Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Chrysler 300-G – “Truly Outstanding Machines, For A Very Special Type Of Ownership”

The original Chrysler 300 was unique in its 1955, and established a standard for all-round high speed performance that would not soon be bested. But the world was changing fast, and by 1961, its time at the top of the performance echelon was running out. The low-price brands’ full size cars now offered engine and chassis packages or options that could equal or better the 300. And that would soon filter down the food chain to mid-size muscle cars, pony cars and compacts. The 15 year arc was essentially completed in 1970 with the Plymouth Duster 340.

Luxury goods rarely stay exclusive for long; the same with automotive performance. But the 1961 300-G still had some very compelling qualities; they just weren’t as exclusive any more.

CL points out that what has made the 300 letter cars so unique is the complete package, with a very well sorted chassis capable of handling the high speeds attainable. And of course there’s the quite exclusive four-bucket seat interior. But even these were starting to pop up in all sorts of mid and low priced cars. The 1961 Impala SS was a complete performance package (unlike later versions), with suspension and brake upgrades to match its 348 and 409 V8s. Pontiac offered unbeatable SD versions of the 389, and even Plymouth and Dodge offered some compelling performance packages and options.


The standard 300-G engine was the 375 hp ram induction 413 V8. Chrysler claimed that the 30″ long aluminum ram intake manifolds boosted torque “as much as ten percent in the 1800 to 3600 RPM range”. CL claimed that a 400 hp version with a hotter cam and a heavy duty three-speed manual transmission were optional, although there’s no mention of either in the 300-G brochure.

Apparently a few were built that way; the floor shifter sprouts up through the carpet just to the left of the console (see above).

The acceleration forces spun the Tapley G-meter past its peak of 600 lbs/ton, equivalent to over 0.6 G. 0-60 came in 8.4 seconds; a good number but actually not really so quick in the league of the hot cars of the time, or even earlier. A ’56 Chevy with the 205 hp 265 did it in 9.0 seconds five years earlier and for almost one-third of the price; the ’57 was significantly faster yet. I know; it’s apples and oranges, but cars like the Chevy rather upset the performance apple cart, starting right in the same year as the original 300, 1955, when a Chevy with the 180 hp 265 was already faster in the 0-60 (9.7 sec.) than the vaunted 300 (10.2 sec.).

Of course there much more to an all-round performance car than 0-60 times. CL got their 300 up to a top speed of 131 mph, presumably very close to its potential with the standard 3.23 rear axle; the optional 2.93 axle would probably yield a few more mph.

CL suggests that the standard Chrysler’ 350 hp 413 is probably a bit over-rated in its advertised hp, whereas the 375 hp version as in this 300 G is probably “accurate”, and the 400 hp version “may possibly be over-conservative”. That version had a hairy mechanical lifter cam and larger carbs. But CL points out that like many peak performance engines, the 400 hp version “develops much less torque at a much higher peaking speed (465 lb.ft. @3600 rpm vs. 495 lb.ft. @2800 rpm). The 400 hp version is essentially a racing engine, and rally not suitable for a grand touring 300.

“One of the most remarkable features of the car is its high speed roadability.”  Stiffer front torsion bars and rear leaf springs account for most of that, but the rid is barely compromised. CL wonders why all Chrysler products don’t come standard this way. Hmm. Good question. Applies to all American cars of the time. It’s not like stiffer springs cost more. Shocks with larger pistons also account for the 300’s improved handling.

“It’s fair to say that once a driver gets used to the size of this machine, he can treat it exactly like a sports car and put it through fast bends and corners with remarkable ease and in perfect safety.” Fundamentally, better handling and adhesion is largely what defines a sports car, in the general sense, so yes. A 4500 lbs sports car.

“Brakes, of course , are another matter“. There’s a price to be paid for all those pounds. Actually, CL found them reasonably satisfactory for road work, but “they would not be good enough for road racing.

Chrysler gets another pat on the back for using standard high speed Goodyear Blue Streak tires.


Fuel consumption was better than might be expected (13-16 mpg), dispelling the myth that “hot” engines have to be gas hogs. Not so, if they’re driven reasonably.

Somewhat curiously, CL was not sold on the center console, because it makes entry to the driver’s seat from the passenger door almost impossible. “Many cities have laws limiting exit from the left side door”. I’d rather forgotten about that, but I happened to see a 1960s Youtube video the other night, and yes, I saw more than one driver entering their car from the curbside door and sliding over. I guess that was common before bucket seats and consoles came along. They must have rescinded those laws before long.

In summation, CL states: “the 300 G is a deluxe four-passenger sports car, or more correctly, a Gran Turisimo type of sports car…We hated to part with it”.

The 300 letter cars were a rare treat for those so inclined; 1617 were sold in 1961. That’s roughly the median for all the years of the letter cars.