Mopar Car ShowHemi history comes full circle at Spring Fling fun
Each year in the San Fernando Valley of California, the Spring Fling car show kicks off a season of Mopar fun. The question that immediately comes to mind is what exactly does Mopar stand for? Back in the days when a Honda or Toyota was as rare a sight on an American road as a flying car powered by an atomic reactor, the big three American automakers ruled the roads of the U.S. GM was the monster. Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and GMC all fell under the umbrella of its manufacture. Ford was next, with Lincoln and Mercury lining up under the marque. Last but not least was mighty Mopar, with DeSoto, Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth sailing off the winds of the assembly line.
History has it that Mopar as a brand name actually began as a contraction of the words MOtor and PARts, and that the Mopar logo was used to brand genuine Chrysler replacement parts. As the English language and automotive lexicon are odd bedfellows, the word Mopar eventually came into use to stand for the group of automobiles as a whole, causing fans of Plymouth Barracudas, Dodge Superbees, and Chrysler Imperials to say things like "I love my Mopar."
On the opposite side of Mopardom are the forces that like to say that Mopar stands for "mostly old parts and rust," and things like that. So it goes.
Got a Hemi?
People love Mopars for many reasons, but by far the most popular is a legendary engine design that DaimlerChrysler has today resurrected with great success. This legendary powerplant has a name, and that name is Hemi. Hemi is short for hemispherical, which in itself means half of a circle. In this case, that half of a circle resides upside down in the cylinder head combustion chamber. The placement of the valves in this shape, and the accompanying combustion efficiency that placement creates, helps Hemi engines to make power, and lots of it.
Hemi-powered racecars were so successful out on the roundy-round that NASCAR eventually ruled the engine off the track permanently. NASCAR also banned outright the aerodynamic packages that Mopar engineers developed for the winning Dodge Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds. Even to this day, every NHRA top fuel dragster runs 300+ mph quarter miles with an engine based largely on the original 426 cubic-inch Hemi design. The stock version of the 426 Hemi went into everything from street-going versions of the NASCAR winged racers to diminutive Dodge Darts that came off the dealer floor ready for drag strip duty-complete with fiberglass hoods, Hurst shifters, and little else. The radio, heater, window cranks, and anything else not really needed for the drag strip were left in the factory parts bin and deleted from the build sheet.
Leaf Springs Eternal
People who love Mopars are still around, and their numbers are growing. Each and every year a good portion of them gather in the sunny San Fernando Valley to show off their rides, swap parts and cars, and hob-nob about all things Mopar. Springtime in Woodley Park is home to the annual Chrysler Performance West Spring Fling-the premier West Coast Mopar show, swap meet, and "season opener" for Mopar nuts from around the world. Everything from restored down to the last nut, bolt and factory dab of assembly paint one-of-one Hemi 'cuda to dented Dodge Darts roll onto the lawn for fun and trophy competition.
With such a broad cross section of Mopars in one place, it's easy to see why people love them. In the late Sixties and Seventies, the Mopar brain trust produced some of the coolest cars ever to roll off a factory assembly line. The Plymouth Road Runner, for example, was muscle on a budget, featuring a stout 383 V-8, a column shifted automatic, and a bench seat in front. Essentially a police car package in musclecar disguise, the car was an instant hit. The Road Runner even came with a "meep-meep" horn to match the catch phrase of its cartoon celebrity spokesbird.
Unfortunately the Seventies also brought with them the financial reminder that there wasn't a limitless supply of the fuel that large displacement V-8s like the Hemi liked very much to drink. As a result of rising gas prices, the musclecar revolution quickly wound down. For a time one could barely give away the Hemi-powered musclecars that are worth millions today. Cars like the Plymouth Superbird, complete with aerodynamic nosecone in front and giant wing bolted to the rear, represent a time when American automobile manufacture was all about unbridled performance and putting the pedal to the floor out on the open road.
Most incredible was that one could purchase this road going version of the winning NASCAR racer ready to rumble right off the showroom floor. Sadly the Plymouth brand has drifted into history, a victim of changing demographics and marketing missteps, as not as many people wanted to take home a Plymouth Breeze as they did a Plymouth Superbird. Fortunately there are folks who still love, drive, and restore these legendary Mopars. Thanks to these people, and gatherings like the Spring Fling, these rolling examples of American automotive grandeur live on to tell their story.
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