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1960 Chrysler 300F: "The Banker's Hot Rod"

by David Zatz

The first Chrysler "letter car" was the C300, followed by the 300B and then the 300C. The basic idea behind each was to have the best sport-luxury car American could build; just as the Imperial was Chrysler's top luxury car, the 300 "letter cars" were the company's top sport-luxury cars. Each year brought an increment in the number, starting with B; and, in January 1960, Chrysler showed off its new 300F - "the banker's hot rod."

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Before 1960, the Imperial was Chrysler's top of the line - in 1960, Imperial was split off to become its own brand.

The 300 letter cars used the most powerful engines available to the company, with with the best-handling suspensions and largest brakes they could manage. The cars were known for combining a smooth ride with "European style" cornering, garnering high praise and besting most challengers in testing. High prices kept sales volume down, and they were likely sold for the prestige and to attract people to showrooms.

New to Chrysler for 1960 was unibody construction, standard across the board save for Imperial, and used on the 300F; they were unique among the Big Three in going wholeheartedly to unibody at this stage, and did it flawlessly. The car still weighed around 4,300 pounds, not far from the weight of today's 300C.

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The 300F had a new, standard 375 horsepower (gross) ram-induction 413 "wedge" engine with a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, push-button operated. In an unusual move, the company also sold an optional version with a 400 horsepower version of the same engine, coupled with a customized and unpopular Pont-á-Mousson manual four-speed manual transmission (synchronised); Pont-á-Mousson apparently chose not to supply Chrysler with transmissions afterwards, since they'd been seeking higher volumes.

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Chrysler engineers had that, while the engine intake valves closed, air backed up behind them at higher pressure, so that when the valves opened there was a supercharging effect. This "ram induction" could be tuned by changing the length of the intake manifold tubes.

In 1960, each carburetor fed the cylinders on the other side of the engine through long, gently curving tubes - thirty inches long, in this case (except on the 400 hp engine, which ran to just 15 inches). The 413 was tuned in this year to boost the 1800-3600 rpm range by up to 10%, ideal for a luxury cruiser. (The humble slant six used a similar effect but with much smaller runners.) - See dyno test sheets. For racing, shorter tubes were better, giving a higher top power rating but less power at lower engine speeds.

Torque was strong, as one would expect, at 495 lb-ft (2,800 rpm) for the base engine and 465 lb-ft for the optional engine (3,600 rpm). The standard engine had hydraulic valves and did not need adjustment; the 400 hp version could not use hydraulics, and had solid lifters. Both had twin four-barrel carburetors. Despite slow sales, no fewer than six axle ratios were available - the standard 3.31 and options ranging from 2.93 to 3.73.

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The 300F came with hydraulic drum brakes on all wheels, with 12 inch drums, and power assist. The front suspension was, not surprisingly, Chrysler's torsion-bar setup with non-parallel control arms - and a 40% stiffer spring rate than normal. The rear suspension had the usual leaf spring setup, set up to 135 psi (50% stiffer than normal). Wheels were 6.6 inches wide and 14 inches in diameter.

The interior was redesigned from the 1959 Chrysler 300E, its predecessor, with four tan "semi-bucket" perforated leather seats; the front seats swivelled when the doors opened, a feature that did not stay long. Seat foam was up to four inches thick.

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The radio had pushbutton tuning and was a "hybrid" model, with both transistors and tubes; they had used the first solid-state radio some years earlier, found it needed work, and would not go to all transistors again until 1963.

A center console ran from the dashboard back to the rear of the car; it had a calibrated tachometer for the driver along with armrests, storage, power window controls, twin ashtrays, and lighters. The rear part of the console was outfitted in a similar way. Gauges were easy to read due to "Panelescent" lighting, which cut out most of the incandescent bulbs and provided more even lighting.

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Standard equipment included a day/night mirror, whitewalls, clock, chrome stainless-steel wheel covers, sound insulation, dual headlamps, a fan speed-limited to 2,500 rpm, power windows, and swivel seats. Options included air conditioning, electronic tuner, power antenna, automatic mirror, automatic bright lights, rear defroster, six-way power seat, and locking differential.

Fewer than a dozen cars had the four speed; around 964 were hardtop coupes, and the rest were convertibles. The base price was a whopping $5,411 for the coupe (compare that to $4,461 for the standard New Yorker, or $3,279 for a Windsor coupe) with a $430 premium for the convertible.

1960 Chrysler 300F top speed tests at Daytona Beach

Burton Bouwkamp wrote:

Bob Rodger assigned to me the job of planning, preparing, and executing a winning 1960 Daytona Beach effort. We had nearly a year to get ready for next February.

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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 for 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 add a floor reinforcement, then install a unique floor pan cover and reinforcement in our engineering garage at the Chrysler Jefferson Plant after the car was built on the production 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 [by] reducing the ram tubes from about 30" to 15" by an internal change to the casting. We removed 15" of an internal web between ports and 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. [Based on the photo, it had fabricated exhaust manifolds, and a special coil.]

We also raised compression ratio to 10 to 1, from 9.25 to 1.

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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.

We had the full cooperation of our Jefferson Plant engine building personnel and they built the engines with upper limit clearances for bearings and pistons to minimize friction.

Our suppliers also helped. Perfect Circle - our piston ring supplier - provided low tension piston rings and Goodyear supplied low power absorbing Bluestreak tires by reducing tread thickness and stiffer sidewalls. This was before radial tires. A bias ply tire at normal inflation pressures absorbed 15 hp at 100 mph. Bluestreak tires absorbed about 10 hp. The special tires for our Daytona cars were better than that.

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We prepared the cars in our Engineering Garage. We built five cars for Daytona plus an Engineering prototype car.

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 says that he will never forget that phone call. To him, it was like winning the lottery.

After completing the cars, we tested and broke in the cars with about 500 miles of high speed driving. A lot of it was at 100 mph, but we did not run them at top speed. Some drivers picked their cars up at the factory and Gene Carr and Carl Pruehs drove two of the 300Fs to Daytona.

At Daytona we worked out of San Juan Motors. The cars were ready to run so we did not have a lot to do. We fixed any problems noted on the drive to Daytona and we changed the spark plugs and inflated the tires to 60 psi.

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We swept the first seven places in Class 7 and the first six places overall. The front page headline on the February 8, 1960 Daytona Beach Morning Journal said "CLASS 7 BEACH RECORD FALLS."

These are the Flying Mile results. Notice in the third column that I have also shown the downwind/upwind speed differentials. Gregg was fastest at 143.9 mph and Brewster was second, 1 1/2 mph slower. Bud Fauble finished third but was not in my overall plan. He was the Sales Manager for our dealer in Chambersburg, PA and drove to Florida with three friends to drive his 300F on the beach at Daytona and then go on to Miami and Cuba (before Castro) for some fun in the sun.

Bud wanted us to prepare his car for the beach run. I tried to disuade him because I knew he would not average 130 mph and I was afraid it would tarnish our effort. Bud was determined to run so I told him he could drive our engineering prototype car if he would promise to withdraw if he won. You withdrew by not showing up at the Armory for inspection after the run. I stipulated this because if Bud won, it would not have been fair to the drivers and owners that bought their cars. Bud agreed.

Fourth place went to Danny Eames, a professional driver, but I can't remember whether he drove a second car for Brewster Shaw or Dick Dice's car from Birmingham, AL. Fifth place went to Warren Koechling who drove for Monroe-Zeder, a Chrysler dealer in Miami.

Larry Rouse was there every year - sometimes in a Pontiac but this time in a 300F.

R. C. Wooten drove a standard 375 hp automatic transmission 300F. Notice his south to north speed difference. Wooten went nearly as fast into the wind as he went down wind. It tells us that air resistance was not what was limiting his top speed. It's probable that with the standard 3.31 axle ratio he was experiencing hydraulic tappet pumpup, which acts like a governor and limits engine top speed.

Danny Eames' south/north speed difference of 11.9 mph is remarkable. I can't explain this.
Chrysler 300F acceleration testing

We should have run 90 mph in 1960 but the best we did was win Class 7 with Brewster Shaw at 88.2 mph. Five more 300Fs were right behind Brewster.

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Tom McCahill wrote in Mechanics Illustrated that the 300Fs did not run quicker because they ran with low rear tire pressure. I had advocated a 20 psi rear tire pressure to get a bigger tire footprint to launch the car. How rapidly the car accelerated in the first 500 ft was far more important than top speed in measuring elapsed time over one mile.

The drivers were reluctant to accept my recommendation because it was an untested theory, so Warren Koechling and I decided to test it by comparing acceleration times over 1/8 th mile with 60, 40, and 20 psi in the rear tires. Our test was interrupted by the police. With the aid of the clipboard and stop watch - and a lot of technical conversation - we convinced the officer that we were dedicated competitors and were not nuts and had not been drinking. He gave us a warning and let us go. So the theory was still untested.

Gregg Ziegler lowered his rear tire pressure to 20 psi for the run but I don't know who else, if anyone, did. Greg said the car was hard to handle and that he almost went into the ocean.

... even if we recorded 90 mph, it would not have beat the 93.8 mph average turned in by Bob Pemberton in an Air Lift sponsored Class 6 Pontiac. This remarkable run is one of the mysteries of the Daytona Beach Trials because the next fastest Pontiac recorded 84.5 mph - 9 mph slower than Pemberton, and the next year Pemberton turned 87.8 mph in a Pontiac - 6 mph slower than 1960.
The 300F in perspective

Despite using the same body as the Chrysler New Yorker, a similar suspension, and existing engines, the company likely lost money on the 300F, if only because only 1,212 were made. That was par for the course for 300 letter cars; they made 1,617 300Gs, 558 300Hs, and 400 300Js before spiking to 3,647 300Ks.

Also see Nick's Chrysler 300F site and all the Chrysler letter cars

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