6,892 Chrysler 300 Letter Cars: 1963-65 300J, 300K, and 300L — and the 300 Sport series

“... [The] format of the species has remained unchanged since the 300’s inception back in ’55: a hot engine, a roadworthy chassis and luxurious appointments . . . it is in the 3,000-5,000 rpm range that it really comes to life.” Car Life, May 1963.

bob rodger

Writing in Automobile Quarterly forty years ago (1975), Allan Girdler noted that, afer the first eleven 300 “letter cars,” placing big engines in light body cars adversely affected what had made the “Letters” so highly regarded. Straight-ahead speed potential became common, to the detriment of “the 300 Idea” that had embodied a total set of positive performance and appearance characteristics.

Moreover, he made the case the new 300 Sport Series blurred visual recognition. Observers no longer knew at a glance that they had encountered a genuine Letter.

As one of the key persons “in the arena” then, Burton H. Bouwkamp wrote:

burton bouwkampI was Product Planning Manager for the Chrysler car line from I960 to 1962, so I was directly involved in the planning of the 1963, 1964, and 1965 Chryslers.

We were planning the 1965 Chrysler when I left Product Planning, so I was involved through most of the planning of the 1965 models.

The 1963 Chrysler was a “NAP” (new car above the platform). It’s sometimes referred to as a “reskin,” but a “reskin” carries over the windshield. My recollection was that the 1963 windshield was new.

The 1963 car was styled by Cliff Voss, and the classic expensive look of the new sheet metal met with a lot of Corporate enthusiasm at style approval. I was also impressed by the expensive character of the style but in my opinion the car needed more rear track to get the tires and wheels out closer to the quarter panel surfaces. I was unable to sell top management on the expense of making this track change to what was supposed to be a carryover platform. Nor could I get the support of engineering and manufacturing management to this change, which required changing the rear axle, rear suspension, and rear floor pan. It meant more work for them. Whenever I see a 1963 or 1964 Chrysler I think, “if only I could have . . .”

I also felt the 1963 design needed the quality look of a cast grille, but our budget would only support a stamped aluminum grille, so we found a grille vendor that could bend the pierced one-inch square holes 90 degrees (to horizontal) to give the illusion of a deep grille (you need to look at a grille to understand what I am trying to describe.) It was—and still is—a good-looking car but more rear track and an expensive grille would have made the 1963 Chrysler an all-time automotive classic design.

1963 chrysler car

We renamed the mid-priced line the Chrysler “300” because 300 letter series car sales were falling, and we decided to capitalize on the image that we had earned with the C-300, 300B, 300C, etc. The ’65 Chrysler was new and a great car. Product planners got to spend an extra $75 to $100 per car because the Oldsmobile vs. Chrysler cost teardown showed that our Chrysler piece cost targets were unreasonably stringent for that price class of car. (Product Planners had been struggling to save dimes and quarters. To have an additional $100 to spend on a new product was a windfall.)

The result was substantially more style and feature content in the 1965 Chrysler than the 1964 Chrysler.

Creating an icon

Chrysler Corporation almost always marched to a different drummer, and the initial “Letter” series of 1955-1965 was a good example. The Hemi-engined offerings of 1955 to 1958 were especially exciting to drive, ride in, or watch go by. While 300 stood for horsepower, only the 1955s were rated at 300.

The 300 Letter aura was pronounced: creating an era, then an icon. For high end and top velocities, Hemi ruled. Granting 331, 354, 392 Hemi engines their due, the new 413 CID Wedge for 1959 was no anchor, posting excellent, even superior, results in some cases. The availability of a swivel seat in 1959 was perhaps a foreshadowing of the rise of comfort over performance.

The 300 Sport Series took attention from “genuine” Letter cars as Chrysler planners cashed in on the 300 aura. Growing options for the excellent, but lower cost, model worked to dilute further Letter impact and uniqueness.

1960 saw a well-styled finned beauty — yet it was closer in appearance to other Chrysler models. 1961 witnessed the second year of 30” long “ram-tube” engine induction and a concurrent human thrash at top management/board of directors’ level. For 1962, fins were expunged and wheelbase shortened from 126 to 122 inches, reducing weight slightly; it wore the letter H. 300H starred in a color film featuring Robert MacGregor Rodger and narrator Warren Beatty explaining “The 300 Idea” and included excellent action sequences. Among other 300 Sport Series effects, the 1963 Letter was destined to be the most rare.

1963 Chrysler 300Js Automatically Rare: 400 Hardtops Only

The Chrysler 300J carried a list price of $5,184 (a 1963 Custom Imperial Southampton Two-Door was $5,058). The famous 5.25” red, white, and blue medallions were gone, replaced by an almost shy 2.5” substitute in black.

Only traces of Virgil M. Exner design concepts remained in the newly fashioned body. Fins were banished after 1961, and crispness of line appeared for 1963 and 1964 Chryslers.

300J could be ordered with a floor-shift lever actuated three-speed manual transmission or a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic. On the manual, forward gear ratios were 2.17:1, 1.45:1 and 1:1, with reverse at 2.84:1. The final Drive Ratio (FDR) was 3.91:1 (8.75-inch Ring Gear and Pinion, 11-43).

TorqueFlite was stated to shift from Second to Third at a maximum of 84 MPH (4,754 RPM). Owners who chose to change final drive ratios could enjoy their 300Js in varying scenarios—always keeping in mind that tire capability/condition was an ever-present safety factor. The foregoing calculations apply to the 7.60 x 15” tire.

Positive crankcase ventilation arrived across the Corporate lineup. Paints, courtesy of John Lazenby out of Robert Ackerson’s Chrysler 300, were BB1 (black), MM1 (Alabaster), NN1 (Gray Metallic), TT1 (Claret Metallic), and WW1 (Oyster White).

Some specifications for the Chrysler 300J cars were:

Peak Torque Top Speed Front Track Width Rear Track Width Weight Rear Spring Length Stabilizer Bar Diameter Wheel Spring Rates
3544 rpm 101.6 mph 61” 59.7” 4000 lb 60” 0.75” 125/150 lb/in

Volume Pinnacle: 1964 Chrysler 300Ks Total 3,647

Peak volume honors for Letters C300 to 300L went to the Chrysler 300K, with 3,022 hardtops and 625 convertibles made.

Features included a full-size spare tire; trunk opening by torsion bar; paired dual headlamps; and a fully counterbalanced hood. Vehicle identification on leftfront door hinge pillar.

Windshield glass was curved, totaling 1,575 square inches; rear glass was curved, one-piece, with 1,150 square inches; side glass was flat and 1,224 square inches. Tread was identical to the prior year. The width, with doors open to maximum hold-open position, was 167.5 inches.


Power self-energing brakes were standard on New Yorker and 300K, optional on lower Chryslers.

Altered tail lamps, a widened grille, and plainer wheel covers differentiated K from J. Body color choices expanded to BB1 Formal Black, CC1 Wedgewood, DD1 Nassau Blue aka Chrysler Blue, EE1 Monarch Blue, FF1 Pine Mist, GG1 Sequoia Green, KK1 Silver Turquoise, MM1 Madison Gray, OOl Rosewood, RR1 Royal Ruby, TT1 Roman Red, Ul Embassy Gold, WW1 Persian White, XXI Dune Beige, YY1 Sable Tan, and 22-1 or 9 Silver Mist.

Chrysler 300K specifications were:

Length Width Height Weight (Conv.) Weight (Hardtop) Height (front bumper) Height (rear bumper) Minimum Ground Clearance

Liftover Height

215.5 79 55.6 3995 lb 3965 lb 12.5 11.3 6.1 25.1
Front Overhang Rear Overhang Turning Diameter Usable Trunk Space
38.1 55.4 46’ 5” 19.5 cubic feet

TorqueFlite Gets Full-Flow Internal Filter.

For 1964, the TorqueFlite automatic transmission received a full-flow, Dacron-felt internal filter and continued its outstanding performance, complemented by an optional console-mounted stick-shift type gated range selector. A new 5-position recliner right front seat was standard on 300K.

1964 chrysler 300

The Corporation was providing more powerful engines for Dodge and Plymouth (426 Wedge V8s with 2 or 4 barrel carbs and high compression ratios, as well as the Street Hemi in 426 CID form); but 300Ks came standard with the 413 cid, 390 gross brake horsepower dual four-barrel-carburetor engine.

1964 chrysler car

A new, strong manual close-ratio four-speed transmission (I-2.66, II-1.91, III-1.39, IV-1:1, Reverse 2.58:1) could be ordered on 300Ks ($227 extra). Featuring 3.5” shaft centers, related larger gears, plus larger and stronger synchronizers, the unit included a floor-mounted Hurst shift lever and was engineered to handle the most powerful V8s. Just 84 300Ks were so equipped.

Driving a 300J or 300K could be thrilling. They did not have radial tires (Ks were issued with 8.00 x 14 bias-ply), but surely could “eat up” the miles in a great hurry. The hand choke required a little getting used to, but quickly the eager driver could be underway, taking in air in great gulps through small air cleaners to a symphony of powerful rushing sound known to few. A dual muffler and tailpipe system ensured proper expelling of engine exhaust products.

TorqueFlite control was by the mechanical pushbutton system. A vertically moved lever actuated “Park” mode. The internal-expanding parking brake was foot-actuated.

1965 300L: Original Letter Series Finale — 2,845 Sold

300L took her place in Chrysler’s 1965 line, with design largely carrying forward from Virgil Exner to Elwood Engel. For Chrysler, at least, big was in, and the bigger the look the better.

Writing in Collectible Automobile for June 2000, retired designer Jeffrey Godshall discussed the work of Dick Macadam, Bud Gitschlag (basic body), George Bishop (front end ensemble), Roman Baranyk, Chet Limbaugh (two roof designs and the rear end theme), and Don Wright (exploded views of front and rear).

1965 gauges

Wearing the new “big” body design, 2,405 hardtops and 440 convertibles sped off to owners. The Chrysler brand caught on with buyers, resulting in 206,189 cars in 1965 form, of which 27,678 were AC2-M 300s and 2,845 AC2-P 300Ls.

Having spent more than $18.5 million (Chrysler models) of C-body tooling totaling $106.2 million (sources vary) on its 1965 lineup, marketplace success was appreciated fully by company leadership—yet decision-makers sadly turned away subsequently from the fabulous letter cars for decades.

So How Much Letter Was The 300L?

“Father of the 300” Bob Rodger believed that the 300L was a significant turn away from the 300 Letter Idea. He did not like the reduced power and softer suspension, thinking the 300L too close to the Sports Series 300. 300M planning done then called for an anticipated run of 4,298 with 500 of the total earmarked for the new 425 GBHP, 426 HEMI with special high-performance heads, 10.25:1 CR, two four-barrel carburetors, hood ornament announcing Chrysler 7 HEMP — all for $1,250 extra—salivating but unrealized.

300Ls had new upper control arm bushings that were larger and stronger after those in the 300J and 300K proved troublesome, especially in (for other corporate cars) demanding police service.

The engine was a 413 CID V8 with 360 gross horsepower at 4,800 RPM, and 470 torque-feet @ 3,200 RPM, fed by single four-barrel carburetor. The base price was down to $4,153. Manual shifters could have the new four-speed transmission and 108 300Ls were so equipped (as a no cost option).

1965 Chrysler 300L

Luxury options included remote-opening trunk and a setup that locked all doors at once, using four turns of the key in the outside lock (probably more useful on their four door cars). A new combined heater/air conditioner was available along with seven position tilt-wheel.

In the 300 Letters’ eleventh year, front brake shoes were 11” x 3” in front; rear, 11 x 2.5”; effective lining area, 263.3 sq. ins.; swept drum area, 380.1 sq. ins.; cast-iron composite drums; five-lug steel disc Safety-Rim wheels, 8.55 x 14 rayon whitewall tires; power-assisted rack and sector steering, turning diameter, 44.0 feet; 3.5 turns, lock-to-lock; one-piece propeller shaft; independent front suspension with upper and lower control arms, torsion bars (adjustable for height), direct-acting tubular shock absorbers front and rear, asymmetrical rear leaf springs; hypoid differential, Sure-Grip, limited-slip type, 3.23:1 FDR (standard).

1965 chrysler 300

Front Track Rear Track Turning Diameter
62 60.7 44 feet

Even more color choices appeared: AA1 Regal Gold, BB1 Formal Black, CC1 Ice Blue, DD1 Nassau Blue, EE1 Navy Blue, FF1 Mist Blue, GG1 Sequoia Green, KK1 Peacock Turquoise, LL1 Royal Turquoise, MM1 Granite Gray, NN1 Silver Mist, SSI French Ivory, TT1 Spanish Red, VV1 Cordovan, WW1 Persian White, YY1 Sable Tan, ZZ1 Frost Turquoise, 881 Daffodil Yellow “Spring Special” released 1 March 1965, 221 Sage Green, 331 Pink Silver, and 441 Moss Gold. Effective 22 December 1964 three colors were discontinued: Granite Gray, Nassau Blue, and Peacock Turquoise. Negotiations between dealer and new car prospective buyer could include color choices beyond the published list.

Chrysler 300L

The 300L had body improvements that put a velvet glove on their sheer power. The 300L could readily run off from the original C300 up to a point, so there were fangs, however genteel.

  300J 300K 300L
Wheelbase   122 123.5
Length   215.5 218
Width   80 79.5
Height   55.3-.6 55.7-56.8
Alternator   40 amp  
Weight (HT)   3,965 4,660
Trunk   19.5 cf  
Sales 400 3,647 2,845

The 300Ls received a major engineering attention for quiet vehicle operation. Noise levels were muted via isolation using premium rubber bushings, pads, blankets, and mastic coatings, placed as indicated by electronic sound-tracing equipment.

Rust-proofing bodies included dipping the lower portion of the body in phosphate and primer coating, phosphate layer on balance, three layers of primer and two of acrylic enamel.

The 300L cars truly conceal the fuss and noise one connects with blistering performance while readily doing the ubiquitous zero to 60 in the 8-second range, “hopefully” at a drag strip. 300L’s engine bay, would accept any of the all-out power engines available from an again awakened Chrysler firm, should the buyer decide to upgrade during post-sale service life. While “big,” they provided good four-corner visibility that helped in parking and other close quarter maneuvers.

Reflections: 300J-300K-300L

During 1955-1965, all the Chrysler letter cars were big two-door hardtops or convertibles, powerful yet surprisingly economical overall, since they were durable. J-K-L suspension systems were much more than “torsion bars,” having been designed brilliantly to ensure handling. No, most were not Hemis, but getting more than two tons to 100 MPH in around 18 seconds, even with accumulated high mileage, was still strutting stuff. Indeed, the 300J was considered to be at optimum when moving at 90 MPH while enjoying maximum torque and sonic-pulse pressure.

Letters were large, Letters had high quality, Letters had luxury, Letters handled, and Letters were bold, beautiful, and lovingly “brutal” to some. There remains a Chrysler 300 Club for their owners.

300 Sport Series: A Fine Automobile Drawing Prestige From Letter Magic!

The tenth running of the Continental Divide Rallye, staged in 1963 out of Boulder, Colorado, demonstrated the capability of “plain” 300s in action. Operated to Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) rules, the two-day, 500-mile, 15 on-the-road-hours event was structured for timed precision driving over challenging paved and unpaved road surfaces.

Written directions with surprise manned and unmanned checkpoints spaced 20 to 50 miles apart kept the driver/navigator teams on their mettle. The need to match fixed speeds for each leg raised tension levels as ordinary traffic had to be met regardless of bridges, tunnels, curves, wet surfaces, and other hazards— all “within legal and prudence parameters, of course.” The non-lettered 300s placed an amazing second place, just behind the winning Porsche, as well as fourth and ninth — in a field of 77, extending awareness that solid “non-Letter” stock Chryslers were much more than ordinary mounts.

For 1963, a Sport Series 300 was selected to pace the famous Indianapolis 500. This spawned a subset within the Sport Series, dubbed the Pace Setter Series, painted a unique metallic-turquoise color, with 1,861 convertibles and 306 hardtops—a reversal of usual shares. Winner Parnelli Jones received the Pace Car, later stolen from his Torrance, California dealership and found stripped of the hot 413 engine installed for her track duties.

After 1971, factory-fresh cars carrying the famous 300 nameplate went away until revived as the 1999 Chrysler 300M (250 net horsepower, quite likely 300 gross, 0-60 in around 7.5 seconds)—an absence of 28 long years.

— Dr. David George Briant, 25 October 2004.

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