Norwalk CT – America’s first mass-produced 300-horsepower car was the legendary 1955 Chrysler C-300 coupe, which many consider America’s first high-performance auto for the general public. Only the limited-production, custom-body 1930s Duesenberg, built for the very wealthy, had provided such power. It’s difficult today to realize what a sensation a 300-horsepower auto was in 1955.
That was a car-crazy year for Americans, who welcomed radically new, unexpected body styles. For 1955, General Motors offered its racy Chevrolet Corvette V-8 sports car and Ford introduced its sporty Thunderbird V-8 two-seater. Chrysler Corp. had spent $100 million—than a huge sum—to dramatically restyle its 1955 models and had no money or time to develop a two-seater. The 300’s V-8 easier out powered the Corvette and Thunderbird V-8s—not to mention the costly Cadillac’s top V-8, which had 270 horsepower.
The C-300 arrived when the fastest, most powerful American mass-produced cars were still mostly costly, full-size models. The Corvette and Thunderbird were generally considered frivolous, as were two-seat foreign sports cars.
The big, gorgeous new 1955 Chrysler model was officially called the C-300, with the “C” likely standing for “Chrysler.” But it soon was just referred to as the “300” to prevent confusion because the second 300 was the 1956 300B, which had 340-355 horsepower. Subsequent 300s carried the letters C through L, except the “I” designation was skipped to avoid confusion with the number “1.” They’re all Chrysler Corp.’s prized collector “letter cars.”
The C-300 had a race-style version of Chrysler Corp.’s then fairly new “Hemi” V-8.
That engine got its nickname from its hemispherical combustion chambers. The 1955 Hemi 300’s 331.1-cubic-inch Hemi was modified like Hemi V-8s used in successful early 1950s race cars, with such power-enhancing items as two four-barrel carburetors, a competition camshaft and solid valve lifters. Solid lifters were more efficient than the hydraulic ones used in other Chrysler V-8s, but were noisier. The camshaft also caused a rather rough engine idle, although not an intolerable one. The exhaust system generated a rumbling sound. It soon became clear that this was no car to mess with.
The 1955 300 had a Chrysler New Yorker Newport hardtop body and smooth Chrysler Windsor side trim and rear-quarter body panels. There was subtle “300” badging on the body and hubcaps, but the 300 shared the classy “twin tower” taillights of other large Chryslers. Up front was a large Chrysler Imperial “egg crate” grille.
At $4,110, the new 300 was the second most costly Chrysler brand auto. Only the big $4,209 Town & Country station wagon cost more. The price, alone, signaled that this was no car for kids. It was a hot rod luxury model for generally older affluent folks who liked fast cars. Veteran national auto writer Tom McCahill said the new 300 was a “hardboiled, magnificent piece of semi-competition transportation, built for the real automotive connoisseur.”
The 1955 300 was virtually unbeatable in competition that year, winning its first NASCAR Grand National race. It took the checkered flag at 37 NASCAR and AAA races of more than 100 miles.
The most-prized 300s are the 1955-58 models because they had the Hemi. A second version of the Hemi V-8 came in the 1960s for some Chrysler Corp. cars to keep the automaker among the hottest contenders in that decade’s muscle-car race. But they were totally different types of cars than the glamorous 1950s 300 Hemi models. The 1957-58 300C/300D looked sleeker and was more powerful than the 1955 C-300, but there’s no topping the 1955 300 because there’s no topping an original. The Chrysler C-300 to be featured on Father’s Day comes from the collection of Chuck Schoendorf of Rowayton who is an aficionado of Chrysler Hemi engined cars, including a stable of Cunningham C-3 sports cars which were part of a featured class at Greenwich Concours d’Elegance last year.
Article courtesy Dan Jedlinka.com
Anyone interested in showing a car at the Father’s Day Car Show may pre-register online at the New England Auto Museum website at only $15/per car or at the gate on the day of the show for $20/per car. All show cars will be welcome with no cut-off year. Spectator admission is free. Prizes will include awards for the Peoples’ Choice, the Mayor’s Choice, Favorite in Show and many more. Dash plaques will be available for the first 100 cars to register.
New England Auto Museum
The New England Auto Museum will be an exciting new attraction for the state of Connecticut and throughout the Northeast. This non-profit organization will build a first class facility dedicated to preserving, interpreting and exhibiting historic automobiles and automobile artifacts. It will serve as both an educational learning center as well as a display center to highlight an ever changing evolution of car history and its impact on society. Find more information at www.neautomuseum.org