Chrysler’s 300 letter series cars were really quite different from other mid-1950s American cars. The first of these, introduced in 1955 was the C300. It was one of those rare cars that happened to be introduced at exactly the right time (luckily for Chrysler). The C300 served as a focus for several elements that insured its success and the success of the rest of the Chrysler line-up in 1955.
For cost reasons, it was based on the New Yorker two-door hardtop with the rear quarter panels adapted from the Windsor, and to lend prestige, the Imperial grille (and dash) was used. Outside ornamentation was kept to a minimum while the exterior was available with only a single paint color scheme – limited to black, red or white. All this simplicity tended to accentuate and define the C300s sleekness, which resulted in a determined, yet graceful look. The C300 really stood out – styling of the day usually dictated wild two-tone paint and lavish use of chrome which more that often approached garishness.
If the C300 was great, then the 300B, introduced a year later, was even greater.
Visually, the biggest difference was the restyled rear end, which had restrained (compared to later 300s) fins. These enhanced the sleekness and the appearance of the car. The front of the car, except for some minor differences, still used the Imperial grille. In addition, a rearview mirror was now standard equipment as were back-up lights.
Mechanically, by increasing the bore, cubic displacement increased to 354 cubic inches on the FirePower Hemi. Compression ratio was upped to 9.0:1 which resulted to 340hp. The Hemi came with dual inline Carter WCFB four-barrel cars and a solid lifter camshaft. Later in the year, a 355hp version was made available. The extra horsepower was a result of the compression ratio raised to 10.0:1 and the use of a special three-inch exhaust system.
Just as important as the higher horsepower was the 300Bs ability to use the power for increased performance, due to the optional three-speed manual transmission, additional flexibility was gained when the standard two-speed PowerFlite automatic was replaced by a cast iron three-speed TorqueFlite automatic. Other improvements included a twelve volt electrical system and the availability of air conditioning.
Standard tires were Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires mounted on 15×6 inch rims (15×9.5 optional). As you would expect, the 300B came with heavy duty suspension and brakes which were adapted from Chrysler’s Mexican Road Race cars.
It is important not to forget what the 300B was in 1956; an exclusive automobile that more of the buying public could not afford. It was a car that had luxury, performance, engineering and status. On top of that, racing 300s crushed all opposition on the NASCAR and AAA stock car circuits – truly a formidable achievement for a new car.
Because of its many improvements, collectors consider the 300B a tad more valuable that the first letter car, the C300. Production was low, only 1,102 300Bs were built and according to best estimates, less that 125 remain.
As the 1960s rolled on, the 300 Letter cars popularity waned, replaced by the emerging muscle cars (supercars as they were then known). Yet the pattern established by the early 300s would be repeated again and again by manufacturers who needed a powerful performance image car – build a distinctive car, race it and watch sales take off.