Chrysler 300 Letter-Series Cars - The first mass-marketed high performance car.

When the 300 bowed - the industry was stunned. A pure performance model? It would never sell. Wrong!

by Society Staff -
reprint with permission only

The arguments go on and on: What was the first "muscle car"? Is a full size-car a muscle car? Was there ever a muscle car before the 1964 GTO?

All these slip right over the real question - when was the first US car first marketed as a pure performance car? People call the GTO the first muscle car, but frankly it had even less "muscle" as its big brother, the 421 SD Catalina. In fact, there were quite a few full size cars that could wallop the GTO when it was first introduced, the afore mentioned 421 Cat, the Dodge and Plymouth 426S cars, the Chrysler 300 Sport 413, the 409 Chevy SS, and 425 Galaxie.

The real distinction for the GTO was that it was solely marketed as a performance car. There was no mention of economy, seating comfort, room for a family of 5, or cushy boulevard ride. It started a craze because people thought GTO = performance - and they thought that because that was what Pontiac touted.

But the first marketing of a strictly built for performance model wasn't the GTO, it was the Chrysler 300. In advertisements, brochures, and road tests, there were only tow things mentioned: performance and luxury. The "beautiful brute" got its nickname because every single ad touted its performance before anything else. And when someone walked into a Chrysler dealership between 1955 and 1965 looking for performance, they didn't ask for a New Yorker, they said "I want a Chrysler 300".

And we should remember that the 300 backed up its claim on the street and at the racetrack. In its first two years, the 300 was the winningest stock car in NASCAR and USAC. We should understand that until 1961, drag racing was not the way one touted high performance US iron, high top speed and circle track wins were what the public respected, and for such a big luxurious car 300s were constantly in the news - check out the results of Daytona Speed weeks from 1955-1960 if you doubt it.

But back to the story – It was Chrysler that built and sold a strictly performance-built model before anyone else. And let's discount the Corvette and Nash-Healey and such – they were marketed as "sports cars" a totally different category.

So on to a short description of the letter series::

The First - the 1955 C-300

This first of the letter series cars didn't actually bear a letter; it was retroactively considered the '300A'. The 1955's "300" stood for the output of its Hemi engine, - 300 HP.

They installed Chrysler's most powerful engine, the 331 CID FirePower "Hemi" V8, and fitted it with twin 4-barrel carburetors, a race-profiled camshaft setup, solid valve lifters, stiffer suspension and a performance exhaust system.

1956 300B

The 1956 300B was fairly similar externally, distinguished by a new tailfin treatment, but with a larger CID engine. There were two models of 354 Hemi V8: 340 or 355 HP. Performance was better than the previous year's, being measured at almost 140 mph. In deference to short track NASCAR and USAC racing, a 6.17 ratio rear gear was added to the options.

With the optional 355 HP 354 engine, the 300B became the first American car to produce one horsepower per cubic inch, besting Chevrolet with their fuel-injected 283CID V-8 by one year.

1957 300C

The 1957 300C is considered the classic year of the 300 "letter series" by many. It was restyled, with a yawning wide front grille and large, sweeping fins. The Hemi engine was increased to 392 CID with 375 HP standard. There was a limited edition 390 HP version, with 18 built. Significantly, a convertible model was available for the first time.

1958 300D

The 1958 model year was to be the last use of the FirePower Hemi. The engine was still 392 CID, but tuned to 380 HP. Thirty-five cars were built with fuel injection which delivered 390 HP (when it worked). Since the fuel injection system was troublesome, most cars soon had it replaced with the standard two 4-barrel carburetor setup.

1959 300E

1959 saw the Hemi engines replaced by Chrysler's new "Golden Lion" wedge-head RB V8, with 413 CID. Power output remained at 380 HP. Sales were so low that Chrysler considered dropping the 300, but management felt it was the Brand's flagship, so a 1960 model would be produced.

1960 300F

The 1960 300F came with the 413 CID V8 as in 1959, now delivering 375 HP in standard form, using ram tuned induction. This boosted power at lower and mid-range RPM. The special "cross-ram" intake manifold was designed and fitted. in lieu of the normal in-line dual four barrels. In this new "cross-ram" intake, two pairs of 30" long tuned passages fed the engine.

Also available was special 400 HP "short ram" version. In this version, the tuned portion of the runners was reduced to only 15" (though the overall ram tube length remained at 30"). The short ram cars were also fitted with the French Pont-a-Mousson 4-speed manual transmissions developed for the Chrysler-powered Facel Vega.

To read the rest of this article, including all letter series cars - click HERE.

For more years and details, see the complete listing of Chrysler 300s by clicking HERE.

For more specific information and specifications, see the Car Models Described Section by clicking HERE, and then select the year of interest.



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