The 440 Has Bold Beginnings
During the late fifties, Chrysler developed the B engine line to replace the “Firepower” Hemis that had dominated their models for almost a decade. The Hemis were costly and time-consuming to build, so Chrysler needed an engine that could compete with power but not make them lose money trying to get it fabricated. They turned to B engines, which could be manufactured cheaper and faster than any Hemi.
The success of the 383 B engine (which Dodge labeled as the “Magnum” and Plymouth, the “Golden Commando,” featured a less complicated head design, making them cheaper to produce, which speeded up the assembly line considerably. Before long, the 383 became the standard Mopar performance engine in almost every vehicle. Soon, Chrysler raised the block of the B engine, creating the 383 RB and 413 RB as even higher-performance wedge engines. (They were called Max Wedges due to the shape of their combustion chambers).
The 440 utilized the 413 Wedge extensively, increased the bore size to 4.32 inches, and increased displacement, providing more power and torque. (This quality made it a perfect powerplant for race and drag strip applications, although it was never advertised as such).
During the muscle car years of the ’60s and early ’70s, the 440 RB was a force to be reckoned with. Early versions of the engine delivered 375 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, while in 1969 - 71, when the 440 was matched up to a Six Barrel carburetor setup (3 - dual barrel carbs), the horsepower increased to 390 and the torque by another ten lb-ft.
The 440 Magnum/Commando Makes the Rounds
While the 440 was first offered a year after the Street 426 Hemi, it wasn’t long before it appeared in several Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth models. The 440 powered full-sized cars like the Imperial and New Yorker. In addition, the V8 was the standard engine in the GTX, Dodge Coronet R/T, and Charger R/T. It was also part of muscle cars like the Barracuda, Challenger, and Road Runner, Super Bee, among others.
Since Dodge and Plymouth were charging an extra $892 for the mighty 426 Hemi engine upgrade, only a few customers availed themselves of that engine option. Those who wanted a V8 opted for the 318, 383, or 440 Magnum. (The 440 engine with a six-barrel carburation produced 390 hp, almost as good as the Hemi). For example, in 1970, Dodge sold 18,512 Challengers R/T during that year of production, while only 356 Challengers got made with the 426 Hemi (and that was the Hemi’s best year).
The 440 Gets Neutered
In 1972, the method of reporting horsepower outputs was changed to reflect ‘net’ rather than ‘gross’ numbers. The power output effectively neutered the 440 dropping its power ratings to 225 hp and 345 lb-ft torque for base models. Even higher-performance models were clipped down to 330 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque.
In addition, the government was imposing stricter environmental regulations concerning emissions. All the automakers were forced to detune their engines to meet new ecological demands. When coupled with a growing resentment on the part of the public toward V8s, it is a wonder that any of the big block motors survived the ‘70s. When the oil embargo raised gas prices (in some cases more than quadruple), Americans simply could not afford to pump gas. Anyone living during those days will remember the fights that broke out at fuel stations as people waited hours in line for gas.
However, even in its weakened state, the mighty 440 persevered. Throughout the seventies, these lower-powered engines were effective powerplants for many vehicles (in what muscle car owners call the “malaise years”). Despite its inability to set speed records, the raised block motor was durable, easy to maintain, and cheap to make. These qualities made it a great candidate for other applications, including RVs and marine applications.
The 440 Get New Tech
In 1976, Chrysler initiated a “Lean Burn” emissions for all its engines, including the 440. The plan entailed electronic controls to help adjust spark plug firing based on different conditions (manifold pressure, engine temperature, etc). The 440 struggled to adapt to the new technology (which wasn’t very good at doing its job). When catalytic converters were added, the internal sensors could not adjust fast enough to make real-world driving decent. The 440 was too lunky, too set in its ways, and like the grandfather who fusses at everything new, it couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust to the new tech, and customers complained in droves.
The 440 Is Retired, But Not Forgotten
In the late seventies, Chrysler was in severe financial trouble and hemorrhaging cash. Overextended, the company narrowly avoided bankruptcy, and the lack of funds forced them to make some hard choices. The company let the engine go (knowing that the 440 was having trouble keeping up with new emissions tech). The last “Raised Block” engine retired after almost twenty years with the company. (Unfortunately, the Mighty 440 didn’t even get a gold watch).
Today, the 440 is a favorite among restorers and is often chosen when 426 Hemis can’t be found (or you don’t want to pay the 30 grand for a crate 426 Hemi). The 440s were made in much larger numbers than the 426 Hemi, so you’ll have better luck finding one at a local salvage yard. (If you tune them right, they can produce almost as much power as the Hemi). We scoured the Internet and found many 440s available, including an excellent crate engine at Performance Injector for less than $10k.
There is a strong aftermarket community for 440 fans and lots of support should you need to rebuild one. Even engines from the “malaise era” can be tweaked and tuned to provide more power, and many classic car collectors do just that since the big block is so easy to work on and maintain.
What’s The Market For 440 Muscle Cars Now?
In case you are interested, the market for 440 muscle cars is increasing. For example, we found a 71 ‘Cuda convertible with a 440 Six-pack that sold just short of one million). Even hardtops, like this one, sell for quite a bit (‘70 ‘Cuda hardtop with a 440 Six Barrel that sold for $128,000).
Even though the 440 will never reach the rare air of a Hemi engine, it is still a fantastic choice for anyone interested in purchasing a classic car. (We suspect that the prices for muscle cars will continue to climb now that Dodge has announced the end of the 6.2L Hemi engine).
The 440 Engine Specs
The following list is the specifications for the 440 Magnum Engine.