Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1962 Dodge Dart 413 – The Max Wedge Legend Started Here

The Mopar Max Wedge 413 (and 426) engines are of course legendary; almost mythical. Their day in the sun was short-lived, due to the arrival of the 426 Hemi in 1964. But for two years (1962 & 1963), these were the largely undisputed kings of the drag strip, with a ’62 Plymouth (“Melrose Missile”) being the first stock car to break the 12 second barrier.

As a complete package, the Max Wedge engine, with its short-tube cross-ram intakes and a number of other components, apparently didn’t appear all at once initially; at some point in the 1962 MY, the 383 and 413 engines became available as options, but that initial 413 had a conventional dual-quad intake, a hydraulic cam, and lacking a few of the other hi-po components that comprised the Max Wedge. It had a 385 hp rating, unlike the 405 for the Max Wedge. As a result, although this tested 413 Dart was mighty quick, it fell a bit short of its Max potential due to that as well as a couple of other issues. But the making of the legend was well on its way.

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At the beginning of the 1962 Model year, the top engine option on the new, smaller ’62 Dodge and Plymouth was the 305 hp 361; that made for a brisk car and a very well-balanced all-round performer. But the question as to whether the 383 or 413 would “fit” was on many minds. Of course they would; the 383 is the same physical size as the 361, and the 413 just has a raised deck. And sure enough, they did become available, in several hp variants; 365, 385 and 410, for the 413 (that 410 rating required the dealer-installed ram intake; the definitive Max Wedge was rated at 405 hp, FWIW). CL tested the 385 hp version in a Dart hardtop coupe and equipped with a three-speed manual with a dealer-installed floor shifter and a 4.10:1 rear axle ratio.


The results at the drag strip were frustrated by the fan belt consistently flying off at the engine’s 5200 rpm power peak, which “forced us to treat the throttle more carefully than usual. And traction from the fairly skinny 6.70-15 tires and the lack of a limited-slip differential made clean take-offs hard to achieve. The best run resulted in a 15.1 ET @96 mph. That’s well below the 14.3 @103 that the 421 SD Pontiac GP managed in a previous test. But that car had wider tires and a limited-slip differential, and quite likely had been massaged, as per Pontiac tradition.


The individual that assisted in prepping this Dodge at the strip for CL was a drag racer and had significant experience with these, especially the 383 that he campaigned. His experience was that the optional ram manifold (as used on the Max Wedge) was the way to go, along with higher compression pistons (up to 14:1) and one of several more aggressive mechanical lifter camshafts. That would allow the 413 “to hit 6000 to 6500 rpm easily.”

The test car had a wide ratio (2.55:1 1st) three speed. A close ratio (2.17:1 1st) was also available, as well as the B/W T-10 four speed. CL wrote: “Frankly, we’re inclined to favor the close-ratio 3 speed. It’s much nearer than most 3-speeds to the 4-speed’s advantage of minimizing the rpm drop during a shift, yet it eliminates the time lost in the 4-speed’s extra gear change.”  This may sound like heresy, but it’s a reality that I’ve come to understand and appreciate, that the 4-speed manuals were not the panacea they’re often made out to be. And in typical driving, the extra gear on the 4-speed behind a powerful V8 is just unnecessary. Four-speeds are at their best behind a six or a weaker small V8 in a heavy car. Everyone had it backwards. But yes, a four speed conferred status, which could easily be bought by swapping a four-speed pattern Hurst shifter ball for the three-speed one.

For optimum results, harmonizing the gear ratios of a given transmission and the rear axle ratio was essential, and CL pointed out that there were a wide range of axle ratios available, all the way to a stump-pulling 6.17:1. And of course tires played a big role too, especially back then when tires technology was so inferior. Dodge even offered a drag-optimized tire option of 7.00-14 in front with 9.00-14 tires at the rear!

The tested Dart had the optional “police chassis” with heavy duty brakes (11″ drums) and suspension. But even with stiffer springs, the handling qualities were diminished due to the 672 lb weight of the big 413 in a relatively light car (3540 curb weight). The numb power steering didn’t help, and a nose-heaviness and resultant understeer were prevalent. “The 413 isn’t a good choice for ordinary highway use”.

There was some speculation as to what the 413 would be able to do in stock car drag racing, properly prepped. The guess was between 11.9 and 12.5 seconds and trap speeds of between 110 and 115 mph. Good guess, if a bit low on the speed. “The 1962 Dart stands a very good chance of chewing the feathers of its Super Stock rivals, including those of a certain big Indian!”  True that.

The “Melrose Missile” ran 11.93 @118.57 on July 15, 1962, becoming the first stocker to break the 12 second barrier. That pretty much explains the basis of the Max Wedge mythology. And there probably isn’t a single unmolested ’62 Plymouth or Dodge 2-door sedan in the world as a consequence.

CL’s beloved Tapley meter (accelerometer) was quickly becoming useless with this breed of factory muscle cars, as they would pull so hard the needle “went off the scale”.


Related CC reading:

Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix 421 Super Duty – “The Fastest Accelerating Stock Production-Line Car We’ve Ever Tested”
Automotive & Design History: 1962 Plymouth & Dodge – The Real Reason They Were Downsized