The Chrysler-owned Dodge and Plymouth 361 cubic inch V-8 engine is a long forgotten, little appreciated workhorse that initially powered the legendary 1959 Plymouth Sport Fury before being pushed aside by the 413 V-8 and 426 Hemi. Although its use in cars was brief, the 361 powered trucks and buses over two decades.
In the late 1950s, the United States was undergoing a massive infrastructure buildup of multi-lane highways. But most of the country still consisted of undivided two-lane roads. Automakers focused on developing engines with plenty of torque to give their cars quick acceleration for passing ability. Chrysler’s “B” engines, specifically the 350 and 361, were engineered with massive torque to fill these requirements.
The 361 was called the SonoRamic Commando in Plymouths and D500 and Super Red Ram in Dodges. The 361 was essentially a bored-out version of the 350, with its bore enlarged from the 350’s 4.06 inches to 4.12 inches. The 361’s stroke was 3.38 inches. In the Dodges, the D500 featured a 10:1 compression ratio and dual four-barrel carburetors to give it 310 horsepower and a massive 435 foot-pounds of torque. Torque, not horsepower, was what mattered, and the D500 361 offered superior torque to the Dodge 383, which generated 425 foot-pounds of torque and the two-barrel carburetor 318, which wielded 340 foot-pounds.
Devil in the Details
While the SonoRamic Commando name sounds like a 1950's marketing gimmick, Chrysler engineers offered some logic to the moniker. The 361 developed a compression wave that forced the air/fuel mixture through a 30-inch passage into the intake manifold, hence the term “sono.” The “ram” portion of the name stemmed from the air/fuel mixture being “rammed” against the closed intake valve, which then became instantly available to ram through the combustion chamber when the valve opened. The combination of the compression wave of air/fuel mixture and the ramming of that mixture against the intake valve, until it opened, provided a more powerful combustion in the chamber to provide greater horsepower.
End of Days
The Plymouth SonoRamic Commando’s life was brief. It was discontinued in 1961 in favor of the 413, which generated more horsepower at 375. But the 361 lasted longer than the Chrysler 350, which lived and died in 1958. The 361 featured fuel injection only in 1958. Fuel injection was largely an experiment conducted by Chrysler for its Dodge and Plymouth line of cars, but it failed miserably, with only a handful of unreliable “fuelies” produced.
The 361 lived on in Dodges for a brief period. In addition to the Plymouth Sport Fury, the 361 was used in the Dodge Coronet and the Dodge Royal and Custom Royal. Production of the 361 for automobiles ended in 1966. Later in the 1960s, Dodge trucks, commercial vehicles and school buses were equipped with the 361 that featured a single two-barrel carb to generate 186 horsepower. The 361 was in production as late as 1978 when it was installed in recreational vehicles. The 361 was discontinued after 1978.
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