Fact 801: Were Lincoln-Mercury and Chrysler working together on the NASCAR race circuit of the 1950s? Nothing could be further from the truth; infact, Mercury and Chrysler were bitter rivals on the race track and showroom floor.
The seed of the confusion stems from Carl Kiekhaefer (founder and owner of the Wisconsin-based Mercury Outboard Motor company) and his appreciation for Chrysler automobiles. As head of Kiekhaefer Aeromarine, maker of Mercury outboard boat motors, Carl was wealthy enough to purchase, develop, and race numerous Hemi-powered Chrysler cars in the 1951–1956 era.
Starting with the 1951 Mexican Road Race, Kiekhaefer’s many race cars wore large hand-painted Mercury logos on the doors and quarter panels. At a glance, many spectators only saw the first word and ignored the rest of the graphic, which read “Mercury . . . Most Powerful Name In Outboards.”
With his tremendous resources, success followed and Chrysler wasn’t complaining. Kiekhaefer-sponsored 300s won 10 of 13 American Automobile Association (AAA) races and 22 of 39 NASCAR races in 1955 alone. By the end of the 1956 season, fans—and NASCAR—grew tired of watching Kiekhaefer’s Mercurysponsored Chryslers take first and second place so often. The 1957 AMA racing ban arrived just in time to dampen Carl’s enthusiasm and the age of Mercury-sponsored Chryslers came to an end.
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Fact 802: Was a 426 Street Hemi–powered Chrysler 300 ever built? According to a design proposal document dated May 13, 1965, serious consideration was given to the idea of continuing the letter car series into 1966 with a model called the 300M. The plan called for construction of 4,298 cars, of which 500 were to be powered by the new 426 Street Hemi (the rest by the 365-hp 426 Street Wedge).
Built to help homologate the Hemi for NASCAR racing, these special 426-powered 300Ms would have returned the letter car to its hemispherical roots, last seen in the 1958 300D. To ensure full recognition, Hemi-powered Ms were to be fitted with specific dual-sided hood emblems reading “7-liter Hemi.” The 426 Hemi would have added $1,250 to the window sticker.
Fact 803: Were any short-ram, Max Wedge 300s built? Aside from (possible) engineering evaluation vehicles built in 1962–1964, all letter-series 300s used the 413 with either tandem (inline) or longram, dual-quad induction, depending on year and option status.
The stillborn 1966 300M was the only letter series conjured with a 7-liter powerplant. If its 365 hp couldn’t handle competing personal luxury muscle models such as the 428 Q-code Thunderbird, dual-quad 425 Wildcat GS, 427 Impala SS, 425 Toronado, and 421 Tri-Power Pontiac 2+2, there was always the optional Hemi. Oh, what could have been….
Fact 804: Chrysler eventually released the 300M in 1999, some 44 years after the demise of the 1965 300L. Though the 300M concept car (of 1991) offered the excitement of rear-wheel drive and an 8-liter Viper-based V-10, the production vehicle delivered to Chrysler showrooms in 1999 was based on the front-wheel-drive/ cab-forward LH platform.
Rated at 253 hp, it’s 3.5-liter V-6 may not have been as sexy as the dual-quad Hemis and Wedges used during the letter car’s eleven-year run (1955–1965), but there’s no arguing with the M’s low 15-second quarter-mile performance and 7.7-second 0–60 times. Motor Trend magazine honored the 300M with its prestigious Car of the Year award in 1999.
Fact 805: I lived in Los Angeles for sixteen years, and during my employment at Hot Rod magazine (1998–2005) faced a 31-mile daily commute from my El Monte home to the Hot Rod offices at 6420 Wilshire Boulevard.
In 2002 I spotted a fl at-black 300M driving along LaBrea Boulevard with a number of very odd details. The front fenders were stretched several inches to suit a non-stock axle-to-cowl distance, twin box-like mufflers (each with dual, circular outlets) exited beneath the rear bumper, its flat-black paint seemed to absorb light, and Michigan manufacturer plates gave it away as an engineering mule that was being tested on Los Angeles streets.
The most important details were the wheel hubs. Instead of the castle nut and cotter pin you’d expect to find in the center of a front-wheel-drive LH wheel, this car wore simple, stamped-steel dust caps. Likewise, at the center of the rear wheel, the normal LH dust caps (indicators of a non-driven, dead axle) were replaced by castle nuts and cotter pins.
In hindsight, I was certainly looking at a 5.7 Hemi-powered Chrysler C-300 engineering test car. Naturally, I wasn’t carrying my camera when I spotted this amazing machine.
Fact 806: Following on the heels of projects such as the 1968 Hemi A-Body and 1969 440 A-Body (not to mention the Hurst/ Olds), Hurst worked more Mopar magic on the full-size 1970 Chrysler (C-Body).
Not to be confused with the 300H letter-series offering of 1962, the resulting 300-Hurst (sometimes referred to as the 300-H) was based on the Chrysler 300 (which, by this time was a regular model slotted between the Newport and New Yorker). The standard 300 engine was the single exhaust, 350-hp T-code 440, but the Hurst-spec cars were built with the optional ($79) U-code TNT 440 with dual-exhaust, high-fl ow manifolds and a more aggressive cam to deliver 375 hp. By contrast, the 1962 300H came with a deep-breathing 380-hp 413 topped by dual Carter AFB 4-barrel carbs on an inline cast-iron intake manifold (ram induction was optional).
Fact 807: Were any 1970 300-Hursts built with 426 Street Hemi power? With Hurst’s track record of stuffing the massive pachyderm in Darts and Barracudas, slipping a few into the generous C-Body engine bay would seem a natural next step. But the fact is none of the gold-on-white executive hot rods was given a Hemi transplant by Hurst.
That said, one Street Hemi-powered 300-H has received plenty of enthusiast magazine coverage in the past fifteen years, but its VIN tag displays a U in the fifth spot, not the R-code indicative of a factory 426 Hemi installation; it’s a home-brewed what-if.
Fact 808: Ford wasn’t the only American automaker asked to supply V-8 engines for European sports cars. Chrysler high-performance 361, 383, 440 wedge, and 331, 354, 392, 426 Hemi V-8s were installed in numerous European luxury grand touring vehicles such as the 1954–1964 Facel Vega (France), 1963-up Jensen C-V-8/Interceptor (Britain) and 1967–1980 Monteverdi (Switzerland).
The most exotic was the 426 Street Hemi–powered 1971 Monteverdi Hai 450SS. German for shark, the Hai was a two-seat mid-engine sports car not unlike a contemporary Ford GT40, DeTomaso Mangusta, or Lamborghini Miura.
A German-sourced ZF 5-speed transaxle linked the potent Hemi to the Hai’s delicate Borrani wire wheels and helped deliver an amazing 42/58 (front/rear) weight bias. With a sticker price of $27,000 (that’s 1971 dollars!), only three examples of the Hai 450SS were built, one of which is on display at the Monterverdi museum in Basel, Switzerland.
Fact 809: In 1968, Jensen unleashed the ultimate Interceptor, the allwheel-drive FF with a 426 Street Hemi. An abbreviation for Ferguson Formula, most of the 318 Interceptor FFs built between 1967 and 1971 had low-deck 383 wedge engines. But one car was elevated to supercar status with the addition of a 426 Street Hemi.
Built in 1968, the Hemi FF’s 490 ft-lbs of torque further exaggerated a weakness in the front hub assembly, which was already at its limit with the 383’s 425 ft-lbs of torque. Spotting an all-wheel-drive FF is as easy as looking for two vertical fender vents on each front fender. Standard two-wheel-drive Interceptors used one vent.
One notable Interceptor FF owner was Cream drummer Ginger Baker, whose 383 wedge-powered FF met an unfortunate end against a tree.
Fact 810: The Chrysler Hemi played a part in defending the United States against Russian nuclear attacks during the Cold War. A nationwide system of air-raid sirens and fallout shelters was established in the immediate post–World War II era. Air-raid sirens were positioned across the country to alert the general population to take cover should hostile bomber aircraft be spotted (thankfully they never were).
Powering each six-megaphone unit was a gasoline-burning 331-cubic-inch Chrysler Industrial Hemi. At full song, the Chrysler Bell Victory Siren drove air through six 3-foot-long horns that could be heard for a 25-mile radius. The Chrysler Industrial Hemi also served as an auxiliary electrical powerplant, and hundreds were installed at coastal light houses across the globe.
Fact 8: The 1979 300 (3,800 built) was the first 300 without a true hardtop body. Though sleek, the close-coupled Cordoba body shell utilized a fixed B-pillar, which was a deviation from the strictly non-pillar two- and four-door hardtop body shells used on all previous 300s.
Fact 812: The reborn 2005 C-300 is strictly a four-door affair, a point some performance car enthusiasts have a hard time accepting. But while 1955–1965 letter-series 300s carried only two doors, the non-letter Chrysler 300 of 1965–1971 was available as a four-door hardtop and sold 12,452 units its fi rst year, versus a mere 2,845 sales for the same-year 300L two-door hardtop.
In following years, the four-door hardtop was a strong seller: 20,642 in 1966; 8,744 in 1967; 15,507 in 1968; 14,464 in 1969; 9,846 in 1970; and 6,683 in 1971. Two-door 300s consistently sold in slightly higher numbers than four-door models.
Fact 813: To add extra visual fl air to the 1970 300-H, Hurst replaced the stock steel trunk lid with a fiberglass replica incorporating a recessed airfoil but the aerodynamic impact is unknown.
Here’s a tip: Don’t go looking for a key when it’s time to access the luggage compartment; Hurst made the lids without exterior key locks. To open the trunk, 300-H owners pushed a button in the glove box to activate a vacuum switch. As a backup system, Hurst also installed a T-handle under the dash. The T-handle was positioned near the standard hood-release handle, making inadvertent trunk opening part of the 300-H ownership experience.
Fact 814: The 1970 300-Hurst was officially only available with the twodoor hardtop body style. But solid proof exists that at least two convertibles were also built. Sharing the hardtop’s Spinaker White with Sauterne Mist Gold paint accents, one convertible is known to have been used by Linda Vaughn and another was a factory demo car before being wrecked in an accident with less than 500 miles on the odometer
Fact 815: It is interesting to note that Chrysler never offered a functional hood scoop for its full-size, high-performance models—not even for the red-hot, letter-series cars of the 1950s. The closest thing was the fiberglass hood produced for the 1970 300-Hurst.
A central power bulge led to a scoop opening that fed outside air to the passenger compartment. Close, but of no value to the 440 TNT big-block, which breathed warm underhood air through a twin-snorkel air cleaner unit. It sure looked great though.
Fact 816: Eye-catching hood scoops may not have been part of the letterseries 300 legacy, but cars built between 1957 and 1959 feature rectangular slots beneath each headlamp pod. Protected by metal screens, they fed cool air to the front drum brakes via fiberglass ductwork and helped prevent brake fade. Look for them on the 300C, 300D, and 300E. The screens are painted red, so it is easy to assume they’re directional signals, but a closer look reveals their true intent.
Fact 817: The handful of 1960 300Fs built with the Pont-A-Mousson 4-speed manual transmission (sources claim between 7 and 15) incorporated a highly unconventional means of activating the reverse lamps. A manual toggle switch was provided so the driver could illuminate the rearward path prior to backing. The French gearbox wasn’t fitted with an integrated reverse-lamp switch.
Another detail specific to these rare 4-speed cars is the use of a ribbed-metal, block-off plate in the place of the usual automatictransmission, push-button controls. Internal memos designated these 4-speed conversions as the 300F Special GT.
Fact 818: The handful of 1960 Pont-A-Mousson 4-speed 300Fs were initially built as standard Fs with Torquefl ite transmissions and 375-hp Ram Inducted 413 engines. Like many limited-production, high-performance offerings, Chrysler pulled the cars off the regular assembly line for final construction to minimize disruptions. In the case of the 4-speed 300F, each car was modified at the Jefferson Avenue plant in the so-called Header House.
The stock floor was cut for shift-handle passage, a Chrysler Windsor clutch pedal was added, and the 400-hp kit (with hotter cam, blocked heat risers, and short-wall manifolds) was installed.
Inside, the stock center console was modified to allow shifthandle placement. The usual ashtray was replaced by a rectangular aluminum ring that was hand stamped with the “1, 2, 3, 4, R” shift quadrant.
Clearly Chrysler didn’t anticipate volume sales so each installation was made by hand—and looked it. The Pont-A-Mousson upgrade cost a hefty $800 and again, despite publicity in Hot Rod, Motor Life, Motor Trend, and Sports Car Graphic, the 4-speed option wasn’t popular among 300 buyers.
Fact 819: The 1959 300E predicted the bucket-seat craze of the 1960s but with a literal twist. Replacing the bulky bench seat of 1958, a pair of sleek front bucket seats was made standard in the 300 (optional in other Chrysler full-size models). The spectacular feature was that the seats were mounted on swiveling bases, allowing occupants to rotate 40 degrees outward for easier entry and egress.
Fact 820: Chrysler gave 300 spotters something new to hunt for in 1958 with the release of 16 300Ds equipped with electronic fuel injection. External identification was limited to the addition of a thin black border around the usual circular, quarter-panel emblem. Embossed into the top half of the medallion were the words “Fuel Injection.”
A joint venture between Chrysler and Bendix, the Electrojector-equipped 300Ds began life with standard 8-barrel-carbureted 392 Firepower Hemi engines. The pre-retail-delivery conversion was done at the DeSoto plant on Warren Avenue in Detroit between January 20 and July 15, 1958. An additional five 300D Electrojector conversions were done for internal use before the program was canceled at the end of the 1958 model year.
After proving troublesome, 15 of the 16 retail Electrojector 300Ds were quickly retrofi tted with standard dual-quad carburetion under warranty. At present, only 1 of the 16 regularproduction 300D Electrojector cars retains its exotic induction, though a surprisingly high number (10) of the EFI bodies exist— most still wearing their unique emblems.
The Electrojector system was also fitted to 350 and 361 wedge-powered Dodge D-500s (12), Plymouth Furys (2), and DeSoto Adventurers (5) in 1958. AMC also flirted with Electrojector-equipped Rambler Rebels in 1957 but never released the option.
Fact 821: Besides manufacturing cost, a key motivator in Chrysler’s 1959 transition from Hemis to wedges was engine weight, and no detail was overlooked. For example, the 392’s coolant capacity was 25 quarts versus 16 quarts for the simplified 413 wedge design. The reduced coolant capacity accounted for 18 of the 101 total pounds of engine mass removed from the nose of the 1959 300E.
Engineers and customers alike appreciated the faster engine warm-up and quicker heater function allowed by the reduced coolant volume of the wedge head cars versus their hemispherical counterparts of 1958.
Fact 822: The 1979 Chrysler 300 was the only Chrysler 300 powered by a small-block engine. Had the 300 arrived one year earlier, in 1978, there’s little doubt it would have been equipped with the B-series 400-cubic-inch big-block, which was in its final year of production.
Still, with 195 hp on tap, the 1979 E58 360 was one of Detroit’s more potent V-8 engines that year. Every 1979 300 was equipped with a full-length, dual-exhaust system incorporating twin catalytic converters.
Chrysler missed an opportunity to embellish the twin outlets with bright chrome-plated tips. Rather, the 300 used a pair of unadorned 2-inch-diameter tailpipes.
Fact 823: The mechanical camshaft specified for the 331-, 354-, and 392-cube FirePower Hemi engines installed in 1955–1958 300s required special rocker arm covers with clearance blisters formed into the surfaces between each spark plug hole.
Obscured from view by the removable ignition wire shielding, the bumps are needed on any early Hemi (Gen I) fitted with a mechanical camshaft and have always been scarce among collectors, racers, and restorers.
Fact 824: Did Chrysler predict global fuel shortages when it chose the hemispherical combustion chamber strategy for the 1951 FirePower? In a White Paper presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) dated March 1952, Chrysler Vice-President Director of Engineering and Research James Zeder summed it up nicely: “The power of an engine should be based on physique, not stimulants.”
So as General Motors and the rest of Detroit banked on elevated compression ratios (and an assumed limitless supply of highoctane gasoline), Zeder relied on the hemispherical combustion chamber’s relative octane indifference, focusing instead on superior breathing to achieve higher power on less costly—and more plentiful—low-octane fuel.
Fact 825: If the hemispherical combustion chamber was so advanced, why did Chrysler abandon it after the 1958 model year (1959 in Dodge/Fargo heavy truck applications)? Cost, weight, and complexity were the main factors that sent Chrysler looking for a simple, potent replacement, which was found in the polyspherical and wedge-head B and RB engine families.
In hindsight, the Hemi’s many virtues were unappreciated— and largely unwarranted—in the marketplace of the 1950s. But when heavy breathing was required, the Hemi was revived in 1964 to do the job at Daytona. Since then, advances in casting technology and materials reduced the Hemi’s bulk and have opened the door to the new generation of effi cient hemi-head engines used in the modern 300-C and other Chrysler light trucks, SUVs, and passenger cars. And with modern cylinder deactivation and EFI, the benefit of the Hemi’s free-breathing valve layout is as valid today as it ever was.
Fact 826: The C-300s entered in the 1955 NASCAR Daytona Speed Week competition were all equipped with 2-speed Powerfl ite automatic transmissions. With its 1.72:1, 1:1 gear spacing the unit lacked an effective passing gear, a detail that almost cost Chrysler a significant victory.
During the grand finale Speed Week event, a breakneck 160- mile race over the 4.1-mile road and beach course, Fireball Robert’s manual-transmission Buick easily pulled ahead of the 300s when exiting turns. By contrast, the C-300s of Tim Flock and Lee Petty were forced to enter the straights in high gear, lugging the potent Hemi. Roberts gained 2 seconds at every corner and was declared the winner with a record-setting average speed of 93.158 mph.
The victory stood until Robert’s pushrods were declared illegal in the post-race teardown. The C-300s thus moved into the top two positions with Flock’s 92.05-mph average besting Petty’s tally. The C-300 was declared the winner, but renewed focus was placed on finding a replacement for the 2-speed Powerflite.
Fact 827: The handicap of the 2-speed automatic was cured by the arrival of the 3-speed Torqueflite automatic in 1957. Even though the Powerflite was introduced in 1954, and Chrysler could have stuck with it for five or six years and saved a lot of money, the engineers deserve credit for launching the superior Torqueflite as soon as they did.
With its 2.45:1, 1.45:1, 1:1 gear spread, the Torqueflite’s extra gear allowed the driver to keep the engine closer to its peak-power RPM. Torqueflites installed in letter-series 300s featured increased line pressure for firmer shifts and torque converters tailored for higher stall speeds.
Fact 828: First-generation Torqueflites installed in the 1957–1961 300C, 300D, 300E, 300F, and 300G (similar to competing early automatic transmission designs from Ford, General Motors, Packard, etc.) were quite heavy at 230 pounds.
In 1962, Chrysler changed case construction from cast-iron to die-cast aluminum, which cut weight by 60 pounds. The 1962 300H was the first letter-series 300 fitted with the new aluminum Torqueflite, which was dubbed the A727.
Unlike 727s destined for use in 1962-up midsize Dodge and Plymouth B-Body models, those installed in full-size C-Bodies through the 1964 model year employed a 7-inch-diameter brake drum affixed to the output shaft, which served as the parking brake. Too large to fit the smaller driveshaft tunnel of the B-Body, 727 Torqueflites used in Dodge and Plymouth midsize cars use a different extension housing and tailshaft assembly with an internal parking sprag in place of the cumbersome brake drum.
Fact 829: The vast majority of regular-production, letter-series 300s were equipped with automatic transmissions. The pre- 1959 300 sales brochure did not list an available 3-speed manual because the hassle of self-shifting was contrary to the 300’s existence as a gentleman’s performance car.
However, a handful of cars were equipped with heavyduty Borg-Warner 3-speed manual transmissions and entered in various NASCAR, AAA, and NHRA events through the 1959 model year. 1960 saw the introduction of the French-built Pont-A-Mousson 4-speed manual transmission. Also used in Chrysler-motivated Facel Vegas, a special iron case replaced the usual aluminum construction to handle the ram-inducted 413’s output.
Chrysler bulletins describe availability as being in “very limited production.” Research indicates that between 7 and 15 of the 1,217 300Fs built in 1960 were equipped with the Pont-AMousson 4-speed stick.
Fact 830: The 1960 Pont-A-Mousson 4-speed proved to be a one-year offering and was replaced by the robust but antiquated BorgWarner T-85 3-speed manual for 1961 through 1963 (G, H, and J). With gear ratios of 2.55:1, 1.49:1, and 1:1, the unit lacked a synchronized first gear, an awkward 1-2 shift pattern, and was usually teamed with the 400-hp engine option for race duty. The excellent Chrysler A833 4-speed appeared in 1964 and was available in all Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth vehicle lines.
Compared to the Pont-A-Mousson’s 3.35, 1.96, 1.36, and 1:1 gear ratios, the V-8 version of the A833 carried 2.66, 1.91, 1.39, and 1:1 gear sets. The four-on-the-floor helped boost the 300’s sagging performance image during the dawn of the intermediate muscle car craze. Exact output of 4-speed 300Ks and 300Ls is not known, but the figure for 1964 and 1965 Chrysler 300 letter car 4-speed production is likely less than 250 (combined).
Fact 831: The 1993 Chrysler LH cab-forward platform grew out of the AMC/Renault-designed Eagle Premier. Thanks to its longitudinal engine positioning (as opposed to the more problematic transverse orientation) the LH chassis was capable of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Hoping for a return to rear-wheel drive after a decade of front-wheel-drive K-car doldrums, performancestarved Chrysler enthusiasts met with frustration every fall as allwheel-drive variants failed to materialize.
The thinking was all-wheel drive minus front-wheel drive equals rear-wheel drive! In hindsight, performance enthusiasts waited more than a decade for the 2005 LX platform, and the return of serious rear-wheel-drive Chrysler performance vehicles.
Fact 832: The 1965 Chevy Corvette was the fi rst American car with four-wheel disc brakes, right? Not quite. Going all the way back to 1949 reveals the use of Ausco-Lambert four-wheel discs on the Chrysler Crown Imperial.
Unlike today’s spot brakes, in which a caliper pinches the rotor to slow the wheel, the Ausco-Lambert design encased twin expanding discs within a two-piece iron housing. The setup was available through 1954 for about $400 extra, and provided one-third more friction surface than standard 12-inch Chrysler drum brakes.
Popular applications were the Town and Country, New Yorker, and Crown Imperial as well as fleet, police, export, and taxi applications. Chrysler is known to have specified Ausco-Lambert discs on several of the 1953 Mexican Road Race New Yorkers, and Carl Kiekhaefer specified them on several pre-letter-car NASCAR and AAA race machines.
Unfortunately, the Ausco-Lambert disc-brake system was discontinued one year before the 1955 arrival of the C-300. Had this not been the case, the mighty letter car could lay claim to yet another performance-car fi rst.
Fact 833: Torsion bar front suspension (marketed as Torsion-Aire) wasn’t adapted to Chrysler cars until the 1957 model year. Previous Chryslers (300 or otherwise) utilized more conventional double A-arm/coil-spring front suspensions. With the advent of torsion bars, Chrysler products of all divisions enjoyed much improved road handling.
A side benefit of the parallel, under-chassis torsion bar layout was a gain in engine compartment width. The exotic long-ram induction of 1960 wouldn’t have been possible without this change. The lengthy branches and plenums would have fought for space with the taller upper A-arm mounts of the pre-1957 coil-spring suspension configuration.
Fact 834: Let’s not forget that body-on-frame construction was the norm for all letter-series 300s built before 1960. From 1955 through 1959 every 300 body shell (all Chryslers, DeSotos, Dodges, and Plymouths, in fact) rode on a massive steel perimeter frame. The 1960 redesign integrated the rear suspension mounts and frame rails to the floorpan of the body shell for a significant weight savings.
At the front, Chrysler used an abbreviated stub-frame that carried the engine, transmission, front suspension, and forward bodywork. This unit bolted to the forward floorpan of the body shell. The novel layout clearly influenced design of the 1967 Camaro/Firebird (F-Body) and 1968-up Nova (X-Body), minus the torsion bars.
Fact 835: Prior to 1957, US passenger cars were fitted with conventional non-locking differentials. Great for allowing the inside tire to smoothly turn slower than the outside tire in corners, these “open” differentials directed engine power to the rear tire with the least resistance. The fl aw is the way the engine’s natural torque reaction lifts the right rear tire and encourages that one tire to spin—greatly hampering acceleration.
Chrysler addressed the problem in 1957 with the Sure Grip differential, a $51.70 option that included spring-loaded clutch plates in the differential, which forced both tires to provide forward thrust. Specially calibrated to still allow tire speed differences during tight maneuvers, the Sure Grip was installed on roughly 30 percent of all subsequent letter-series 300s. The same year, General Motors released its famed Posi-Traction limited-slip differential and Chrysler’s secret traction weapon wasn’t so secret.
Fact 836: A key element of Virgil Exner’s brilliant Forward Look design strategy was the implementation of smaller, 14-inchdiameter rims on 1957 models, including the 300C. Though the reduced tire height added to the sleek side profile, the smaller rims crowded the 12-inch brake drums and forced the use of cooling ducts (see Fact #816).
15-inch rims returned to the standard-equipment roster for the 1961 300G, along with revised full-wheel covers. Pressed with similar contours as the previous year’s offerings, the addition of 14 rectangular slots were said to allow trapped brake heat to escape; a strategy first seen on the 10-slot 1959 Corvette wheel cover. 14-inch rims returned as standard equipment on the 1964 300K, adorned with non-vented full-wheel covers.
Fact 837: The smaller, 11×3-inch drum brakes employed on the 1963 300J (also used on non-letter Chryslers) were actually an improvement over the 12×21 ⁄2 drum brakes used since 1956. The earlier brakes, known as the “Center-Plane” system, used pairs of single-acting upper and lower wheel cylinders to apply (theoretically) even pressure along the brake shoes as they contacted the drums.
In practice, the need for four specific and non-interchangeable wheel cylinders plus a confusing dual-mode adjustment process resulted in service and parts inventory headaches. By contrast, the new-for-1963 Bendix-style drums used one dual-acting wheel cylinder per drum and were self-adjusting. Despite the smaller diameter, effective brake lining area increased from 251 to 287 square inches. These fine 11-inch drums went on to be used under muscle cars such as the Road Runner, Charger R/T, and nondisc-equipped Street Hemis.
Fact 838: Chrysler offered a bewildering array of optional rear axle ratios to early letter-series 300 customers. Though standardissue gears were in the mid-3s, the vast selection was a clear indication Chrysler wanted to help drivers interested in off-road race competition.
In 1956 the choices were 3.08, 3.36 (standard ratio), 3.54, 3.73, 3.91, 4.10, 4.30, 4.56, 4.89, 5.38, 5.83, and 6.17:1. Before the 1957 advent of the 3-speed Torqueflite automatic, 300s were limited to the 2-speed Powerflite. Juggling the rear axle ratio allowed serious racers to tailor engine speed to any given race course, long or short.
Fact 839: The new breed of Hemi-powered LX/LC cars (300, Magnum, Charger, and Challenger) utilize Mercedes-Benz–supplied E-Class five-link rear suspension components—not a bad thing at all.
Just like the “old days,” driveline engineers install certain beefed components under the extra-performance 6.1- and 6.4-liter SRT-8 offerings. While the base 5.7 Hemi differential case is cast iron, SRTs get a thick-wall aluminum unit.
Other SRT-8 upgrades include four-bolt driveshaft flanges, four-bolt half-shaft flanges, a 3.06:1 fi nal drive ratio in place of the 5.7’s 2.81:1 gear set, to name just a few. As these words are written, Chrysler (and Dodge) has begun applying bold 392 Hemi eng
Fact 840: The 15×6.5-inch Chrome Styled Road Wheels installed on the 1970 300-Hurst (and optional on other Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth models) were manufactured for Chrysler Corporation by long-time tier-two supplier, Motor Wheel.
Apparently, nobody signed an exclusivity contract and the wheels (with minor design changes) reappeared in 1972 on AMC cars. The changes were a reduction in the number of punched cooling slots (from 18 to 8), application of matte-black paint to the central dish, and replacement of the center cone’s Chrysler Corporation logo with American Motors markings on a thin red band. At that same time, Chrysler was also sharing its Torqueflite 904 and 727 automatic transmissions with American Motors. It’s a small world!
Fact 841: While classic 300 letter-series cars were strictly one-year offerings, the revived 300M was built for six model years (1999– 2004) without the alphabet soup progression (i.e., there was no 300N, 300O, 300P, etc.). Likewise, the revived Hemi-powered rearwheel-drive LX platform (and V-6 variants) was assigned C-300 nomenclature for its debut as a 2005 model, a repeat of the 1955 strategy, right down to the hyphen. So far, the C-300 program has not reactivated the letter factor, but there’s little doubt Chrysler has considered the idea and may yet do so.
Fact 842: Will the front-wheel-drive 300M ever be a collector item? With 234,210 produced in its six-year run, scarcity will never be an issue—great news for its many fans. Here’s an annual breakdown: 30,765 in 1998; 55,966 in 1999; 50,682 in 2000; 36,583 in 2001; 32,375 in 2002; 24,910 in 2003; and 2,929 in 2004.
Fact 843: The original letter-series 300s were scarce even when new and only 16,969 were made in a little over a decade of sales. Annual production totals were: 1,725 of the 1955 C-300; 1,102 of the 1956 300B; 2,402 of the 1957 300C; 809 of the 1958 300D; 647 of the 1959 300E; 1,217 of the 1960 300F; 1,617 of the 1961 300G; 558 of the 1962 300H; 400 of the 1963 300J; 3,647 of the 1964 300K; and 2,845 of the 1965 300L.
If you’re wondering where the 300I is hiding, Chrysler skipped the designation to avoid confusion with the Roman numeral.
Fact 844: The very first regular-production Chrysler 300 wore serial number 3N551001 and was delivered new to Brewster Shaw’s San Juan Garage in Daytona Beach, Florida. Upon delivery, nobody knew it was the first of just under 17,000 letter-series cars that would be built in the following decade. The second production unit wore serial number 3N551002 and was purchased by outboard motor magnate Carl Kiekhaefer.
Both cars were entered at the February 1955 NASCAR Daytona Speed Week competition where they (and other C-300 entries) dominated the Flying Mile, Standing Start Mile, and 160- mile beach and road race. The second-built C-300 (1002) still exists in restored condition.
Fact 845: Don’t assume the 1970 300-Hurst was an ill-handling parade float. Road Test magazine (July 1970 issue) offered high praise: “Only two U.S.built cars with heavy duty suspension come to mind as even approaching what the H offers in ride quality. The 1970 Thunderbird with optional HD underpinning is one. It is a heavier car, it might be noted, by 175 lb. in the two-door version. The other car, also with HD suspension but good top end ride is the Oldsmobile 442 W-30 though it’s a lot stiffer than the 300 H under that thin layer of velvet.”
The as-tested weight of the Road Test press car was 4,480 pounds.
Fact 846: Power-to-weight ratios play an essential role in any muscle car recipe. In a test of the 1962 Chrysler Enforcer four-door police package, the editors of Car Life magazine (October 1961 issue) wrote: “Because the car is 400 pounds lighter than the Chrysler 300G model, its performance is substantially identical to the 375- hp G, at least up to 80 mph. Above that speed the extra hp tells in favor of the G, as might be expected.”
The big surprise is that the Enforcer police car was powered by the smaller 383 4-barrel with 325 hp. Interestingly, the raiseddeck 413 wedge was not available for law enforcement until the 1963 model year.
Fact 847: “When Chrysler decided to capitalize on the 300 series’ good name with a lower-priced line of cars, it wisely kept the letter series going, too, although the relationship of the two is a bit confusing.”
The editors of the March 1962 issue of Car Life magazine hit the nail on the head. Though comparisons were drawn with Packard’s (ultimately disastrous) down-market move in the mid 1930s, the stakes weren’t as high. In the end, the bread-and-butter (nonletter) 300 line proved to be very popular with sales of 23,777 in 1962; 23,040 in 1963; 26,887 in 1964; 25,491 in1965; 47,245 in 1966; 21,894 in 1967; 34,621 in 1968; 32,472 in 1969; 20,997 in 1970; and 13,939 in 1971.
In total, the “watered down” 300 accounted for 270,363 sales between 1962 and 1971—that’s 16 times the total of the letter series. A similar mass-market fate met Ford’s original two-seat Thunderbird. When a back seat was added in 1958, sales exploded.
Fact 848: Like same-year Plymouths, Dodges, and DeSotos, all Chrysler passenger cars built with automatic transmissions between 1956 and 1964 utilized push-button shift controls.
In a Car Life magazine road test of a 300J in the May 1963 issue, the writer said: “The push-button controls are arrayed vertically on the left side of the dash, along with a parking lever which is just about the handiest gadget going . . . We must add that the push-buttons are easy enough to use; however, we still would prefer to have the transmission control in a right-hand location.”
Fact 849: With its $13,500 window sticker, the buyer of a 1970 Jensen Interceptor could have spent the same amount on two new Chrysler 300-Hursts with a few hundred bucks left over.
A total of 6,703 Interceptors were built between 1966 and August 1976, all of which were motivated by 383 or 440 (1972-up) Chrysler big-blocks. Standout models include 316 four-wheel-drive Ferguson FFs (1966–1971) and 209 440 Six-Pack–powered Interceptor SPs (1972–1973).
Fact 850: As if the Jensen Interceptor wasn’t exotic enough, the $27,000 Monteverdi Hai 450SS mid-engine sports car of 1971 trumped the British GT with its 426 Street Hemi powerplant. Conceived by Swiss BMW and Ferrari dealer Peter Monteverdi (father of Chrysler 383- and 440-powered exotics such as the 375L and others), annual output was planned at eight cars. At the time, such limited numbers exempted them from federal crash testing. In the end, only three were built, plus a partially completed rolling display chassis.
The Hai didn’t get much magazine exposure, except for an amazing cover story in the August 1971 issue of Road Test magazine. The author exclaimed: “You have to be a little nuts to buy one of these.”
The legend of the Hai lives in the minds of thousands of kids thanks to the 1973 Matchbox 1/64-scale Hai replica (model number MB3).
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks