Every once in a while a car springs forth in which it has no real obvious contemporary. One such car, and definitely one of the more noteworthy ones, sprang forth in 1970. Mixing the seemingly divergent elements of a 124 inch wheelbase, two doors, and an integrated spoiler, there was no mistaking it with any other car on the road.
That car was the 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst.
Diving into any sort of discussion by simply talking about how this 300 was born from Chrysler’s interlude with Hurst Corporation and how it is based upon the Newport Custom is starting way too far into the story. It would be similar to reading a long novel, such as War and Peace or Gone With The Wind and starting in the middle; doing so creates an incomplete picture.
The progenitor of the Hurst brand was George Hurst. Born in 1927, little is known about Hurst’s early years other than he appears to be a Pennsylvania native and was never educated past the eighth grade. Hurst served in the United States Navy, enlisting at 16, and was married three times by age 29. Visible on the drag-racing circuit in eastern Pennsylvania during the early 1950s, Hurst possessed many natural talents, such as mentally performing complex mathematics.
By 1958 Hurst and partner Bill Campbell had a shop outside of Philadelphia with fabrication of engine mounts being their lead product. With their engine mount being mimicked by a California company, Hurst and Campbell formed a relationship with Anco Industries. While their first focus was on exhaust headers, Hurst, also credited as being an expert relationship builder, convinced everyone to focus on floor shifter mechanisms.
The first Hurst shifter appeared in 1959 and some sources state the prototype was used daily in Hurst’s 1956 Chevrolet. Jack “Doc” Watson, a newer employee at Hurst Performance, was able to work some family connections to get an audience with Pontiac. Liking what they saw, Pontiac used the Hurst shifter as standard equipment on the 1961 Catalina powered by the 421 cubic inch “Super Duty” engine.
Hurst was a complex man and his contributions ran the gamut. In addition to the creation of the shifter mechanism bearing his name, Hurst, as part of Hurst Performance, invented the Jaws of Life. While its original intention was for extrication of drivers subsequent to race car collisions, it was quickly applied to emergency services and crashes on public roadways. It’s the standard extrication tool to this day.
The shifter mechanism developed by Hurst quickly gained wide aftermarket acceptance by the early 1960s and also captured the attention of all American automakers. Oldsmobile in particular was another early adopter of Hurst shift mechanisms as standard equipment, with the first Hurst/Olds coming in 1968.
Oldsmobile would maintain their Hurst connection through the mid-1980s. The Cutlass Supreme was the most frequent Olds recipient of the Hurst name.
Even AMC got in on the action with the 1971 Hurst Jeepster.
Hurst Performance went public in 1968. A falling out between Hurst and Campbell prompted Campbell to sell his shares, allowing Sunbeam Corporation, the household appliance manufacturer, to acquire Hurst Performance in 1970. While products using the Hurst name continued to be manufactured, by the mid-1970s Hurst had been pushed out of the company he had founded.
Hurst was reported as being despondent after this, dying in 1986 at age 59. The circumstances are a little unclear as the Los Angeles Times reported there was investigation of carbon monoxide poisoning but no suspicion of suicide.
Among his many talents, Hurst also had a knack for effectively and memorably promoting his creations. Perhaps his ultimate move in marketing was creating Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, with the related act of riding on the rear of a car while holding a nine foot tall shifter.
The first Miss Hurst Golden Shifter was Pat Flannery, a woman who was previously the first female public relations manager within the Ford Motor Company dealer network. By her own admission, the act performed and costume worn while riding on the rear of a moving car was often ad-libbed early on. The pictures found of Flannery as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter have her wearing all manner of attire, from the outfit seen here to a female version of a tuxedo.
For various reasons Flannery’s tenure was short.
To replace Flannery, Hurst held a competition to find the next Miss Hurst Golden Shifter. From over 200 candidates, Hurst wisely chose the incomparable Linda Vaughn.
To say Linda Vaughn is attention getting is as big an understatement as ever there was. Vaughn was born in Dalton, Georgia, in August 1943, the third and youngest child of a mother who worked at the nearby carpet mills and a father (soon to abandon her) who was a bootlegger.
Vaughn was originally a dental technician who quickly tired of looking at teeth all day. Deciding a career move was needed, and encouraged by her then boyfriend’s sister, Vaughn entered and won a beauty contest sponsored by the Atlanta Raceway.
Her job as Miss Atlanta Raceway was to visit racetracks throughout the South. Upon conclusion of that role she soon went to work in a similar role for Pure Oil Company as Miss Pure Firebird. Pure Oil’s merger with Union Oil left Vaughn without a job. Always an automotive fan, Vaughn was browsing through an issue of Hot Rod magazine and found an ad by Hurst Performance seeking a new Miss Hurst Golden Shifter.
Vaughn’s talents and contributions, which have earned her the moniker of “First Lady of Racing”, expand far beyond her ability to gleefully hold onto a giant shifter while standing on the back of a moving car. Traveling around the country to appear at various racing functions, Vaughn soon become synonymous with Hurst Performance.
Highly intelligent with a memory that amazes many, Vaughn has described herself as a marketer with her actions fully reinforcing her position. She has taken many marketing courses while on the road (she says there’s nothing like travel to help with doing such courses) and during the peak of her time with Hurst products in the 1960s, Hurst recruited more women to help publicize themselves. From various interviews with Vaughn, she managed all of these women dubbed the Hurstettes.
Of course, Vaughn advertised Hurst Performance while standing on the back of the only 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst convertible produced.
As an aside, Vaughn still looks great today despite the onset of a few health issues. In an interview from 2012, her daily driver was a Cadillac STS-V and she still frequently drove her 1975 Hurst/Olds with its 455 cubic inch engine for short runs, such as the post office.
Chrysler was again eyeing the market served by the 300 letter series cars five years after abandoning it. As in the past, the 300 was meant for enthusiasts with good incomes who still sought performance but wanted a luxury car. Figuring they could exploit this opportunity once again, the 300 Hurst was created.
The mission of the 300 Hurst was simple – provide a well performing car in a demeanor not found in regular muscle cars, even the more upscale than the rest Olds 442. Use of the Chrysler nameplate certainly helped set this specialty car apart from the crowd. Chrysler was thinking in ways Cadillac and Lincoln were not.
In theory it wasn’t a bad idea.
Being more upscale on the inside was a goal that was well met. The leather seats came straight from the Imperial LeBaron coupe and all were saddle tan in color. Nearly all came with power windows and power seats for both driver and passenger. The new owner had the choice of the gear selector being on the floor or on the column although the floor mount, as seen here, was optional.
It seems there are some minor variations beyond just the location of the gear selector and inclusion of power windows. One such difference is the steering wheel – the one seen here differs from our featured car, although both types can be found in multiple 300 Hursts found online. Further research shows this same variation regardless of gear selector location.
Perhaps the tilt steering column has something to do with that?
Being a performance oriented Chrysler, nothing but the four-barrel 375 horsepower 440 cubic inch V8 (dubbed TNT when used in Chrysler branded vehicles) would be appropriate. The 426 Hemi found elsewhere in Mopar performance cars was not used in the C-bodies and the 440 having three two-barrel carburetors was viewed as having linkages that were too maintenance intensive.
No slouch in the performance department, this Chrysler could hit 60 mph from a standing start in a splash over seven seconds. There is no denying this is a very large car, but it’s also lighter than one might think as the Newport two-door upon which it was based weighed 4,005 pounds.
Granted, that weight is likely without fuel or other fluids.
For comparison, a 2018 Chrysler 300 starts off at 4,013 pounds.
All of these cars were painted Spinnaker White and were shipped to the Hurst facility in Warminster, Pennsylvania. Upon arrival at Warminster, the steel hood skin was replaced with a fiberglass skin having a bulge and the factory trunk lid was removed to allow installation of the fiberglass spoiler and trunk lid.
The tan paint, a Cadillac color, was also applied as was the stripe kit and hood locks. Curiously, there is no Hurst shifter mechanism.
The 300 Hurst had a retail price of $5,842. While that doesn’t sound unreasonable forty-eight years on, this was the most expensive Chrysler made for 1970, outpacing the nine-passenger Town & Country wagon by $407 and priced squarely between a Cadillac Calais and Deville. The appearance of the 300 Hurst meant it wasn’t intended for the typical Chrysler customer and the price was a factor in maintaining its exclusivity.
Such exclusivity was a 300 trademark.
For comparison, one could purchase a plain-jane C-body Plymouth Fury two-door with the robust slant-six and precious little else for $2,790, less than half that of the 300 Hurst. One often gets what they pay for.
Chrysler had expected to sell roughly 2,000 of these every year; in its single year, the 300 Hurst sold 503 copies according to the Chrysler 300 Registry. Other sources give a lower number or state the number is unknown.
The reason for falling short of expectations is two-fold. First, Chrysler and Hurst took an extended amount of time to decide how to dress the car. Second, and more bizarre, is each thought the other was going to advertise the car, leading to dealer deliveries of something they’d never heard about.
If scrutinizing the estimate of 2,000 Hursts being sold, it makes sense if basing it upon sales from 1964 and 1965. If looking at it from the overall history of the 300 letter cars from 1955 to 1965, it was a bit optimistic as in some years there were significantly less than 1,000 sold such as the 1963 Chrysler 300J, of which only 400 were produced.
Not surprisingly, this is the most rare 1970 Chrysler and arguably the most desirable four decades later. The 300 Hurst, while sometimes not held in the same esteem as the earlier 300 letter cars, does carry on the tradition of the 300 series by being a true performer and something that is distinctly different from the rest of the Chrysler lineup.
In that regard, Chrysler was greatly successful.
Photos of subject car by Paul Niedermeyer