I cannot make any claim to accuracy for the materials that I have used to make these articles. In some cases, the journals go back 50 years. — Curtis Redgap
by Curtis Redgap
The Chrysler 300F hit the showrooms on January 8, 1960. Purists point to the “F” as the last of the pure “letter cars.”
Of all the makes and models of all the cars that Chrysler ever built, my all time favorite, hands down, no questions asked, top of the list model is the 1960 300F.
We all have experiences where you can recall exactly where you were when that event happened. My parents could always recall when news of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death came. I can always recall where I was when President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. It was like that with the first 300F. I was instantly taken and still remain so to this very day. Any 300F is just the best in my book.
The first 300F I saw was a special order placed by our attorney. For the first time since 1929, he would not be taking a DeSoto. His wife would only drive the car if it had a white interior. As I said, in the 1950s and 60s if you knew who to get in touch with, anything could be done. White was not a standard interior for the 300, but Dad put the number "888" on the order form, and seven weeks later, a blue 300F two-door hardtop with a white interior rolled off the truck. It caused a stir.
Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated called the 300 a “Velvet beast, built for the connoisseur of speed.” He personally bought a 300F, praising its superior handling.
In a later issue of Mechanix Illustrated, he related how that handling quality saved his life one night on a Florida highway. He was traveling at a speed will above the posted limit, at an early hour. He crossed a bridge, entered a spot of patchy fog, and saw something blocking the entire road in a clear spot. He slammed on the brakes, spun the steering wheel, putting the 300 into a long sideways controlled slide that he was able to keep balanced by using brakes and accelerator. He came to a stop some twenty feet from an overturned tractor trailer. He credited the suspension of that 300 with keeping him alive. He was emphatic when he said that “no other automobile built in America could have done what I made that 300 do that night!”
The only deficiency were the brakes on the standard 300. While they were poor in performance, they were, at the time, some of the best Detroit had to offer. Now that is one scary thought!
The technology was there to correct the brakes, but Chrysler did not act. Surely a combination of synthetic lining material could have been concocted to satisfy both the requirements for tremendous stopping power, without the erratic behavior of the non-organic linings of the police brakes. Unfortunately, the center plane design would continue on until 1963, though the technology to cure it was already in place on the Valiant!
The 300F had the first ram induction engine layout that anyone at our dealership had seen as well. When the hood got opened, it was if a hypnotist came around and put everyone under a spell. There was almost a reverence of silence! There was this awesome.... thing! It was the standard 375 horsepower model, but with the ram tuning, torque was up, so the F model was quicker!
Selling ram induction to a regular customer in another car was something else, though the sight of all that “plumbing” that splayed the carburetors out to the fender wheels was purely awesome.
It was again a case of Chrysler engineering going over and beyond expectations. It seemed to scare a lot of regular customers. Even if adding ram induction was a low cost option, most customers did not opt for it. We had one guy that insisted it was a supercharger that had just been well disguised at the factory. He took a regular 4 barrel. So it went with a lot of customers. Fleet customers like law enforcement stayed away, too: too technical, too expensive, too complicated, and too much tuning for a fleet to handle.
The ram induction engine was also used by Dodge, Plymouth, and other Chrysler models.
The system was simple, and didn’t require much more attention than any other multiple carburetion system. The biggest complaint was changing spark plugs, which could be challenging, even to our technicians. They didn't like it much.
Besides having the standard ram inducted 375 horsepower V-8, there was an optional engine that put out 400 horsepower; not many were produced. They were all-out performance products that would not be tolerable to live with for any sort of daily driving.
You could also get a four speed manual transmission, built in France by Pont-a-Mousson, which also built the Facel Vega cars with Chrysler engines. Seven cars with those transmissions have been positively traced, but rumors persist that nine were actually built — six of them were in new 300Fs sent to Florida in February. (Also see this external Chrysler 300F site.)
Burton Bouwkamp added:
We planned a 400 HP model with a husky four speed manual transmission which we bought from Pont -A- Mausson, a French manufacturer who built this transmission to use with a Chrysler V-8 engine in the Facel Vega sports car. The transmission did not fit, so we had to cut a hole in the floor pan and cut a floor reinforcement and then install a unique floor pan cover and reinforcement which were manufactured by prototype methods. We made these modifications in our engineering garage at the Chrysler Jefferson Plant after the car was built on the production assembly line.
We found out from our engine people that we could increase horsepower by tuning the long branch ram manifolds for power instead of mid-range torque. That took reducing the ram tubes from about 30” to 15”. We removed 15” of an internal web between ports. By doing this we ended up with a 15” plenum chamber and a 15” ram manifold which increased power at 5000 RPM. The engine wouldn’t run this fast with hydraulic tappets so we built the engines with mechanical tappets which allowed us to go to a more aggressive camshaft profile. We got more power but to get it we sacrificed low speed torque and idle smoothness. We also raised compression ratio to 10 to 1 - from 9.25 to 1.
For the 390 HP engine, we designed and built exhaust headers and a low back pressure exhaust system to further increase power. We also blocked carburetor heat to simplify the exhaust header design and to lower the carburetor temperature. These cars would not have run very well on a cold winter‘s day in Bemidgi, Minnesota. ...
Meanwhile, I had to decide who was going to buy and drive these cars? It was obvious that Brewster Shaw, the Chrysler dealer in Daytona, would get one - or two. Also, Co Monroe of Monroe-Zeder Motors in Miami would probably want one and have his friend Warren Koechling drive it. To find the other owners we scanned the Chrysler 300 entries from previous years and I called them to see if they would like to buy and drive a competitive car at Daytona. Gregg Zeigler said that he will never forget that phone call. To him - it was like winning the lottery.
In the third column, I have listed the downwind/upwind speed differentials. Gregg was fastest at 143.9 MPH and Brewster was second, 1 1/2 MPH slower.
Read more from Burton Bouwkamp about the Chrysler 300 letter cars at Daytona.
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