The big-block 440-ci RB (for Raised Block) V8 was Chrysler Corporation’s last bastion for hefty but inexpensive horsepower. Sure, the Hemi was the bad boy on the dragstrip, but anyone who espouses the credo of “Mopar or no car” will tell you that the 440 was the one to beat on the street.
One could almost call the 440 “Mopar Performance for Dummies” — unlike the Hemi, it was cheap, plentiful, and made reliable power all the time, with the added bonus of gobs of torque on the bottom end.
Introduced in 1966, it was offered for more than a dozen years in Chrysler cars, and it was the option choice to make as the muscle car era went from wild to mild to malaise. However, the final car version wasn’t shoehorned in a muscle car — it was under the hood of the Chrysler New Yorker Brougham.
To put it mildly, 1974 was not a good year to introduce a new full-sized car. The OPEC oil embargo that year made any large domestic car all but unsalable. Yet before the house of cards started to fall, Chrysler introduced the replacement for the “fuselage”-era full-sized cars.
All four divisions got the new unibody platform — Plymouth (Fury), Dodge (Monaco), Chrysler (Newport and New Yorker) — in 4-door sedan, 2-door and 4-door hard tops, plus a wagon. It was also used for the last two years of the Imperial (Crown). All could be optioned with the 440. The latter two models (Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial Crown) had the 440 standard.
In 1976, Chrysler introduced the Lean Burn electronic ignition control system for the 400, which made it to the 440 in 1977. Known in some circles as the Valve Burn system, the technology was well intended and usually worked, but the electronics weren’t quite up to snuff for long-term reliability.
The final year for the Dodge Royal Monaco, Plymouth Grand Fury and all wagons was also 1977, with a 440 available until the end. For 1978, when the full-sized Chrysler went it alone, the 400 was standard, while the 440 moved to the options list.
Driver or donor
For decades, nobody seemed to love these cars. The big Mopar was the beater du jour for demolition derbies at county fairs throughout the land. That is, if the motor didn’t get yanked by someone looking to build a 440 Roadrunner out of a 318 Satellite.
Attrition has left very few of the big Mopars for the 21st century. As such, values have now moved up (albeit slowly) to the point that “demo derby” and “engine donor candidate” have been removed from their résumés — except in rough-and-rusty cases. There are a few of those out there, so for someone seeking a 440, this is still a possible source for a big block. But since these engines are fitted with the Lean Burn equipment, it’s not exactly an engine out/engine in swap for your hot rod or muscle car — it’s a core to build up a big block to your fancy.
In addition to increased interest in 1970s-era cars in general, big luxobarges are feeling the love from the “Hooptie car” movement in urban culture, too. The uptick there is for someone looking to shift a lesser example. A car that might falter at a collector-car auction can now find eager buyers looking for a stylin’ ride on the cheap to serve as a canvas for big wheels and other mods.
What to look for
The best bet, as with any car, is to get the best example you can find and afford. These cars are beyond daunting to even contemplate restoring, due to tons of power-assisted accessories and extinct trim — all of which was made when the industry was trying to get by on the cheap.
Being a unibody, rust-out is fatal. If anything, the powertrain is relatively easy to deal with — especially if you’re not in an area where you have to worry about emissions controls. That 440 is capable of making real horsepower with careful parts swapping. That’s somewhat true of the standard 400 too, but it needs to take a trip out of the car to go to rehab first.
While these have increased in value, they’re still below the radar compared with contemporary Cadillac DeVilles, Fleetwoods and Lincoln Continentals. Yet like the other two makes, 2-doors only command a slight price premium here — a lot of folks would rather have two doors per side than one huge door that they can’t open in their garage. Finally, thanks to torsion-bar front suspension, you’ll find that these things actually handle surprisingly well considering their mass and girth — especially compared to the competition.
So before you yank that 440 out of late Uncle Leroy’s 52k-mile New Yorker Brougham and put it in a ’69 Charger that had a 318, consider that medium- and heavy-duty Dodge trucks also used the 440 until 1978, including vans and motor homes. Find a rusty beat-up one of these in a junkyard, score your 440 there, and let the big-block Mopar yacht sail another day.