CC Capsule: 2004 Chrysler 300M – The Dusk of a New Era

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Chrysler was on the way to recovery. It really was. The Neon, for all its foibles, was very popular and doing well against its competition, they had a great halo car, and their minivans were unparalleled. The LH cars were doing very well and earning praise from the press and buyers alike. The K-era resuscitated Chrysler, but the LH cars were what brought them into desirability.

Then Daimler came along.

To repeat the business horror of the merger of equals on this article would be of little point. The story of the Germans just going ahead and placing anything that the Chrysler bit of DaimlerChrysler had to say neatly in the bin has been told far too many times already. All we need to know is that by the time it was done, Mercedes was smack-dab in the middle of a rut the likes of which it had never seen before, and Chrysler only had mediocre offerings that had been cost-cut to hell and back in their lineup. I’m pretty sure that the only good thing to ever come out of it was that Chrysler got the basic underpinnings for the LX Charger/Challenger/300. However, and despite my love for the LX cars, I think the cost outweighed the rewards.

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The 300M was one of those costs. I have to admit, I’m not completely sure if I can call it a cost. Let’s not forget that its replacement is a traditional front-engine, rear-drive sedan which can be had with a big thumpin’ V8. Okay, the original LX 300 had an interior made from the same material as a Big Gulp cup and was about as elegant as a gold-lamé suit, but it has grown into something a lot better. So, to circumnavigate around this problem, I’ll be forgetting about the LX 300 for the rest of this article and focusing on the ultimate LH car.

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With the second-generation of LH cars, with the Eagle brand slowly walking the green mile to that big dealership in the sky, and, of course, Daimler proposing a merger, Chrysler decided to switch the model names and lines a little bit. Eagle’s version of the LH, the Vision, was gone for 1998. No point in giving a moribund brand an entirely new design now is there? Then, over at Chryser, the LHS name would eventually be phased out and the place that was occupied by it would be occupied by the highest-trim of the Concorde, the Concorde Limited (once again limited by how many they sold). And underneath it and the rest of the Concorde there’d be a shorter, tauter, sportier LH under the Chrysler brand. The one that would’ve gone to Eagle if they had lived: The 300M.

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There’s a reason why I chose the 300M over the other LH cars as the the one that embodied all the best traits of the platform with the least amount of disadvantages. The Intrepid was good, but it would soon be dammed to rental desk hell. The Concorde was betrayed by its unfortunate grille, which pre-empted Mazda’s smile by a couple of years. Both of them were betrayed by the trouble-prone 2.7-liter V6. Go on, ask your mechanic what he thinks about you buying a 2.7-liter Intrepid. The LHS was assimilated before we reached endgame. By contrast to them The 300M was only available with the less problematic 3.5-liter V6, in America at least. Europeans could get a 2.7-liter 300M if they wanted. Without much information on the sales numbers, I’m guessing that of the few that wanted 300M’s, fewer wanted the small engine.

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And so it was that the orphaned LH car became the most liked of them all. I remember Popular Mechanics having a long-term 300M back in 1999 and loving every single minute of it apart from the occasional complaint about lack of oomph. It may have been badged 300M, but like many cars with alphanumeric names, the badge wasn’t in any way indicative of anything at all. That 3.5 engine was good for 253 horsepower, fed to the front wheels by a 4-speed automatic. Nevertheless, the cavernous interior space, a trunk you could get lost in, high specification, a nice design and superb handling compensated for those little niggles. So much so that Car and Driver gave it a 10Best award in 1999 (when it also won Motor Trend’s car of the year) and again in 2000.

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But the 300M, and the LH platform in general, couldn’t stay with us forever. Well, at least according to new management. Personally, I reckon it could still be with us with a little investing in new materials. But I don’t run a multinational automotive firm.

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Daimler(presumably) decreed that the new platform, code named LX after what a rear-drive LH would’ve been code named, would be created using as many “superior German components” as they could. To that end they had a mashup of W211 and W220 components for suspension and the 5G-Tronic as a gearbox, thankfully not labeled as maintenance-free this time around. The LX cars have been constantly improved for the last decade and now they’re not only unique on the market, but very desirable as well. It’s just a shame that a third generation of LH cars would have to be relegated to the dreams of a select few car fans. At least they left on a very high note.