead photo above.) The little Dodge hemi shared much the same fate as its bigger Chrysler and DeSoto siblings. With their dual rocker shafts per bank and heavy, complicated cylinder head castings, all three hemi V8s were expensive engines to produce, and they were replaced in 1957-58 by wedge-head V8s of more conventional design.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.