Beautiful brute

Chrysler’s ultimate Hemi-powered coupe

WORDS MICHAEL STAHL

Series 1958

CHRYSLER 300D 65

CHRYSLER’S tough 300C sedan of 2005 brought a new generation of brutish 300C, with its Hemi grunt, competent chassis and ‘gangsta’ styling, also attracted an old generation of fans.

The ‘300’ moniker recalled a time when Chrysler was the king of tin-top performance and style.

Chrysler’s 300 ‘letter series’ began in 1955, with a coupe called C-300. It was developed as a NASCAR homologation special, beefed underneath and fitted with Chrysler’s trump card, a 5.4-litre ‘Firepower’ Hemi V8.

Fitted with twin four-barrel carbs, a competition camshaft, solid lifters and dual exhausts, its 300hp (224kW) was a first for a production car. The C-300 duly blitzed NASCAR in ’55.

While Chevrolet and Ford chased a sports image with their Corvette and Thunderbird, Chrysler backed its new coupe and convertible NASCAR star and granted the ’56 300B an even larger, 5.8-litre Hemi with 254kW.

For ’57, yet more cubes – 6.4 litres, producing 280kW – and fans to the brand, at the time gaining a new lease of life – and some long-lost dynamic ability – in the hands of Daimler-Benz. But the quality problems, the C suffering from dust and water intrusion and poor panel fit. Chrysler busted a gut to put things right with the 300D, but buyers were still wary, in a market already being hit by economic recession.

Beneath the bonnet of the 300D, the 6.4-litre Hemi was nearing its capacity limit, but still squeezed out a slight power increase to 283kW. An exciting but little-exercised option added Bendix electronic fuel injection.

It was the farewell for the original Hemi V8, introduced only seven years earlier. It befitted the scale of the 300D, which though not grand in production numbers (only 618 coupes and 191 convertibles) certainly was on the road, measuring more than 5.5 metres in length, riding on a 3.2m wheelbase.

And Chrysler spared little expense inside, making this deceptive executive express a sort of Bentley R-Type Continental for the American interstates. dramatic new styling set the scene for our star car, the ’58 300D.

The 300D was a much better car than the one it replaced.

It needed to be: Chrysler’s radical restyle had brought a plague of i ff i f i i

Fast & factual05

1

Born-again Virgil

Aside from his excellent name, Virgil Exner (1909-73) was an influential designer; his ’57 Chryslers were first with compound-curve windscreens

2

Bendix like Beckham

Only 16 300Ds were optioned with Bendix ‘Electrojector’ EFI, which was so crap Chrysler retrofitted carbs for free

3

In detail

Taking Flite

THE last of the first-generation ‘FirePower’ Hemi 90-degree V8s displaced 6424cc, had twin four-barrel carbs and a heady 10:1 compression ratio. It made 283kW at 5200rpm and 590Nm at 3600rpm. Optional Bendix ‘Electrojector’ fuel injection yielded 291kW. A three-speed Torque-Flite automatic was standard, with push-button selector. Three-speed column manual was an extra-cost option.

In off the cush

INTERIOR was a study in quality and ‘jet age’ style. Leather upholstery was standard, as was the ‘custom’ steering wheel and ‘safety cushion’ dash panel (though you might be impaled by the noncushiony mirror). Air-con was an expensive and unpopular option; others included ‘Auto-Pilot’ cruise and electric seats. Despite the vast exterior size, the cabin was quite compact – but the boot could carry four full-sized spares.

Technology, ’50s-style

THE 300D was a big bugger, but handling was kept in check by snappily named technology including Torsion-Aire front independent suspension (torsion bars, control arms) and a leafsprung rear, Constant Control (recirculating-ball) steering; and Total Contact (305mm drum) brakes that, like the steering, got hydraulic assist only with the automatic transmission.

Fast forward

Exner’s jaw-dropping ‘Forward Look’ styling for the ’57 300C had been slated for 1960; the rush for ’57 caused the C’s build-quality problems

4

To the letter

Mechanix Illustrated road-tester “Uncle” Tom McCahill, a friend of Walter Chrysler, dubbed the 300-series, of which he owned several, the “beautiful brutes”

5

Non-starter

The 1957 manufacturers’ agreement to spurn racing scotched the 300D’s racing career, but one ran a class record 251.7km/h at Bonneville

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