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.
This seems a particularly thorough and technically detailed report, with all the cam angles and other data. It sent me to researching drum brake types to understand dual leading shoes v duo servo types. It’s interesting to note that Car Life names the Thunderbird as the 300’s primary competitor, given the cars’ wildly divergent personalities and capabilities. Implicit in that judgement is the idea that this segment was valued primarily for “profiling” rather than performance.
Finally, Paul notes that there were laws governing legal use of the left side doors in some cities, which sounds as archaic as early motorists having to drive behind a walking flag man.I was puzzled by their calling bucket seats with a console an “anti-sparking device”, until it dawned on me that they were referring to the build-up of static electricity. Imagine the mid-level manager of the day, with brief case and Sinatra fedora, hesitating to insert the key in the dash-mounted ignition, for fear of the release of electrical discharge built up by his gabardine suit sliding across his Oldsmobile’s expansive bench seat. Imagine how different the opening moments of the classic flick, “Office Space” might have been if written in 1961, where Peter endures the hated crackle across his finger even before he leaves his driveway.
I think “sparking” was an old term (even then) for romance or making out.
I’d never heard it, but that was my inking. Compared to the snarkiness of 2023 Jalopnik, etc., these Car Life writeups are somehow welcome-home urbane to me, and are a pleasure to read.
“Safety Exit” (on the right): a quick sift through 1950s newspapers finds mention of that, without discussing legal mandates,etc.
This is from an 1881 Philadelphia Argus, telling us the term “sparking” was even then a bit old-fashioned:
Sparking is another word for necking – kissing.
Your creative interpretation is impressive.
It reminded me of the time one of my German friends here in the states was telling me that there was a tie-in between a brand of poultry products and the movie “Citizen Kane”. He left me baffled until he proved it by showing me the package. He didn’t know that “rosebud” was what we called an unopened rose blossom. Instead he had an elaborate idea that the founders of Rosebud Farms poultry products were fans of the movie “Citizen Kane” to such an extent that they named their company after the child’s sled branded as “rosebud” that was Charles Foster Kane’s dying words in the movies opening.
Wow – dude – just wow.
…und aftervord, Kaffee und Chocolate Fingahs!
Oh my, this incorporates almost everything I love in a car. It is big. It is powerful. It handles. It is a looker both inside and out. This is really the only 1961 Chrysler I have ever had a real Jones for because it was the only grille treatment that ever made this front end work. And while the 1961 fins looked passe on the sedans, they still looked sharp on the 2 door models. If only I would have been a few years older and could have bought one of these in the early 70s when they were less coveted.
I am not sure the comparison in acceleration times between the Chevy and the 300 in 1955 are apples and apples. Off-the-line performance was never the old Hemi’s strength. Let’s compare them at 0-100 and I suspect we would get a different picture. (And a really different picture if the road curved. 🙂 ) But I agree on the larger point that performance was no longer just for expensive cars by 1961, or even the late 50s.
I had never known about laws requiring passenger-side entry and exit from a car, but it makes sense. That used to be shown in old movies and TV shows, but I had always assumed it was more of a cultural habit that had been passed down from an earlier era. The only outside door lock on my Model A was on the passenger-side door, for example.
I kept thinking of you while I was reading this. I can see you very clearly behind the wheel with a big grin.
I did say “I know, it’s apples and oranges” in regard to their 0-60 times. Unfortunately that R&T test of the ’56 Chevy doesn’t give a 0-100 time. Its 0-90 time is 21.8; the 300’s time to 100 is 21.2. So yes, the 300 will start to pull away from the 205 hp Chevy at higher speeds. Given that it has almost twice the hp, one would hope so!
Now I just need to find a test of the ’57 Chevy with the 283/283… 🙂
My minor beeves with this car’s design are those anomalously plain taillights compared to the ’60 300-F in-fin ones, and those weird decklid strakes—I don’t think they improve all that much over Exner’s pet fake spare tire on the ’60.
(I’m a little amused and a lot horrified by the assertion that 1961 original equipment tires are safe enough for an occasional venture to 100 mph)
I’ve always liked the F over the G. But I’d still take a G!
I think the 300 model is the only one where I don’t outright prefer the 60. I am kind of on the fence between the 300F and 300G.
What an amazing vehicle. Creatively styled inside and out – one of the greatest dashboards ever – canted headlights – useless goofy fins – it is an amazing work of automotive art.
Anyone would be thrilled to own one.
The brakes make for laughable reading twin leading shoe front brakes were developed with racing in mind I beg to differ, Twin leading shoe brakes were fitted to Hillmans from the 50s hardly factory race cars, just ordinary cars, really fast cars of the 300G era had discs often on all 4 wheels.
The tyres again it has me cracking up the owners handbook I still have for Austin A110 cars informs the owner to raise the tyre pressure to 30psi for sustained cruising speeds above 90 mph, those had discs up front too in case you needed them.
Addicted to watching reruns of the Perry Mason TV show, except for P.I. Paul Drake’s Thunderbirds, I’ve noticed that drivers always entered the car from from the curb side and slid over. It looks odd to me but I’m not old enough to know if that was common across the US or if it was a Los Angeles thing since that’s where the show was filmed. Even when the car is parked in a house driveway if the passenger door is closer the driver would use it and slide over. Maybe it was fashionable in the 50s, to show the world that your car didn’t have an old fashioned shift lever poking up from the floor, impeding your entrance?
Perry Mason show is a great way to see 50s cruiser cars in action. The early episodes he drives Cadillacs, then I see a ’59 Lincoln. All other types of vehicles seen including Edsels.
In the middle shows he drives a suicide door Lincoln convertible and Paul Drake drives a Bullet Bird convert. Those shows have more nuanced and entertaining scripts than the first, ’57 – ’59 shows and the later ’64 – ’66 shows, IMHO.
“Many cities have laws limiting exit from the left side door”.
Suburban parking lots and sub-divisions changed all that. Maybe repealed to get shoppers back?
Same mind set that had Ford dismiss left side sliding van doors in 90’s, after Chrysler added it. “Parents won’t want to load kids in traffic” Umm, most will use left door in parking lot or driveway.
All the premium makes standard models had pretty good performance going into the 1950’s. Cadillac had their new OHV V8, Lincoln had their OHV V8 combined with a very well engineered suspension. Chrysler had their Hemi, as well as their famed torsion bar suspension. All of these cars did quite well in the Pan American race. The 300 was like a Super Sports version, that cost as much as a Cadillac. As Paul has stated, high performance was democratized as the decade went on, spreading into the lower priced cars, which took some of the glamour from cars like the 300. Once the performance crown was passed down, Cadillac and Lincoln lost interest in supplying performance in their cars while Chrysler maintained their commitment to the 300 series.
I’ve never had the opportunity to drive one of these Chryslers, but I’ll bet it was much like my experience with my ’92 NorthStar Cadillac STS. The Cadillac was the most powerful, American big sedan of it’s time, top speed was tested at 145 mph. While I never tried to achieve that number, a couple of late night trips to SoCal were done with frequent periods of 90 mph. cruising with bursts to 100 mph. Several runs up Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe and up the mountain to Clear Lake, demonstrated that it was a good handing road car, though it was later panned for being FWD. There are a lot of modern cars that now make the NorthStar’s 300 hp. seem kind of whimpy, but that Cadillac gave me a real “KIng of the Road” feeling at the time. I imagine that is exactly what the 300 driver felt like behind the wheel.
You initially might look at the canted lights and fins and say this car is too much, but then after soaking it in it grows on you until you might think it was the best looking car on the road. I think it’s like a beautiful woman with maybe a Roman nose or some other so-called flaw that actually becomes her most attractive feature in a way.
Concept of full size luxury liner with great performance as seen in 55 through 61 300 was welcome for limited buyers. Much like 56 through 69 DeSoto ADVENTURER. Sad that 300 and (59) ADVENTURER were both down graded to just a regular production models! Unfortunately DeSoto, met end of production with few 1961 final cars simply identified as DeSoto. Had a 93 RWD FLEETWOOD Brougham with Corvette motor, but was a four door. Performance was great but car had multiple issues. 1961 styling for Chrysler and DeSoto was best for both. NOTHING today comes close.
Small stuff from the brochure, etc.: Though the CL review suggests using the Imperial’s vented wheel covers, brochure says the G’s wheel covers are perforated as well (maybe something else on the test car?). Brakes: brochure says they’ve moved up to 15 inch wheels; Popular Mechanics reports that’s to get more brake ventilation.
Tire Inflation—-shades of kiwibryce and his Austin, brochure gives 24 psi for normal driving, and 30 psi “for high speed.”
And—especially for JPC—some delightful ad copy:
Haha, love it George!!
Before post-war suburban development gave us off-street parking lots, the majority of town or city parking was curbside, and it was common to enter thru the right door. Even residential homes that didn’t have garages, had curbside parking for the residents. Most people think entering from the curb side was for safety reasons, and while there is some truth to the safety angle, the primary reason was because small town streets were typically muddy, and even paved streets in larger cities were often dirty from horse manure. I can speak from experience that tracking horse manure into the cab of a pickup does not make for a pleasant driving experience!
To save money, car manufacturers thru the 1930s often put a single key lock on the passenger side door, because they expected the driver to unlock the door from the curb side. Around 1940 some manufacturers of more expensive cars began installing key locks on the driver’s door too.
This tradition of curbside only door locks still existed into the early 1960s for a few vehicles. I own a rare 1961 left hand drive Vanden Plas Princess limousine. It has key locks for both front doors, but only the curb side rear compartment door has a key lock [and it’s a different key combination]. The coachbuilder assumed no one would need a key to gain access to the rear area from the left door.
Another thing to consider was the primary reason in the late 1930s, cars began to implement column shift transmission controls, and shifted [no pun intended] the emergency brake to the dashboard instead of the floor. Moving the gearshift and e-brake allowed the driver easier access to slide across the whole front seat.
I have a 1937 Packard with floor shift, and a 1940 Packard with column shift. Sliding across the front seat is easy on the ’40, but to do so with ease, the ’37 needs to be in reverse or second gear.
Back in the late 1970s and early ’80s I owned a few Chrysler 300 letter cars [B, C, F & G]. About the same time the chief mechanic at my shop was a Chrysler 300 fanatic, and he had about 3 or 4 DOZEN letter series cars, both hardtops and convertibles. He even had a D hardtop that had been sold new with fuel injection.
Back then these were just cheap older performance cars, and we ran the hell outta ’em! He even towed a big enclosed car trailer with his letter cars.
I remember taking my 300G hardtop to local shows, and based on visitor comments, the 4 most liked aspects of the car were [in order of interest] the big 413 crossram engine, the “Spaceport” instrument cluster, it had factory A/C, and the fins.
My 300B was a very late production car, equipped with Torqueflite and Factory A/C. That car was quite the sleeper for it’s time. I wish I had kept all 4 of my letter series cars, and at the time I never imagined how valuable they would become.