From the years 1955 to 1965, Chrysler Corporation manufactured special, limited-production, full-size performance cars-Chrysler 300s. These classy Hot Rods were unique as they offered potent performance and power with heavy-duty suspensions, but came in a plush, stylish package.
The original '55 C-300 Chrysler was perhaps made famous most by circle track racing mogul Carl Kiekhaefer, who ran a fleet of white 331-cube Hemi-headed V8 Chrysler C-300 competition cars. Drivers of these entries included legends like Buck Baker, Speedy Thompson, and Tim Flock, with records set and titles won along the way in both NASCAR and AAA racing events.
For 1956, the Chrysler Letter Car (now known as the "300 B") had minor changes to the body including new finned rear quarter panels with revised vertical tail lamps, and the race-bred Hemi engine got an increase in displacement to 354 cubes. Two versions were offered, one with 340hp and an optional 355hp horsepower model.
The year 1957 saw a completely new Chrysler body design based on a new lower, wider "Forward Look" platform, and the 300 C Letter Car featured different front fenders, hood, bumper, and grille-giving the car a look all its own as compared to the standard Windsor, Saratoga, and New Yorker models. A full leather interior was standard as well.
The masculine front-end treatment looked like no other to ever roll off a Chrysler Corporation assembly line, and ten different "300 C" medallions adorned the body. The stylists gave the machine a monotone paint scheme and, for the first time in Letter Car history, a convertible model was available. Side chrome was limited to single strips at the center of the rear fenders-this was a daring move by Chrysler, seeing as during this time Detroit was "chrome crazy," to say the least!
An interesting feature of the 300 Cs "Total Contact" drum braking system for 1957 was the use of front air scoops that cooled the front brake shoes via fiberglass ducts. This heavyweight performance machine was built to accelerate, corner, and stop unlike any other full-size American automobile.
Full-frame construction, "Torsion-aire" front suspension (with ball-joint control arms), longer rear leaf springs, and a revised 392ci Hemi engine are among the engineering highlights of this third-year Chrysler Letter Car.
The '58 300 D is a milestone in the ten-year production of Chrysler Letter Cars as it is the last model year to use the famous Chrysler "Fire Power" hemispherical-headed Hemi engine. A slightly different taillight design (smaller shape) is the only body styling change from 1957 to 1958, save for a new upper windshield design on the coupes.
The pictured Raven Black 300 D convertible is owned by Chrysler 300 Club member Ron Johnson and this "Beautiful Brute" is one of only 191 drop-top Letter Cars built in 1958. John Balow of Muscle Car Restorations (whose own Hemi Belvedere replica was featured in the April 1999 issue of Mopar Muscle, "Understated," page 28 and cover) expertly restored the 4,475-pound vintage Mopar muscle machine over a four-and-a-half year time period and the vehicle was awarded the "Best of Show" at the first major car show it was entered in-the Mopar Nationals held in Indianapolis in 1996.
Special thanks goes to Gil Cunningham, George Reihl, and Robert Young of the Chrysler 300 Club International (19 Donegal Court, Ann Arbor, Ml 48104) for their invaluable assistance during the restoration. Some of the required parts needed to perform the flawless body work came from Neil Freeman (rustfree sheet metal) of Whitehall, Montana, and the high quality chrome plating work was done by Paul's Plating in Mars, Pennsylvania.
The interior and top work was handled by the Auto Top Shop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, while Gary Schmidt of Wheeler Race Engines (Blaine, Minnesota) did the complete rebuild of the 380hp 392 Hemi 2x4 engine.
Original options of this car (base price $5,603.00) included Power Windows, Heater, Electro-Touch Radio, Shaded Solex Glass, Outside Rearview Mirror, Manual Antenna, Sure-Grip (3.31:1 ratio) Differential, and 30 amp generator.
Ron Johnson's High School dream was to own a Chrysler Letter Car and over three decades later when the opportunity came for him to purchase a solid 67,000-mile 1958 300 D, he jumped at the chance! Today the classic Chrysler is driven several hundred miles per year during the summer and Ron isn't afraid to slam down on the gas pedal and open up both of the WCFB Carter four-barrels and let the muscular Hemi come to life!