The Chrysler 300 in the driving report

Reinhard Schmid
The Chrysler 300 in the driving report
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D he number was not chosen at random. The elongated coupé that Chrysler presented to the public in January 1955 (some sources also mention February 10) was simply called 300. And the number denoted the output of the 5.4 liter Hemi-V8: 300 bhp (Brake Horse Power). According to DIN, this corresponds to around 304 hp. No wonder the Chrysler people proudly referred to the performance of their eight-cylinder.

Up until then there was no 300 hp maximum output

The Hemi engine was not a novelty, it made its debut in the 1951 normal Chrysler models with the same displacement and 180 hp. But until then there had not been a maximum output of 300 hp in an American high-volume vehicle. But not only the sheer power of the V8 impressed the audience. The new design, created under the direction of styling director Virgil Exner, caused even more sensation.

Under Chrysler boss K. T. Keller the motto was still that a man sitting upright with a hat should fit into a car. His successors Tex Colbert and Exner saw things differently. Exner created a long, stretched line for the 55 model range, which soon became known under the catchphrase 'Forward Look'. Most impressive was the new look on the expensive Chrysler New York in the hardtop version. The New Yorker body then enriched with a slightly tuned 331-Hemi and the fat chrome grill of the top model Imperial resulted in the 300.

The naming is slightly confusing

Incidentally, the 300 came to the letter C in the type designation by chance. As early as 1952 there was a Ghia study with a Hemi engine, which was called the C 200. Based on the Ghia Cabriolet, the new Coupé was internally called the C 300, but never officially. Only the 300 from model year 1956 was called the 300 B. So the C 300 is actually the 300 A, but it wasn't actually called that. Any questions? In any case, the C 300 was the start of the so-called letter car series, which was continued until the 300 L from 1965. Not always as a Hemi, however. From 1959 this had to give way to the cheaper to produce wedge head eight-cylinder with conventional combustion chambers.

The eight-cylinder with the hemispherical combustion chambers is in the 300 from 1955. It bubbles softly through the twin-pipe exhaust system. With a dull undertone, but without any real indication of its potency. The Power-Flite automatic offersonly two gear ratios, but the engine doesn't really care. Even with a light step on the gas pedal, it roars well muffled and makes the narrow diagonal tires flare up. If need be, the 300 jets from standstill to 100 km /h in ten seconds and runs 210 km /h.

The Chrysler 300 could have kept up with a Porsche 356 Carrera

Mind you, that was in 1955. A Mercedes-Benz 300 Adenauer or a BMW 502 would not have stood a chance. The Chrysler offered the performance of a gullwing or a Porsche 356A Carrera - with the space and weight of a luxury sedan. The unspectacular serenity of the 300 is almost as impressive today as it must have been in 1955 when 'Motor Trend' editor Walt Woron described the Chrysler as a 'mixture of sports car, airplane and boat'.

Of course the steering is indirect. The brakes are hardly up to the weight and speed of the 300, and the taut chassis is still way too soft. But that doesn't bother the quiet streets of the upscale neighborhoods of Auburn Hills any more than it did then. A gentleman had to put around $ 4,000 on the table at a Chrysler dealership to buy a 300. That was about the cost of a Cadillac limousine. But it was over $ 3,000 less than for a 300 SL or a Facel Vega - also with a Chrysler engine. In addition, the 300 surcharge list was extremely short. You could order the Kelsey-Hayes spoked wheels for $ 617, plus power steering for $ 112, a heater for $ 92 and a radio for $ 128. The electrically adjustable seats and power windows were also subject to a surcharge.

Equipped in this way, the fast coupé mutated into a luxury liner that was not called 'The Banker's Hot Rod' for nothing. Today Chrysler has a 300 with Hemi-V8 in its range again, available as a sedan and station wagon. There is only one wish left open to the Americans: a new Hemi 300 as a two-door hardtop coupé.


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