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by Mike Sealey (4/2003)
I would like to convince DCX that calling the new LX semi-luxury sedan a 300C is a bad idea.
There is an American precedent for reuse of sequential model numbers, the Lincoln Continental Mark III/IV/V. Many never knew that the legendary '56-'57 Continental Mark II was considered a separate make from the lesser Lincolns, built by Ford's short-lived Continental Division; many more have forgotten that the Mark II was immediately followed by a Mark III ('58), Mark IV ('59) and Mark V ('60). These cars were also technically considered a separate make, although Ford gave the formerly exclusive Continental franchise to all Lincoln dealers after the '58 model year, and phased out Continental Division in early '58, merging Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln and Continental divisions into what was briefly called M-E-L Division, reverting to Lincoln-Mercury Division after Edsel's demise in late '59. These Marks were more deluxe versions of the existing Lincoln models and, like the more distinctive Mark II, were always considered "Lincoln Continentals" by the general public. (One could even say that Chrysler was more successful in establishing Imperial as a separate make than Ford was in separating Continental from Lincoln!) The classic suicide-door model introduced in '61 carried the name "Lincoln Continental", not only elegantly simplifying the Lincoln model lineup but accepting the unbreakable link of these names in the public mind.
When what is thought of as the "real" Mark III came out in '68, the previous Mark III-V became "non-Marks" in the officially promulgated history of the Continental Marks. While Ford's handling of this issue reminds George Orwell fans of Newspeak, the '68-'71 Mark III is unquestionably a more legitimate successor to the Mark tradition than the '58-'60 models.
This could not possibly be said of the proposed Chrysler 300C. There is no way the new car is by any means a more legitimate successor to the '55 C300 and the '56 300-B than the '57 300-C. This does appear to be an excellent car on its own merits, and would certainly be closer in personality to the original letter cars than the current 300M. It deserves to be measured on its own merits, whereas in my opinion a reuse of the 300C name would unfairly saddle the new 4 door sedan with a stigma of "Who are they kidding?"
I know I'm far from the only one to consider 300-N to be a more legitimate designation, especially since the M professed to take up the standard where the L had left off.
As mentioned earlier, Ford set a precedent for this kind of thing by applying the Mark III/IV/V designation to a more worthy class of Lincoln Continental.
The original '58, '59 and '60 Continental Mark III/IV/V are not without their fans, but even their most devoted would agree that these cars are not universally appreciated.
This is not the case for the original 1957 Chrysler 300-C, a car that is not only appreciated but revered not only by MoPar people but by virtually all American car aficionados in general. The real 300-C was a milestone car which established a number of firsts. It has earned and deserves respect even as we close in on 50 years later.
If you don't believe me, you could ask my 9-year-old daughter.
I think of my daughter as pretty typical for a girl her age. She loves basketball, Harry Potter, dressing up for special occasions, and funny movies. She is not nearly the car fan her dad was at that age, which of course is just fine because she's not her dad. She does, however, have cars she likes. She likes T-series MGs and early El Caminos; she can tell the difference between an Old Beetle and a New Beetle; and she has let it be known that she wants a PT Cruiser Woody when she turns 16.
She's the kind of kid Chrysler needs to be thinking of selling to down the road, and at the moment they have her attention.
Last year, we went through an unsettling 10 days between the time my 300-K was stolen and the time it was recovered. During that time, she asked me about the letter cars and what made them special. She was especially fascinated to know that each letter denoted a specific year (or at least it did before the years-later 300-M).
I didn't tell her about the original C being the first letter car with torsion bars, or the first 392, or the first offered from the beginning of the model year on with the legendary Torqueflite transmission. I don't think those things would register just yet. In fact, I know she doesn't understand why the '55 C300 is not called a 300-A.
But she knows a 300-C is a '57 model, and she knows what one looks like, and she knows what the C's tested top speed was. And she's pretty good with the rest of the early letters of the alphabet as well.
I really don't want to have to explain that Chrysler was taken over by a European company and that the new owners reused this cherished name because they do not understand American automotive history.
And if Chrysler wants to sell her that PT Cruiser, or anything else they might come up with down the road, they don't want to have to explain that either.
Webmaster's addition: I find it highly ironic that Chrysler is proclaiming its devotion to tradition by naming this car the 300C, at the same time they destroy a long-standing tradition by naming it the 300C! The name does no real homage to the past; 300N would uphold the tradition, while giving the 300 series a worthy (we hope) successor. That is, of course, assuming the 300N would not have a 2.7 V6 available. If the 300C is merely a replacement for the Concorde - not for the 300M - then it should not be called a 300.
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