Chrysler 300M cars: big, luxury-tinged sporty sedans
Originally to be second-generation Eagle Vision, the 300M became a Chrysler at the last moment; there are photos of 300Ms with Eagle trim and badging, but the decision to eliminate Eagle came just in time for a quick readjustment. The use of the name 300M offended many familiar with the company’s history and would confuse would-be buyers for years, especially when the 300 and 300C were brought out, but it did make the launch much more public: the 300M made the covers or inside pages of just about every glossy car magazine, thanks partly to its links with the past. Once inside, reviewers were generally pleased, and some called the 300M the best big front-wheel drive car every made — all things considered. The 250 horsepower engine pushed the massive vehicle with alacrity, but it was fine with sharp turns, too, and didn’t mind being driven around leisurely.
At the core of the debate is the simple fact that the 300M did not clobber the competition as well as the early 300 letter-cars. The 300 letter cars were unique, able to do battle with the best of the rest, offering a stiff suspension that could corner better than many smaller sports cars, coupled with a fearsome Hemi engine, unique interior, and a price to match; the 300 letter-cars were always a limited edition, not a mass market car, and they were the best Chrysler could sell.
The 300M was given the LHS’ elegant, refined instrument panel, along with a similar interior, albeit devoid of some minor niceties available on the Concorde. The 300M, though, was shortened, primarily for sale in Europe, where the LH was simply too large; the shorter length also resulted in lower weight, for better acceleration. Aggressive gearing brought 0-60 times down to about 7.5 seconds, which was better than most of the original 300 letter cars, despite their fearsome Hemi and Wedge engines (to be fair, the originals also had better torque for instant-on acceleration). The ride is also firmer than the other LH cars, a tradeoff for superior handling - better than many cars with active suspensions.
The LHS, in contrast, despite its identical-looking (and much larger) interior, was longer than the standard LH, got better mileage than the 300M, was quieter inside, and rode more smoothly. Not as many LHSs were sold, though, partly because bringing back the 300 name brought some publicity at first, and partly because the sporty flair of the 300M impressed car reviewers, while the LHS simply satisfied customers. Both came standard with woodgrain trim; a wood steering wheel came standard starting in 2001 (pictured above is a 2000 model), and the 300M Special replaced the woodgrain with fake carbon fiber.
The Chrysler 300M was benchmarked not against GM, Ford, and Toyota, but against the BMW 5-series, Audi A6, and other high-end cars. Based on the same platform as the $20,000 Intrepid and Concorde, the $30,000 300M was smaller (though you’d never know it from the interior), faster, firmer-riding, and better-handling. It still failed the Eurotest in some ways (no turbo option, no diesel option, no five-speed), but when it came out, most reviewers considered the comparison to be fair.
Only one engine was available, the Chrysler-engineered 3.5 liter V6 designed for the LH and not used on any other vehicle for many years; it was connected to a four-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick. A 300M Special model included a slightly more powerful engine and high-intensity discharge headlamps.
The 300M gained quite a bit of good press in its first days, but quickly went from being praised for its beautiful upscale interior to being slammed for its cheap-looking interior — the main difference being that the press fleet went from standard 300Ms to 300M Limited models, which had slightly better acceleration, stiffer springs, high-intensity discharge headlights, and fake carbon-fiber trim replacing the wood trim. Another key factor in the change of reporting was the wolf-pack journalism converging on Chrysler as Daimler announced that the company was losing money and producing shoddy vehicles, as an excuse for extensive cost-cutting.
Chrysler 300M handling
Burke Brown talked about the launch:
There’s a very famous press guy, I probably shouldn’t use his name. He was always doing crazy stuff, and we had four or five [300Ms] – this was out in Arizona and we’re on public roads, and we were doing say a 20-minute ride and there was a pre-determined place to stop and we’d rotate. People would go to different cars, because there was a mixture of Intrepids and Concords. I was in the 300M, and he gets in the seat. We’re talking about my responsibilities and so forth, and he said you know? He said it would make quite a story if I blew this 3.5 up when I was driving it.
... All the other guys are still kind of getting buckled in, and he’s gone. And he just held it to the floor, and those things would run, I don’t know, 130? Something like that I guess? And I had to almost grab the ignition switch and say we need to stop here and wait for the other guys because this is the next trade spot, otherwise it’ll goof up the whole rotation and all the other guys getting to drive it and so forth. So I look at my watch. I think it was supposed to be a 20-minute run and I think we waited 12 minutes for the other guys to get there. He just ran it flat out at whatever it would do, 130… The temperature gauge was down. I kept nudging over looking at the temperature. It was a hot day. It was like probably 110 anyway.
Chrysler 300M changes, year to year
The 1999 300M and LHS both included the 3.5-liter V-6 engine, rated at 253 horsepower (188 kW), and 255 lb.-ft. (345 N•m) torque. Standard features were the AutoStick automatic, 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels with chrome option, next-generation hybrid driver and front passenger air bags, Sentry Key®theft-deterrent system, automatic headlights, Indiglo backlighting on gauges, leather seats, wood-appearance trim, cassette/4-CD stereo, traction control, antilock brakes, trip computer (EVIC), and the analog center clock that would become mandatory for Chrysler cars. The Handling Group took off the top speed limiter.
In 2000, an interlock was added to prevent shifting from Park unless the brake was pressed; and tether anchors were added to the rear shelf for child seats. The 300M and LHS gained new colors, revised instrument cluster vacuum-fluorescent display shapes, a four-disc CD changer (in the cab) with Infinity II stereos (early models tended to have bounce issues with CDs), cupholders in the rear center armrest, chrome window and lock switch rockers, and color-keyed mirror switches; the rear suspension was modified to cut noise, vibration, and harshness (in spring 1999), and the gas cap was changed. The 3.5 V6 was LEV compliant in California-like regions.
The year 2001 brought more changes, with an optional luxury group that included an automatic dimming driver-side mirror; slight cosmetic changes; and supplemental side airbags. A more advanced EVIC (trip computer) was optional. Child seat anchors were now integrated into the seats. Chris Carpenter wrote that there were other changes, in line with the new Daimler policy of cutting costs by any means possible:
They dumped the chrome switches for black ones, the speaker grilles on the front doors went from the nice wire-mesh Infinity labeled units, to grey plastic grilles with “Premium Sound” embossed on them. The 2001-04 models also lost the tilting head rests, and the rear door courtesy lights got replaced with reflector stickers. The front door courtesy lamps got decontented to non-styled lenses, where you plainly see the bulb with a silver painted reflector.
In 2002, electronic brake distribution was added to the antilock brakes; a new computer combined engine and transmission controls; LATCH tethers were built in; and “natural” evaporative emission monitoring was added. Midyear, the 300M Special was introduced with a 255 horsepower 3.5 liter engine (running on premium gas) with 258 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.89 final drive ratio. The 300M Special also had high intensity dischrage headlights and cheap-looking fake carbon fiber trim, higher performance brakes, and optional Michelin Pilot Sport 255/35R18 performance tires. Power output from the standard 3.5 was dropped slightly, but this may have been a “marketing change” to make the 300M Special seem more “special.”
In 2003, new colors were added, a six-disc CD changer replaced the four-disc changer, and the changer controls were added to the stereo. 2004 brought optional Sirius Satellite Radio and an optional stereo with DVD-based GPC navigation.
All 300Ms had the 3.5 liter V6 with automatic; four wheel independent suspension with four wheel disc brakes and 17 inch wheels; traction control and ABS; and other features including next-generation driver and front-passenger air bag, vehicle theft deterrent system with Senty Key engine immobilizer, internal emergency trunk release, optional side air bags for front seat occupants, rear defroster, body color door handles, fog lamps, solar control glass, automatic headlamps (2000 and later), dual power folding heated mirrors (auto-dimming and auto-down-tilting-on-reverse on Special), speed-sensitive variable-delay wipers, automatic temperature-control air conditioning, dual-density carpets, soft touch door panels, sun visors with illuminated mirrors and sliding extensions, tachometer, auto-dimming rear view mirror, trip computer, universal garage door opener, heated front seats with two-person memory for the driver's seat, radio, and mirrors; eight-way power driver and four-way power passenger bucket seats; antenna built into the rear window; cruise; tilt wheel; power remote trunk lid release; and of course power locks and windows with remote and alarm.
The suspension was a standard four-wheel independent design with power rack and pinion steering, front MacPherson struts with integral gas-charged shocks and coil springs, single transverse lower links, tension struts, and a link-type stabilizer bar; and rear Chapman struts with integral gas-charged shocks, dual transverse lower links, lower trailing links, and a link-type stabilizer bar with concentric coil springs. Base tires were P225/55R17 Michelin Pilot MXV4 Plus black sidewall all-season radials, with the same-size Pilot HX MXM4 for the Performance Group and 245/45R18 Pilot Sport in Ultimate Performance Tire and Wheel Group. Six and ten spoke wheels were optional or used in various option groups. The engine was longitudinal, with front wheel drive. All 300Ms were made in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and were classified by the EPA as large cars.
The Chrysler 300M Special and the Performance Handling Group included stiffer front calipers, outboard-vented rotors, and high-performance linings at all four wheels.
Chrysler 300M repairs
When your 300M gets past 70,000 miles, it might be a good idea to start looking at batteries. The battery is hard to reach, and problems with corrosion and battery acid leaking onto connectors appear to be common starting around this mileage. Dealer prices for battery/cable replacement appear to be around $250 - $360.
Keep the trunk area (around the hinges/shock absorbers on top) clear of leaves to avoid rust. So far no rust problems have been reported to us, only the potential.
The ignition key tends to stick for some people. If you can't turn the key, try hitting the ignition lock moderately gently a dozen or two dozen times until the small bit of dust inside gets knocked loose. (As always we can't be responsible for your results!) - blowing compressed air in may be safer but we haven't tried that (the knocking trick comes from the dealer.) This isn't cause for panic - it seems to happen rarely but the fix does eventually work.
The seat-warmer switches tend to fail after six or seven years. Taking them out is very easy - with the ignition key NOT in the car, you can push them out from underneath, or you can gently pull/pry them out from above. Removing the connector cable is usually easy. You can try taking them apart and cleaning the contacts, or just order one from a dealer. List is $42 (as of January 2008) but we got ours from Pomoco for a grand total of $30 including shipping, because cleaning the contacts - one badly damaged, apparently by a coffee spill - didn't quite work. Here’s what the old switch looked like when we broke it apart into its four components: shell, rocker, transparent contact-holder, and circuit-board. If you have different color seats, your outer shell will be a different color.
Some early CD players (1999-2000 models) skipped over bumps; replacing the CD changer fixes that.
On many 300Ms (and other 2000-04 LH cars) with automatic headlights, the interior lights flash, suddenly change brightness, or flicker. The solution is to pull the connector at the switch, clean the contacts if needed, apply dielectric grease, and re-assemble it. This is not the five minute job it sounds like, since the steering column shroud and instrument panel end cap have to come off along with a bunch of screws to allow the instrument panel cluster bezel to be gently pried out. All work must be done with the battery disconnected. Chrysler advises dealers not to replace the headlamp switch. (Thanks, ImperialCrown, for referring us to TSB 08-022-03).
The platinum spark plugs do need to be replaced, probably at around 80,000 - 100,000 miles. This is not hard with the right tools. The plugs are right under the coils, on top of the engine; use a flat-bladed screwdriver to push up the lever on the electrical connectors, and gently slide the connectors apart. Then carefully use a good quality Torx screwdriver of perfect size to take out the two screws - be very careful at first since they are attached very firmly and are easy to strip. Push down hard while breaking them free. Once the first quarter turn is done, they should unscrew easily, but they don't come all the way out. When both screws are unthreaded, gently pull out the coil, which is held in now by the airtight seal. Then the spark plug can be taken out with a standard 5/8 inch spark plug socket, replaced with new ones (with a dab of antiseize on the threads), and tightened to specifications using a torque wrench (aluminum heads!). The hardest part is getting those coil screws removed without damaging them.
Speaker removal is also easy as long as it's the door speakers. More coming on that.
Want to replace the tie rod bushings for the 1992-2003 Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler 300M, Concorde, LHS, and New Yorker, or Eagle Vision? CarQuest has an inner tie rod end repair kit, which uses a two piece bushing to eliminate special tool sand lubricate; these bushings snap into place (and the kit includes a bolt lock plate). The kit is part number K7349. (Thanks, John Kaderka.)
We have “the ultimate LH steering fix” for sloppy steering (usually diagnosed as a bad steering rack).
Power lock actuators are a weak point after around eight years. Unfortunately, they are part of the door lock assembly, and are therefore fairly hard to replace for the amateur (the dealer may actuall be worthwhile for this one). First, disconnect the battery (locks are always energized); then remove the door trim panel, by removing the trim plug from the door-pull area and the remote bezel; removing the screws thereby shown, and the three on the bottom of the trim panel. (Oh, isn't it wonderful to have screws instead of clips?)
Then use a trim tool (or a similar tool — something flat, firm, and unlikely to damage the paint or trim panel) to disengage the rest of the retaining clips, (in our case, two at the rear and one at the front of the panel.) Flip the trim panel up, and hold it securely.
Now remove the speaker wire, the power window switch wire connector, the courtesy lamp wire, and the wiring harness clips. Disconnect and remove the old part; put the new one in. Then reconnect the wires and remote handle linkage, and put on the water shield, making sure the locator holes align; reseal the shield (you may need to get more sealant.) Put the trim panell in place in the retainer on the top of the door, insert the four-way alignment guide, and the rearward two-way alignment guide; put in new retaining clips; and put the three screws on the bottom back in (they take just 15-20 inch-pounds of torque, which isn't much). Put the other two screws back in (same torque spec) and reinstall the trim plugs.
Chrysler 300M Specifications
|Valve System||SOHC, 24 valves, hydraulic, center-pivot roller rocker arms|
|Fuel Injection||Sequential, multi-port, electronic|
|Engine construction||Aluminum block with cast in iron liners, cast-aluminum heads|
|Compression Ratio, Redline||9.9:1, 6800 rpm|
|Power (SAE net, 2004)||250 bhp (186 kW) @ 6400 rpm (71.4 bhp/L) (normal)
255 bhp (190 kW) @ 6500 rpm (72.9 bhp/L) (300M Special)
|Torque (SAE net, 2004)||250 lb.-ft. (339 N•m) @ 3900 rpm (normal)
258 lb.-ft. (350 N•m) @ 3950 rpm (300M Special)
|Max. Gross Trailer Weight||2,000 lbs. (907 kg)|
|EPA gas mileage (City/Hwy)||18/26 mpg|
|Battery||600 CCA, maintenance-free|
|Ratios, 1st-4th gears||2.84 - 1.57 - 1:1 - 0.69|
|Final Drive||3.66 — 300M; 3.89 — 300M Special|
|Overall Top Gear||2.52 — 300M; 2.68 — 300M Special|
|DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES in inches (mm)|
|Track, Front / Rear||61.9 (1573) / 61.6 (1565)|
|Overall Length||197.8 (5023)|
|Overall Width||74.4 (1890)|
|Overall Height||56.0 (1422) — 300M; 55.5 (1410) — 300M Special|
|Ground Clearance||5.1 (128) — 300M; 4.5 (114) — 300M Special|
|Curb Weight (estimated)||3,581 lbs. (1624 kg); Special, 3,650 lbs. (1656 kg)|
|Weight Distribution, % F/R||64/36|
|Frontal Area||23.9 sq. ft. (2.22 sq. m)|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||17 gal. (64L)|
|Head room||F- 38.3 (973) or 37.1 (942) with moon roof; R, 37.7 (958)|
|Leg room F/R||42.2 (1071) / 39.1 (993)|
|Shoulder room F/R||58.8 (1493) / 58.7 (1490)|
|Hip room F/R||57.4 (1458) / 59.1 (1500)|
|Seat travel||8.6 (218)|
|Recliner angle range||50°|
|Rear Knee clearance||3.9 (100)|
|SAE Cargo Volume||16.8 cu. ft. (476L)|
|EPA Interior Volume Index||121.9 cu. ft. (3.45 cu. m)|
|Overall Steering Ratio||17.0:1|
|Turning Diameter (curb-to-curb)||37.6 ft. (11.5 m)|
|Steering Turns (lock-to-lock)||3.1|
|Front brakes||11.7 x 1.02 (297 x 26) inboard vented disc with single-piston caliper,
swept area: 287.3 sq. in. (1853.5 sq. cm)
|Rear||10.6 x 0.5 (270 x 12) solid disc with single-piston caliper and ABS,
swept area: 184.6 sq. in. (1191 sq. cm)
2004 Chrysler 300M Blather from Chrysler
The 2004 Chrysler 300M offers driving enthusiasts an uncompromised mix of performance, premium amenities and style.
“Evocative styling and brilliant engineering set the Chrysler 300M apart from the crowd,” said Tom Marinelli, Vice President — Chrysler Marketing. “The Chrysler 300M continues to be a strong competitor in the sport sedan market because it has the right combination of performance and style that makes the driving experience a true pleasure.”
The 2004 Chrysler 300M offers drivers a fun-to-drive premium vehicle with all of the amenities one would expect in a sport sedan. Chrysler also continues to offer the 300M Special, which adds even more performance and premium options to the already well-equipped Chrysler 300M.
The foundation of the 300M is as advanced as its features. Its unibody chassis offers a solid feel. Four-wheel independent suspension is touring-tuned for smooth, yet responsive handling. The 2004 Chrysler 300M is equipped with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). For distinctive styling in addition to performance, Chrysler 300M is equipped with 17-inch aluminum wheels and Michelin Pilot MXV4 Plus P225/55R17 tires. The Chrysler 300M’s High Output 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces 250 horsepower (186 kW) at 6400 rpm and 250 lb.-ft. (339 N•m) of torqueat 3900 rpm for true performance from a fuel-efficient V-6. The engine’s power is delivered through a four-speed automatictransaxle. Every 300M is equipped with an AutoStick®transaxle, which offers the convenience of an automatic transaxle and the control of a manual.
Every Chrysler 300M is equipped with a host of luxury and convenience features as standard equipment, beginning with leather-trimmed, heated power seats. The driver seat includes eight-way adjustment and a personalized memory system. The memory system controls seat adjustment, driver’s side exterior mirror and radio presets.
The instrument panel of the Chrysler 300M features electroluminescent lighting. Selectable automatic headlights turn on at nightfall and activate with windshield wiper operation as well. An overhead console relays compass and temperature information and has a four-function trip computer. A Homelink®universal three-channel transceiver is built-in and offers programmable features, including a garage door opener and security lighting. The interior is finished with woodgrain accents.
Information in detail:
- Rear seat swaps: 300M vs Concorde/LHS (gain rear seat legroom in the 300M or a folding rear seat in the others)
- Noise, vibration, and harshness improvements
- Other 300M/LHS notes
- Common repairs and performance tips
- LH cars main page
What might have been? The 300M II
Doug Miske wrote (around 2001) that a special project engineer at the Brampton plant had said:
One of two "new" SOHC 24-valve 3.8L V6s showed up for a special installation into a "300M - II" mule. A modification was needed to the hoodline of the 300M (the 3.8 is a bit taller). Output was estimated at about 290 hp @ 6200 rpm, 290 lb-ft @ 4200 running on 91 octane (not 89 as on the 3.5L). Maintaining traction on full-throttle launches was "a challenge" with the unmodified traction control system and generated some nice stripes when the TCS was switched off. The 300M - II had P225 55ZR17 Michelin Pilot XGTZ4 tires.
The other 24-valve 3.8L was installed in a 1999 SWB Caravan Sport that was at the plant. This engine was tuned to run on 87 octane unleaded (Chrysler's research apparently shows that minivan drivers aren't keen on paying the premium for premium fuel - I wonder if Toyota and Honda researched this? [Allpar note: they have since gone down to regular]). Output was lower than the other 3.8, estimated in the 240 hp, 260 lb-ft area, owing partly to the lower compression ratio and the minivan's more restricted air intake system. We may see the 24-valve 3.8 engine in the next generation minivan, but not likely in year one [it did arrive]. Even with the significantly higher output levels, the SOHC 3.8 burns less fuel than the current OHV 3.3L, and emits significantly lower emissions.