On February 23, 1964, Chrysler debuted its new 426 Hemi engine at the 1964 Daytona 500. Now imagine, if you will, being Henry Ford II and watching Richard Petty win those 500 laps behind the wheel of a Hemi powered Plymouth. Remember, this is the same guy that tried to buy Ferrari the year before and ended up rejected at the altar.
Needless to say, Henry wasn’t happy. Ford had gotten wind of the 426’s development and the Deuce had already tasked his engineers with developing a new engine of their own. Ford’s 427 Hi-riser engine had been pretty darn successful on NASCAR tracks, but it looked like the writing was on the wall – Chrysler’s new Hemi was the engine to beat.
And did the Ford engineers deliver.
Ford’s answer was the “Cammer” – based on the 427 side oiler, Ford’s engineers designed and built it in 90 days. Called “the 90 Day Wonder”, it was promoted as Ford greatest engine up to that point. Built for racing, and rated at 657hp at 7500 RPM with dual four barrel carburetors, the new 427 design had a new set of cast-iron heads designed with hemispherical combustion chambers and a single overhead camshaft over each head (driven by a timing chain over 6 foot long), operating shaft-mounted roller rocker arms.
When time came to get NASCAR’s blessing, things didn’t work out in Ford’s favor. Bill France, president of NASCAR, announced on Friday before the big race that Ford’s application to power its cars with the new engine was rejected.
NASCARs engine ban left Ford with a new racing engine with no venue. So what do you do when you have a new dress, but can’t go to the prom? As part of Ford’s then “Total Performance” racing endeavors, Ford approached its drag racers to find a use for it. The new Cammer made its debut in a few factory-backed 1965 Mustangs and 1965 Mercury Comets in the NHRA Factory Experimental class. Drag racers successfully campaigned with the engine and continued to work out its kinks throughout the 1960s, including replacing the timing chain with a gear drive system. The Cammer ultimately found its way into the hands of boat, Can-Am, and Bonneville racers, as well.
Cammer engines are now highly sought after by collectors, racers, and hotrodders. Back in the day, crate engines sold for around $2,300, but now complete original engines (like the shiny powerplant wedged in the ’33 Ford below) fetch as high as $85k, with reproduction engines bringing around $40k.