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Partly based on an article by Dr. David George Briant in the WPC News (magazine of the Walter P. Chrysler Club), used with permission. Thanks to Paul Holmgren for more information and photos.
Horsepower numbers are “gross,” or without accessories. The industry moved to “net” ratings in 1971-72.
On November 29, 1956, Chrysler officially launched the Chrysler 300-C, “America’s highest-performing automobile,” with a standard 375 horsepower Hemi engine. Buyers could also opt for a 390 horsepower V8 had solid lifters, 10:1 compression, and a longer-duration, high-speed camshaft. Even the standard engine, also sized at 392 cubic inches, had twin Carter four-barrel carburetors, with a 9.25:1 compression ratio and five main bearings. This one pumped out 375 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, with torque of 420 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm.
New dual paper-element air filters, first used on NASCAR 300B cars, helped breathing; a Carter Ceramic fuel filter was kept in the inlet line to the dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors. The base engine had a standard TorqueFlite pushbutton automatic, with power steering, but the 390 hp one had manual steering and a manual transmission only. Both used a 12 volt battery, with 30 amp generator.
The third in the series of Chrysler 300 “letter cars,” the 300C was big but low-slung, with excellent handling, power, comfort, and luxury. Few were made in their eleven years as premier, limited-edition cars. The C300 and 300B had won the 1955 and 1956 NASCAR Grand National Stock Car Championships and the Women’s National Speed Trial Championships.
Before its launch, the 300C beat the unofficial stock car record at the Chelsea Proving Grounds, averaging 145.7 mph on the oval; it later won the Flying Mile at Daytona with a top speed of 134 mph (at Chelsea, it had aerodynamic shields over the headlights and upper windshield lip, and the air cleaner and muffler removed; at Daytona, it was stock).
There were only 1,918 300C hardtops and 484 convertibles — and that still made it, by far, the most popular of the 300C, 300D, and 300E. These were not mass-market cars, but the best Chrysler could offer, able to run with the best in the world.
The 300C was built using body-on-frame construction, and was based on the Chrysler New Yorker, with many changes (it was beyond an “option and appearance package”), including new 14-inch wheels. The height was just 54.7 inches; new dual headlights provided a claimed 75 feet more night vision.
From the outside, 300C had a low stance, unique grille, and a red, white, and blue emblem with the 300C logo (with no hood ornament); twin backup lights sat below large tail lamps, set inside the tail fins. The fins (or “rear stabilizers,” as Chrysler called them) actually did increase stability, albeit only at high speeds.
Officially, the exterior colors were black, white, red, brown, and green - all monotone - but others appear to have been used based on special orders.
The cabin had the best appointments Chrysler could offer, save for a tachometer. The rear view mirror was mounted to the top of the instrument panel, not the best spot for visibility. Interiors were a standard tan color, with leather standard. Door panels had silver appliques, with 300 medallians on the wheel and glove compartment.
Standard features included air-foam seat cushions, a clock, chrome license plate frame, spare tire cover, windshield washers, turn signals, and a clutched “SilentFlite” fan drive which limited the fan speed to 2,500 rpm. An optional performance group included the high compression engine, high speed cam, low back pressure exhaust, and limited slip differential. Steering was via symmetrical idler arm linakge, with three-tooth roller steering gear.
What made the 300C even more special than its predecessors was not just its Virgil Exner styling, but also its performance enhancements, keeping it the fastest and most powerful production car in America - and one of the best-handling.
The suspension was designed using a system approach, including the famous twin parallel torsion bar front suspension (a higher-rate setup than other Chryslers), lowering the engine, and extensive laboratory testing for better handling and ride.
A huge number of rear axle ratios were used, ranging from 2.92 to 6.17. Air conditioning, then unusual, was one option; many others were available (including electro touch tuner radio, rear-shelf radio speaker, power antenna, six-way power seat, and stone shields). The relatively small fourteen-inch wheels made brake improvements important; a rectangular duct underneath the headlights channeled cooling air to the front brakes.
As the Jefferson Plant's chassis and powertrain engineer, Mr. Bouwkamp was responsible for aspects of 300C production. He was kind enough to supply these notes to the WPC Club's Dr. David George Briant, which we have his (and their) permission to reproduce.
The 1957s were outstanding handling cars and the torsion bar front suspension got the credit — but actually it was the low center of gravity and forward portion (forward of the rear axle) rear leaf springs that provided the benefit. The rear axle was held in position in jounce and rebound as if the suspension had a trailing link. It added a little to harshness but the tradeoff was worth it. Moreover, torsion bars gave us an adjustable suspension height feature. Since torsion bars were an obvious design difference they got the credit for the outstanding roadability.
Recollections of the 1957 make for painful memories. In fact, the launch can be considered a disaster, even though all aspects of engine, transmission, and chassis were excellent and incurred no significant field problems. However, production was ordered before the plant was ready. Engineering and manufacturing development jobs were not finished when startup orders were issued in the summer of 1956.
Problems were so severe in working with the radical new bodies that Al Fleming, Vice-President of Manufacturing, convinced management to stop production for a few weeks to give everyone some time to “band-aid” the worst of the problems, such as water leaks. Reality called for urgent responses.
Early cars sold for Cuban customers were reported to have insufficient air conditioning airflow to the rear seat, where most higher class car buyers rode proudly along in the society of that time and place. Chrysler sent the person in charge of the A/C Department to Cuba; Mr. John Moren soon verified the cause and successfully created a field fix. Only half-jokingly, he mused later that the feeling that he might not be allowed to return to the USA inspired him.
Subsequently, a program began to correct about 40,000 air conditioning systems already in customer hands or in the distribution pipelines. Every employee who knew about a/c was ordered into the corrective effort. The key change was the Moren-designed sheet-metal duct, called “snorkels” made to a sample (no drawings) by local sheet metal fabricators, added below the instrument panel to bypass the inadequate-size plastic ducts that had been built into the new instrument panel.
As Engineering’s representative, I was swept into the field fix program and volunteered to handle Minnesota. Instead, I was ordered to work in four states—Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico. Over a full month, dealer technician classes were held in all the major centers including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and even Yuma. The first fix went into the car that Regional Service Manager Jim Ickes and I would be using.
Among the adventures encountered was with a big, tough guy employed as a Pit Boss in one of the largest Casino Hotels in Las Vegas. He gave us to believe that this was “fix it or else” as in the Moren experience in Cuba. Happily we did and were rewarded with prime seats at Louis Armstrong and Keely Smith performances.
Quite naturally, “conquest” sales success brought on by the new styling proved quite fleeting for some time to come.
The front styling of the 1957 300C is a clear influence on the 2005 300C - though the early Valiants may have been even more influential. Turn the grille upside down, chrome the bumper, and put the headlights into their own pods, and the resemblance becomes much stronger - right down to the straight waterline.
Related pages at allpar: 1957 Chrysler 300C model | Original Hemi | 2005 Chrysler 300C | C300 engine | 300M
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