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Can You Hemi Now? Building the late-model Hemi

hemi lead

Just uttering the word “hemi” conjures the feeling of growling exhaust, the smell of hi-test gasoline, and classic Mopar iron hanging the wheels through the 60-foot mark. Every American knows what a HEMI is, whether they are a gearhead or not, it is an icon of the horsepower-fueled 1960s and 70s. The modern version of the HEMI has been around since 2003, with one major change in 2009 when they added MDS with VVT, which is Chrysler’s multiple displacement system with variable valve timing. As far as a stock application, the HEMI is a very capable and powerful engine. Start adding performance parts to it, however, and things can quickly spiral out of control.

The Backstory-

Our project begins with a 2009 Dodge Challenger that had been heavily modified by the previous owner. The car had some issues and the new owner brought it to Red Dirt Rodz for a tune up. The 5.7 HEMI had a Procharger with a custom-ground camshaft and only 27k miles on the odometer. The main concerns were: the engine revs itself after disengaging the clutch, and 2nd and 3rd gear would grind. The plan was to take the car to the chassis dyno for a tune before tackling the transmission issue. We took the car to D&G Dyno in Hennessey, OK, and put it on the rollers. We believed that most of the run issues were in the tune, as the Chrysler software has some unique parameters that are really easy to get wrong. The first pull made 525 horsepower at the rear wheels, which translates into about 600 at the flywheel.

A look into the tune showed some significant concerns with the tune. The previous tuner added 12 degrees of timing, which will make a lot of power, but does so at the risk of detonation. We pulled the timing out of the tune, made some adjustments, and fired up the motor for another run. As soon as the starter kicked in, the death rattle began. We loaded the car back on the trailer and took it back to the shop for inspection. We pulled the spark plugs and two of the cylinders had evidence of piston damage, which was confirmed by the porcelains of 3 plugs being severely damaged. Time for an overhaul.

Why did this happen?

The added timing is only part of the problem, the real meat of this issue boils down to the parts inside the 5.7 HEMI. These engines are really good in stock form, but as soon as you start adding power, especially boost, they begin to fail in several key areas.

Pistons- The stock pistons in all of the HEMIs are cast; just regular old cast pistons, which does not respond well to added combustion pressures. Additionally, the rings are very thin and the top ring land is positioned very high on the piston, making the piston even more brittle around the edge. At any power level with boost, the top of the ring land can break off, leaving the pieces to bounce around inside the combustion chamber. This is what happened inside our 5.7. One piston showed signs of being broken for quite a while, while the other piston was a fresh break.

Crankshaft- The 6.1 HEMI has a forged crank, which is plenty strong enough for anything you want to do. The 5.7, however, comes from the factory with a cast crank that bends at the 600-hp level. Because this engine was making over 600 horsepower with one damaged cylinder, this engine would not have lasted much longer on the street. The 6.1 crank fits into the 5.7 block without any mods.

Bearings- Another way that Chrysler cheaped-out on the HEMI is with the main and rod bearings. The new HEMI uses bi-metal aluminum bearings. While these are good for plain-jane stock low-performance engines, performance engines are much better off with tri-metal bearings. The issue with the bi-metal bearings is that they melt. Our 5.7 had one main bearing that was wiped out and had seized to the crank, it spun freely in the block. This could be evidence of the crank bending as well.

Connecting rods- While the rods inside the 5.7 were in good shape, they are only good to about 600 horsepower. This is just one more way this engine was truly a ticking time bomb.

These are the inherent issues with the 5.7 HEMI engines that most performance builders will face. In the end, if you plan to supercharge your HEMI, you need to stay on the low-boost side and run a conservative tune, otherwise you are guaranteed to be facing a complete build in short order.

Aside from the seriously aggressive tune, and the busted pistons, we also found several other significant issues inside the motor. The cam had been swapped out for a custom-ground bumpstick from Crower. While this helped take advantage of the blower, it created some clearance issues. The previous builder obviously did not check the piston to valve clearance. All 8 exhaust valves were hitting the pistons at TDC, leaving indention marks and all 8 valves were bent. Additionally, the intake valves had been replaced with 2.02” valves (stock is 2.0”), without addressing the valve seats or port of the head, which defeats the purpose of larger valves.

The Build Plan

At this point, we knew we had to do a complete build on the engine if it was to survive life on the street. The 6.1 stock forged crank would be a suitable solution to the cast crank issue, but if you are going to spend money of parts, you might as well go full-bore and step it up, which is what we decided to do in the way of 392 cubic inches of HEMI grunt. We selected a SCAT forged steel crank, and coupled it with a set of their 6.125” H-beam rods. When ordering these cranks, you have to be careful with your selection. Because all of the cranks fit both the 5.7 and the 6.1 blocks, you can end up with the wrong crank. The 426 stroker crank for the 6.1 block is 392ci in the 5.7, this is what we selected. To handle the abuse of the boost, we picked up a set of Mahle pistons in .010” overbore.

We are retaining the custom cam (Crower 259-degrees & .559” lift intake, 267-degrees and .581” lift exh, 111 lobe center), stock intake, rocker arms, exhaust, and of course the procharger. We upgraded to a BBK big mouth throttle body, and added a set of Detschwerks fuel injectors.

If there is anything to be stressed in this article, it is that the key to building a modern HEMI is research. There is very little information available on rebuilding the 2009-up versions, and there are some significant differences that you need to know about. These are all related to the MDS/VVT system.

Timing chain- The non-MDS/VVT engines have a double-roller timing chain, but the 2009-up engine with MDS only have a single roller, and there is not room to add a double-roller. This created some problems for 5.7 powered vehicles when coupled with the automatic transmission. After 28-30k miles, the timing chain breaks, destroying the internals of the engine. There was a recall over this, and part of the fix was a nylon chain guide. The issue is how the MDS system works, which binds up the chain and it breaks. Manual-shifted cars do not seem to have this issue.

Crankshaft- The 2009-later factory cranks hve an extended flare for the crank gear. If you buy an aftermarket crank (which fit all the HEMI blocks), you will discover this when you are installing the timing chain. The crank gear will not sit flush on the base of the crank, rather it will float, which is not going to work. You need a spacer, which slides onto the crank snout. These are available for $25 from ShopHemi.com. Additionally, you will need the correct reluctor wheel for the crankshaft position sensor. There are two wheels for 2009-2012 5.7 and 6.1 HEMIs, they both have the same 58-tooth count, but the 5.7 is a 3-bolt pattern, and the 6.1 has 4-bolts. Most aftermarket cranks use the 4-bolt wheel. 2008 cranks use 32-tooth reluctors (same bolt pattern difference between the 5.7 and 6.1), while the 2013-up use a different 58-tooth wheel. You must make sure you have the correct wheel. We purchased a new 4-bolt 58-tooth wheel from Molnar Technologies.

Cam bearings- The VVT camshaft has a double-wide front journal; a non-vvt cam will not work along with non-VVT cam bearings. The stock bearings are 2-piece units, and a real bear to remove and install. We used a long punch to collapse the front bearing and pull it out. The rest were removed using the normal operation of the cam-bearing tool.

Build-up

The machine work was handled by Boyd’s Machine in Norman, OK. The block was bored .010”, because the factory bore on the 5.7 tends to be more oval than round. We had it line-bored while we were at it. The rotating assembly was balanced and set checked for proper clearances. The stock cylinder heads were cleaned up, new exhaust valves installed, with a multi-angle valve job and a little minor port work for the 2.02” intake valves.

With the parts back in the shop, we yanked the cam bearings out, which turned into another headache. The front cam bearing had to be collapsed to get it out. They are 2-piece bearings, and the way the block is cast means there is no place to tighten the cam tool inside the bearing. Each bearing is slightly smaller than the preceding, from front to back, so you start with the rear-most bearing, and work towards the front when installing new bearings. Before installing the new bearings, the block was washed with hot soapy water and all the passages were brushed out to ensure any debris from machining was removed.

Installing the rotating assembly is pretty basic, just like any other engine. We used file-fit rings from Mahle, which were opened up a little extra to compensate for the additional expansion to be expected with a boosted engine. File-fitting requires a little bit of patience, but it is the only way to get the proper fit. The pistons use floating pins with circlips, so you can assemble them in the shop without heating the rods or using a press. The bearings are all high-performance Clevite pieces. Holding all of that weight slinging around at 6,000 RPM, are a set of ARP main studs, head studs, and ARP2000 rod bolts. We used a combination of factory bolts and ARP fasteners for the remaining pieces.

There are a few key components that you must remember when building a modern HEMI. First, there are 4 dart-shaped magnets that go into to oil galleys above the lifters. MDS-enabled engines use valves in these ports, but the non-MDS engines have nylon plugs. These plugs are o-ring sealed and hard to get in and out for cleaning, so be careful.

The second issue is the oil pan bolts. Chrysler specifies a very complex 3-increment torque procedure that must be followed; otherwise the cast aluminum pan can crack. This is not the typical center-out sequence, it is a little convoluted, but this is the spec from Chrysler. You must use new bolts, as the originals are torque to yield and not reusable. Here is the sequence, direct from the Chrysler manual:

Align the rear of the oil pan with the rear face of the engine block and install the M10 and M6 oil pan fasteners finger tight. Using the following torque sequence, torque the M6 mounting bolts to 44 in.lbs.
Using the following torque sequence, torque the M10 oil pan fasteners to 39 ft.lbs. Using the following torque sequence, torque the M6 oil pan fasteners to 106 in.lbs.”

With the engine assembled, and back into the Challenger, we fired it up for a 20-minute break in. We used Royal Purple Break-In oil to ensure that there was plenty of ZDDP to protect the fresh metal. After the break-in period, we drove the car for about 300 miles before taking it to the dyno. This was to ensure that the rings had time to seat and that there were no issues with the engine. Once again, we took the car to D&G dyno in Hennessey, OK and strapped it to the rollers. We spent a full day adjusting the tables and building the right tune for the engine. The end results were an astounding 547 hp and 519 ft lbs of torque at the wheels as tested in the middle of August when ambient temps were in the 100s. The original dyno session took place in February in 45-degree weather. The tune on the Challenger is a very safe, conservative tune that will ensure long life and performance. In cooler temps, this tune should be good for 600+ at the wheels; hopefully we can revisit this when the temps cool down for a better “apples to apples” comparison. As it is, 550 RWHP is in the Hellcat zone for sure, and with the new forged internals, this 392 should provide years of brutal street fun.

1. The late model HEMI. It is a little different from the standard fare of late-model performance offerings. These motors are great in stock form, but when you start making upgrades, things can get out of hand in a hurry.

1. The late model HEMI. It is a little different from the standard fare of late-model performance offerings. These motors are great in stock form, but when you start making upgrades, things can get out of hand in a hurry.

 

2. At any boost level, the pistons start coming apart. This is because the factory pistons are plain-jane eutectic cast slugs. You can see the tops of the ring lands are gone on the back two pistons. The ring lands are very thin on the stock pistons, and the brittle nature of cast pistons means that even a few extra PSI can pop them. You can have this happen if you run 85-octane in your HEMI, so be careful.

2. At any boost level, the pistons start coming apart. This is because the factory pistons are plain-jane eutectic cast slugs. You can see the tops of the ring lands are gone on the back two pistons. The ring lands are very thin on the stock pistons, and the brittle nature of cast pistons means that even a few extra PSI can pop them. You can have this happen if you run 85-octane in your HEMI, so be careful.

 

3. Another big issue are the bi-metal bearings. These melt at relatively low temperatures, and are not good for high-performance use.

3. Another big issue are the bi-metal bearings. These melt at relatively low temperatures, and are not good for high-performance use.

 

4. We had the block machined .010 over to take care of the factory oval cylinders, and to give up a nice clean bore. We also had the machine shop set up all the bearing clearances for us, so all we had to do was assemble the engine. We used a set of MAHLE forged pistons with file-fit rings. Because we are using a blower, we gapped the rings a little larger to accommodate the extra expansion.

4. We had the block machined .010 over to take care of the factory oval cylinders, and to give up a nice clean bore. We also had the machine shop set up all the bearing clearances for us, so all we had to do was assemble the engine. We used a set of MAHLE forged pistons with file-fit rings. Because we are using a blower, we gapped the rings a little larger to accommodate the extra expansion.

 

5. We used .022” on the top ring, .025” 2nd, and .015” for the oil rings. This was checked with the rings 1” down in the bore, squared with a piston.

5. We used .022” on the top ring, .025” 2nd, and .015” for the oil rings. This was checked with the rings 1” down in the bore, squared with a piston.

 

6. The pistons were fit to the SCAT rods with floating pins and wire locks. These locks can be a bit tricky to get in, but they hold quite well. Just make sure they are fully seated.

6. The pistons were fit to the SCAT rods with floating pins and wire locks. These locks can be a bit tricky to get in, but they hold quite well. Just make sure they are fully seated.

 

7. The cam bearings are 2-piece type, which are really hard to get out. You have to crush the front bearing in order to remove it. The new bearings from Clevite are one-piece.

7. The cam bearings are 2-piece type, which are really hard to get out. You have to crush the front bearing in order to remove it. The new bearings from Clevite are one-piece.

 

8. HEMI engines use numbered bearings that get slightly smaller and smaller as you go back to the rearmost bearing. Removal is front to back, while installation is back to front. The last bearing to install (front) is the most difficult. It is about 2 inches wide and your install tool has no support, so it is very easy to get this one in crooked. Be careful.

8. HEMI engines use numbered bearings that get slightly smaller and smaller as you go back to the rearmost bearing. Removal is front to back, while installation is back to front. The last bearing to install (front) is the most difficult. It is about 2 inches wide and your install tool has no support, so it is very easy to get this one in crooked. Be careful.

 

9. Our new forged crank from SCAT uses a 3-bolt reluctor wheel, where the stock 09-up cranks use a 4-bolt. They are interchangeable. We ordered ours from Molnar Technologies. Don’t forget the high-strength thread locker on the bolts.

9. Our new forged crank from SCAT uses a 3-bolt reluctor wheel, where the stock 09-up cranks use a 4-bolt. They are interchangeable. We ordered ours from Molnar Technologies. Don’t forget the high-strength thread locker on the bolts.

 

10. Before the crank was lowered into the block, all the bearings were coated with Royal Purple Max-Tuff assembly lube.

10. Before the crank was lowered into the block, all the bearings were coated with Royal Purple Max-Tuff assembly lube.

 

11. Never use the bolts or studs to draw the main caps down into the block guides, becaue this can really ruin your build. Instead, use a rubber mallet to tap them into place and then torque to spec.

11. Never use the bolts or studs to draw the main caps down into the block guides, becaue this can really ruin your build. Instead, use a rubber mallet to tap them into place and then torque to spec.

 

12. The thrust washers slide into the #3 journal (center) after the crank is in place.

12. The thrust washers slide into the #3 journal (center) after the crank is in place.

 

13. The ARP studs were torqued in 3 steps to the final spec of 100 ft lbs. Spin the crank after each cap is torqued to check for any tight spots.

13. The ARP studs were torqued in 3 steps to the final spec of 100 ft lbs. Spin the crank after each cap is torqued to check for any tight spots.

 

 14. The side bolts are done last, and torqued to 25 ft lbs. Don’t forget the ARP assembly lube under the washers and bolt heads.

14. The side bolts are done last, and torqued to 25 ft lbs. Don’t forget the ARP assembly lube under the washers and bolt heads.

 

15. We set up a dial indicator on the block to check the crank end play, it was within the factory specs, at .009”

15. We set up a dial indicator on the block to check the crank end play, it was within the factory specs, at .009”

 

16. Next, the pistons and rods were dropped into the motor. Each piston was soaked in ATF before installation. ATF clings to the cylinder walls better and burns off faster during initial start-up. We like to use a plastic handled-hammer to knock the pistons in place with a second set of hands guiding the rod to the crank.

16. Next, the pistons and rods were dropped into the motor. Each piston was soaked in ATF before installation. ATF clings to the cylinder walls better and burns off faster during initial start-up. We like to use a plastic handled-hammer to knock the pistons in place with a second set of hands guiding the rod to the crank.

 

17. The large radius on the rod journal goes to the crank counter weight (outside), with the two small radii towards each other. Each rod bolt was torqued to the ARP specs of 70 ft lbs.

17. The large radius on the rod journal goes to the crank counter weight (outside), with the two small radii towards each other. Each rod bolt was torqued to the ARP specs of 70 ft lbs.

 

18. After lubing the cam with break-in lube, it was carefully slipped into the block.

18. After lubing the cam with break-in lube, it was carefully slipped into the block.

 

19. We installed the timing gear and chain next. The top of the chain has two black links, these are to be centered over the dot on the cam gear at the top.

19. We installed the timing gear and chain next. The top of the chain has two black links, these are to be centered over the dot on the cam gear at the top.

 

20. The crank gear is set with the dot at the bottom, and the single black link sits directly over it.

20. The crank gear is set with the dot at the bottom, and the single black link sits directly over it.

 

21. We replaced the original timing gear guide with the MOPAR factory upgrade, which uses a Teflon guide pad instead of just raw plastic.

21. We replaced the original timing gear guide with the MOPAR factory upgrade, which uses a Teflon guide pad instead of just raw plastic.

 

 22. New oil pan bolts are required anytime you remove the oil pan, as they are torque to yield bolts. Reusing them could result in leaks.

22. New oil pan bolts are required anytime you remove the oil pan, as they are torque to yield bolts. Reusing them could result in leaks.

 

23. The lifters are not available in the aftermarket yet, so we reused the originals. You can get away with this because they are rollers. We lubed them generously.

23. The lifters are not available in the aftermarket yet, so we reused the originals. You can get away with this because they are rollers. We lubed them generously.

 

24. These little magnet screens drop into the MDS ports in the block.

24. These little magnet screens drop into the MDS ports in the block.

 

25. Then the MDS port covers were reinstalled. These are brittle, be careful.

25. Then the MDS port covers were reinstalled. These are brittle, be careful.

 

26. The MDS control valve can be replaced with a plug, but all of the oil flows through here, so we reused it even though the MDS was deleted from the ECM.

26. The MDS control valve can be replaced with a plug, but all of the oil flows through here, so we reused it even though the MDS was deleted from the ECM.

 

27. All HEMI engines use MLS (multi-layered steel) head gaskets, which are reuseable. We swapped out for new ones just for sport.

27. All HEMI engines use MLS (multi-layered steel) head gaskets, which are reuseable. We swapped out for new ones just for sport.

 

 28. Each head stud was threaded into the block hand tight, and then thoroughly lubed with ARP assembly lube.

28. Each head stud was threaded into the block hand tight, and then thoroughly lubed with ARP assembly lube.

 

30. The original heads were dropped onto the block and torqued in the special sequence in 3 steps, with the M12 studs at 105 ft lbs and the M8 studs to 25 ft lbs.

30. The original heads were dropped onto the block and torqued in the special sequence in 3 steps, with the M12 studs at 105 ft lbs and the M8 studs to 25 ft lbs.

 

30. Installing the rockers is a little tricky, as the pushrods want to fall out of the cup anytime you move the assembly. A second set of hands is nice here.

30. Installing the rockers is a little tricky, as the pushrods want to fall out of the cup anytime you move the assembly. A second set of hands is nice here.

 

31. Note the figure 8-shaped o-ring in the valve cover, this seals the spark plug tubes, don’t forget these.

31. Note the figure 8-shaped o-ring in the valve cover, this seals the spark plug tubes, don’t forget these.

 

32. We opted for a BBK big-mouth throttle body for more air delivery. This unit features the required electric throttle control.

32. We opted for a BBK big-mouth throttle body for more air delivery. This unit features the required electric throttle control.

 

33. To help transfer all of the power to the ground, a new Centerforce DYAD twin-disc clutch was installed. This is incredibly smooth and easy to install. More on that in an upcoming article.

33. To help transfer all of the power to the ground, a new Centerforce DYAD twin-disc clutch was installed. This is incredibly smooth and easy to install. More on that in an upcoming article.

 

34. The coils were replaced with a set of new MSD coil-on-plug units. These deliver a hotter charge than the factory pieces.

34. The coils were replaced with a set of new MSD coil-on-plug units. These deliver a hotter charge than the factory pieces.

 

35. After the engine was dropped back into the car and broke in, we put it on the chassis dyno. It made excellent power; 547 horsepower to the wheels in 100-degree temps. This is a serious street beast that will give any other muscle car a run for their money.

35. After the engine was dropped back into the car and broke in, we put it on the chassis dyno. It made excellent power; 547 horsepower to the wheels in 100-degree temps. This is a serious street beast that will give any other muscle car a run for their money.

 

Sources:

ARP

Auto Meter

CenterForce Clutches

DeatschWerks

Mahle

MSD

Royal Purple

SCAT

 

 

About Jefferson Bryant (200 Articles)
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).

4 Comments on Can You Hemi Now? Building the late-model Hemi

  1. Prior to installing the pickup and oil pan, be sure to prime the pump as there is no way to prime this engine’s oiling system other than cranking it over until it builds oil pressure.

    • Jefferson Bryant // May 5, 2017 at 1:04 am // Reply

      Priming is good insurance. The factory priming method for engines with these georotor-type oil pumps is to crank the engine. In fact, the manual for GM LS and LT series crate engines describes the procedure for cranking the engine with the spark plugs out and the ignition system disconnected in 10-sec crank, 30-sec wait intervals until oil pressure is achieved. the break-in lube is adequate to protect the bearings during this process. The key is not to start the engine until pressure is achieved.

      You can also purchase or build an external priming system for crank-driven oil pump engines.

  2. Steven Garcia // June 10, 2017 at 4:23 am // Reply

    Note to editor. My 06 5.7 Hemi has MDS. The article states that 2009 was the introduction of MDS. I think the should read “VVT was the major change in 2009”

    • Jefferson Bryant // June 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm // Reply

      Steven,
      You are correct that some earlier HEMI engines have MDS, but this particular issue effects 2009-up the MDS with VVT HEMI engines. I corrected the statement in the article to reflect the addition of VVT in 2009 to clarify. Thanks for your input!

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