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Nuclear Annihilation- Hey, Does That Thing Have a Hemi?

Robert Emslie December 18, 2012 All Things Hoon 26 Comments

Fun fact, the world came to the brink of becoming a highly radioactive cinder in space back in the early nineteen sixties. Known historically as the Cuban Missile Crisis here in the west, or the Americanski Pantski Shit to the Sovietsthose 13 days in October 1962 proved the closest we have come to testing the veracity of the United States’ and Soviet Union’s M.A.D., or Mutually Assured Destruction nuclear strategies.

In the preparation of  just such an event, the US maintained a massive air raid warning system  coast to coast, as well as an education program that taught kids that dropping and taking cover under their school desks would protect them from nuclear Armageddon.

It’s that air raid siren system that’s of greater interest however, as that would have needed to have worked in order to alert the kids to take refuge under the desk with all their old boogers and fossilized wads of Bazooka Joe. When I was a kid, that system was tested monthly, its mournful rising and dropping wail (if you’re too young to remember, listen to the opening of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs) as an indicator it was the last Saturday of the month. 

Most of the sirens were used for natural disaster warning, and to inform of an impending mushroom festival soon arriving in town. To do so they would use a preset code of horn blasts determined by the local civil defense authority. In 1952, American Telephone & Telegraph devised the Bell and Lights Air Raid Warning System which split both auditory and visual warnings into Red (attack imminent), Yellow (attack likely) White (all clear), and Blue (we don’t know what the hell’s going on). 

The sirens that peppered the American landscape were all meant to be loud, some up to 135dB at 100 ft. One siren however not only met that specification, but blew it out of the water, taking the record – at 138dB – as the loudest warning device ever confirmed. You may have felt that you’ve had accidental farts in quiet social circumstances that were as loud, but the fact is, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren of the 1950s is the loudest thing you’d ever have been likely to hear.

Powered by a 180-bhp version of the company’s industrial Hemi V8, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren was sold in the hundreds through the fifties. Able to move upwards of 2,610 cubic feet of air a minute at 7 PSI, the exit velocity from the siren’s six horns measured in excess of 400 miles per hour. The output wasn’t just impressive on a sonic level, it’s also claimed capable of starting fires from the sound waves and turning fog into rain. Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!

While Chrysler powered and built, these air raid sirens were originally designed by Bell Telephone Laboratories during WWII. The Cold War models, built between 1951 and ’57 were the loudest of the ones Chrysler offered during and after the war. At over 12 feet long and 6 feet high,and weighing more than three tons, the huge warning devices had the capability to be heard over thirty miles away, weather permitting.

The Hemi spinning the siren is a derivation of the FirePower V8 first introduced in 1951. At 180-bhp it’s highly under-stressed, and future editions in automotive use easily pumped out twice that amount. For Chrysler enthusiasts, the Hemi V8 represents a pinnacle of the brand’s technological achievements. As proven by the record-setting Chrysler Air Raid Siren, it also proudly served as an apex of our Cold War preparations, and protectorate of a nation.

Firestone Tire Plant, South Gate, CA – May 26, 2003

Find more pictures of Chrysler Air Raid Siren installations here.

Images: [Wikipedia, VictorySiren]


  • fodder650

    In my part of Central Pennsylvania the fire stations use these old air raid sirens still for fire calls. I can hear three different alarms at my home. Two of them from farther then five miles away. The sound just travels that well with these.

  • dukeisduke

    I love VictorySiren.com. I first discovered it a few years ago, and I go back every once in awhile. I also like the sites focused on other Cold War stuff, like the Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules ABM sites. Go to the VictorySiren site and you can listen to the Hemi start, idle, and run, and hear the siren WAIL!

  • dukeisduke

    A lot of the Hemis installed in retired sirens ended being yanked and installed in street rods, and even before that, some sirens (like in L.A.) were converted to run on propane.

    • failboat

      its hard to tell but in the last photo it appears that the engine is missing…

  • <img src="http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01003/Police-Whistle_1003306c.jpg"&gt;
    The British version.

    Which makes perfect sense. They have a smaller country, so the sound wouldn't have to carry as far.

    • chrystlubitshi

      These will give an ear-ache to the user/anyone within 20 feet* (outside) if blown at full force– much more effective than the one pictured above http://mazsports.com/acme-thunderer

      *I own one in each size, nickel plate, and have umm… tested with my fellow low-brass band-mates… way to break in the freshman 😉

    • Move along now. Nothing to see here.

  • marmer01

    I must rush in with my standard defense of duck-n-cover, which I always trot out whenever someone mocks it. During the fifties and early sixties it was quite common for schools not to be air conditioned and to rely on large banks of classroom windows for ventilation and for lighting. Duck-n-cover would not protect you if you were close enough to ground zero but might shield you from flying glass or falling ceiling tiles from the shock wave. Ditto for tornadoes.

    • jeepjeff

      Exactly. We still practice that out here on the West Coast, otherwise known as God's Paint Mixer, for exactly that reason.

  • Sjalabais

    So the real question should be: How to connect this to my door bell button, right?

  • Can I get one as an alarm clock for my wife?

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I like the Eagle SX/4 poster in the background.


    Wait wait wait. You can make fire… with SOUND?!?

  • I want one aimed right at my next door neighbor's bedroom window. That d.b. likes to have parties late at night, which turns into yelling and screaming at 2am right below our bedroom window. This then turns into the dog barking and growling because there shouldn't be yelling and screaming at 2am and anything out of the ordinary gets a bark and growl. That turns into me and Mrs. engineerd™ being woken from our slumber at 2am.

    Is this a Friday or Saturday night? Nope. It's usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night.

    • I hope my neighbor never sees this post. He'll figure out a way rig one of these to spin the turbo on his unmuffled diesel.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Well, this post really blows.

    • It's kind of all bark and no bite.

      • Oh, whine, whine, whine. I think it's perfectly sound.

  • From_a_Buick_6

    "The sirens that peppered the American landscape were all meant to be loud, some up to 135dB at 100 ft. One siren however not only met that specification, but blew it out of the water, taking the record – at 138dB – as the loudest warning device ever confirmed."

    Holy crap.

    In case anyone doesn't realize the magnitude of those numbers, allow me to point out two things:

    1) The threshold for physical pain is 130 dB.
    2) In decibels, 3 dB is equal to half power, meaning that the 138 dB siren is twice as powerful.

    • Van_Sarockin

      The dB scale is logarithmic. The threshold for permanent hearing damage is generally determined to be about 100-110 dB. Proximity to the horns determines just how much sound pressure is manifested, and sound decays over distance, at a 1/x-squared rate.

      To recap: That siren is frikken' loud!

      • jeepjeff

        I've often seen 95dB listed as the top end of safe w/o hearing protection, so 100-110 for permanent damage sounds right. 95dB is loud.

        To agree mightily: Jeebus, that thing must be ear-bleeding* loud.

        * Literally. As in, properly, literally-cause-your-ears-to-bleed.

  • Looks exactly like something you'd see on those Twilight Zone episodes about doomsday. What a terrifying sounds these things must have put out.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Not near so loud as the bombs that would have followed.

  • jeepjeff

    LS1 swap?