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Chrysler Air Raid Siren

That Thing Got a Hemi?

Chrysler Air Raid Siren
Posted September 10 2009 04:55 PM by Edward A. Sanchez 
Filed under: Opinions, Observations, Trend Observations, Funny Stories, Dodge

Chrysler Hemi Air Raid Siren

Those that know me know my interests are sometimes varied and obscure. One of my recent subjects of interest is air raid sirens. Seems kind of random. Until you've heard one of these Cold War relics at full wail. The sound is unforgettable.

Thunderbolt 1000T Siren

My first experience was about four years ago vacationing in Hawaii with my then girlfriend (now wife). Unfortunately, I was as sick as a dog, and confined to her parents' condo in Honolulu for most of a week. What I didn't know at the time is that their vacation coincided with the monthly test of the civil-defense warning systems in the area. I was actually napping on the sofa, when out of the blue, I hear this surreal (and very loud) wail. This was after 9/11, so all sorts of alarmed thoughts were going through my head as I leaped up off the sofa, with my heart pounding between my ears (so it seemed). I was alone at the time, but eventually mellowed back out when the siren stopped.

I just returned from another trip to Hawaii last month. And sure enough, once again, I heard the siren test. This time, it wasn't as much of a surprise, but it did pique my interest enough to find out exactly what was making such an otherworldly cry.

I found out that Honolulu still uses the Federal Signal Thunderbolt 1000T, a vintage Cold War siren that first came out in 1952. While there are a few of them still operational across the country where hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis are still common, many of them have been replaced with electronic warning systems, or the Thunderbolt's more modern mechanical successor, the Federal Signal 2001-series.

Chrysler Siren Story

But to stay on-topic (at least peripherally) I'm going to get back to the original subject of this blog post, the Chrysler Air Raid siren. Didn't know Chrysler built sirens? Neither did I. But in the course of researching the history of civil defense alerts, I came across it. The Chrysler siren was, and still remains, the loudest mechanical siren ever made. It's powered by a 331 cubic-inch Hemi V-8 (Yes, Virginia, Hemis existed before the 426) that produced a good-for-the-time 180 horsepower, and ran a high (for the time) 7.5:1 compression ratio. While originally gasoline-fueled, many restored examples have been converted to propane. At full wail, these bad boys cranked out an ear-splitting 138 decibels, about the sound intensity of a jet taking off at 75 feet. Probably about as loud as the infamous "train horns" at truck shows. But rather than just a brief "toot" this bad boy was meant to provide a sustained alarm for a LONG time.

Thanks to our sister publication Mopar Muscle, which took some pictures of a restored siren at a vintage Mopar show.

If you're interested in learning (and hearing) more about these interesting historical machines, there are various YouTube videos, sites and forums dedicated to the restoration and preservation of vintage sirens. Just search for "Thunderbolt 1000T siren" or "Chrysler Air Raid Siren."

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