Just like it went in at Jefferson: a dual Carter WCFB-carbed, 392 FirePower Hemi. All 300D
Before Chad Caldwell saw his '58 Chrysler 300D for the first time, it was already a well-traveled car. And after its restoration, Chad has continued to do plenty of traveling in it.
Its odyssey started at Ma Mopar's Jefferson Assembly Plant in Detroit (the only plant where the Hemi-powered letter cars were built), and then it was shipped to a dealer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, a local doctor purchased it and drove it for almost two years. On his way through Texas with it, he stopped at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer and, seeing a brand new '60 Chrysler 300F in that dealer's inventory, he promptly traded the Hemi-powered 300D for it.
From there, as Chad later determined, the 300D stayed in Texas, until a dentist in Virginia, spotted an ad for it in a 300 owners' club newsletter. He promptly flew out to Texas, bought it, and drove it home. From that point on, it stayed in garages (with its 1972 Texas plates on it) until Chad found it in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
How did Chad learn of it? That story also involves some traveling, in his case, to a show in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the late '90s. "I'd stopped in Atlanta, Georgia, and bought a paper. I was looking through the classifieds, and saw an ad that said, ''61 300G for sale--other cars available," he says. A call to the number in the ad put Chad on the trail of this much-rarer 300D.
How much rarer? According to production records, 484 300C convertibles were built in 1957, but only 191 300Ds. Lingering effects of the recession of 1957 led to an industry-wide sales drop for 1958, and Chrysler's company build quality woes that cropped up early in the 1957 model run still played on potential buyers' minds. (As did the 300D drop-top's $5,603 base price.)
A call to the 300D's owner revealed someone who wasn't interested in selling it--at first. As Chad remembers, "He said, 'Yeah, I still have the car, but don't think you're going to come down here and buy it and drive it home--don't waste my time.' I said 'I tell you what--I'll be there tomorrow to look at it, if it would be all right.'"
An all-night drive to Hilton Head led Chad to the car, which he looked at, and then made an offer on. This time, the 300D's owner was listening. "He thought about it for a few minutes, and we came to an agreement on it. Later I went back and got the car."
What he got was a restorer's dream--an intact car, with no rust at all. It was missing the original wheel covers, but all of the 300D trim, the parts for the Hemi, and all of the chassis and powertrain parts were there--along with the car's original Airtemp factory air conditioning system, a rarity among '58 Chryslers.
One ultra-rare option that it didn't have was the Bendix "ElectroJection" fuel injection system, which bumped the 392 Hemi's output to 390 horsepower, but proved so troublesome that Chrysler recalled all 35 300D's built with that option late in the model year, and retrofitted carburetors on them.
With a complete car, he began the restoration, which was completed in 2003. "We took it completely apart, every nut and bolt and washer, and went completely through it," says Chad. "We did a full frame-off."
Lest you think this car became a never-to-be-driven garage queen, think again. "It was a Number-1 car for about a week," Chad says. "I couldn't stand it, so I started driving it. You know, I could die tomorrow, and somebody else would be driving my car, so I figured that I'd better drive it while I'm here."
And drive it he did...in the 2004 Great Race from Jacksonville, Florida, to Monterey, California, as well as to 300 owners' club meets in Portland, Oregon, and Las Vegas, and to last year's Chryslers at Carlisle (where Hemi legend Tom Hoover gave it his Celebrity Pick). Chad figures that he's put about 15,000 miles on his 300D since the resto was completed.
What's it like driving a car that Ma Mopar's ads called "The Beautiful Brute"? "It's a beautiful car, and it's fun to drive, and it's unbelievably rare, compared to a lot of cars," says Chad. That was especially true on the Great Race's cross-country adventure. "Every now and then we'd miss a turn, and we'd have to run it pretty hard to get it caught back up, but sometimes it was worth missing the turns to do that."
1958 Chrysler 300D convertible
Owned by: Chad Caldwell, Newnan, Georgia
- Engine: The last of the FirePower Hemis--a 392-inch, 380-hp version that's been bored out .030-inch and totally restored, down to the two Carter WCFB four-barrels atop the stock cast iron intake.
- Transmission: Restored original 727 TorqueFlite with OEM pushbutton shifter
- Rearend: Restored stock.
- Suspension: Restored stock: (Front) Longitudinal torsion bars (larger-diameter than on other Chryslers), stamped steel A-arms, front sway bar and tubular "Oriflow" shocks (Rear) Steel leaf springs with tubular "Oriflow" shocks
- Brakes: Restored, power-assissted 11-inch drums all around.
- Wheels and Tires: Stock 14 x 6 inch stamped steel wheels with chrome "300" wheel covers and reproduction 9.00-14 wide whitewall tires.
- Body: Original '58 300D convertible body and frame taken apart to bare metal and restored. All body trim is restored original (or NOS).
- Paint: Original color (Cloud White) in PPG "Concept" basecoat/clearcoat form
- Interior: Nothing but the best, then and now--tan leather bench seats, restored by Crawford's Upholstery in Newnan, Georgia. Original gauges were also given a frame-off resto.