When Pontiac came out with the GTO in 1964, they gave America something new and different than the usual performance car – it was a package with an identity. Meanwhile, over at Chrysler, they were producing killer drag cars like 426 Max Wedges, which was eventually supplanted by the 426 Hemi that garnered the top three places at Daytona. Both of those motors were bred for the race track, but Mopar fans had a new street motor that could give the GTO a run for its money on Main Street USA: the 426 “Street Wedge.”
Plymouth called it the Commando 426 and it offered 365 horsepower and 470 ft-lbs. of torque. With 10.3:1 compression and a 4bbl. carburetor, it was much easier to live with than either the Super Stock 426-III (aka Max Wedge Stage III) or the Super Commando (aka 426 Hemi), both which had at least 11.0:1 compression and finicky two 4bbl carbs. It was available on any Savoy, Belvedere, Fury, or Sport Fury.
Standard for the Commando 426 was a new 4-speed manual with Hurst linkage. This was big news because even though a 4-speed was introduced in 1963, it was not available for anything larger than a 383 — that is, until 1964. Now Mopar fans were able to have the flexibility of four gears behind a high-performance engine, both on the street and on the strip, although for consistently fast ETs, nothing could beat Chrysler’s TorqueFlite.
In fact, Plymouth’s dealer literature claimed that “drivers of ‘Super Stocks’ claim that in quarter-mile accelerations, they win more often with TorqueFlite because of its quick, positive shifts than they do with 3-speed manual transmissions.” Interestingly, Plymouth only offered a 3.23 gear set from the factory behind either the 4-speed or automatic transmission with the Commando 426, although presumably steeper rear gears were available from the parts department. The Commando 426 also included:
- Chromed, unsilenced, police-type air cleaner
- Special oversize radiator and hoses
- Special oversize 7-blade fan with viscous drive
- Hydraulic valve tappets
- Special, modified throttle linkage
- Police-type, dual exhaust system
- 70-amp battery
- Dual-breaker distributor
Don Owen of Bethesda, MD owns this very rare 1964 Plymouth Belvedere two-door sedan with the Commando 426. His interest in mid-1960s B-bodies goes back to 1964 as an 11 year-old reading Hot Rod and cruising in his big brother’s 1966 Dodge 383 4-speed Coronet when they were in high school. “I always wanted a 1964 Max Wedge but this real, documented, and rarer Street Wedge Belvedere caught my eye, and the restorer in me was hooked (I do love modifieds and street rods too, but prefer the research and details of restoration).”
He bought the Belvedere in 2006 from Ed Kelly in Bonsall, California, but it originally came from VIP Chrysler Plymouth in Salinas. The condition of the unibody indicated a life-long California Mopar with original floor pans and only minor rust in the front inner fenders.
The home workshop rotisserie restoration took over 5 years. All parts were either date-correct used or NOS except the fuel tank, sending unit, and shock absorbers. Don painted what needed to be painted, overspraying when necessary, and leaving things alone in accordance with proper assembly line means and methods (with special thanks to Wally Breer and Jerry Seitz of the Plymouth Owners Club).
The R-M Diamont basecoat/clearcoat urethane is the correct Dark Turquoise and is complemented by a Turquoise cloth and vinyl interior from SMS Auto Fabrics. Don says details like the rear leaf spring burlap insulator pads were meticulously recreated using furniture backing instead of the currently available rubber reproductions. The ball and trunnion propeller shaft and tapered axles/hubs were carefully restored as well.
The engine block was in the Belvedere’s trunk when bought, but the casting number, date, and V42-HP stamping were consistent for this car, so Don believes the block is original. It was rebuilt to stock specs by Doug Barbour at Rockville (MD) Ring & Bearing, and the rear was checked and rebuilt by Mike and Joe at B & J Automotive in Lancaster, PA.
Except for the added side view mirror and front seat belts (which are date-correct originals from another car) this Belvedere is close to what it was on Nov 15, 1963 when it was assembled at the Lynch Road, Michigan plant. It was also ordered with A833 4-speed with Hurst shifter, heavy-duty 11-inch police brakes, front sway bar, heavy-duty rear leaf springs (like those on the Super Stocks), AM radio, 7.50 x 14-inch tires (on 5.5-inch wheels), heater, and back-up lights.
Caught at the 2014 Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, Don’s 1964 Belvedere two-door sedan with the Commando 426 is an uncommon site even at Mopar shows − only 6,359 Dodges and Plymouths came with the 426 motor, and most of the Plymouths seem to be the more deluxe Sport Fury, if not the Belvedere hardtop. Soon it will share space with another ultra-rarity once Don finishes its restoration: a 1940 Willys “Woody” wagon.