CC reader Laurence M. sent me his prized copy of the 1958 Sports Car Illustrated Directory, which includes a number of reviews of significant 1957 sports cars as well as a few “American Gran Turismo cars”. SCI transitioned into Car and Driver in 1961, when Editor Karl Ludvigsen changed the title to broaden its appeal. That the Chrysler 300C was included is no surprise, as its reputation as America’s fastest production passenger car was well established. Its 375 hp 392 CID hemi V8 was already a legend.
SCI’s tests were very comprehensive, and this one really gives a feel for what it was like to drive one. It confirms the superb engineering that went into these, especially the new chassis with the torsion bar front suspension and the new Torqueflite automatic. Unfortunately, the brakes were not quite up to snuff. In 1957, Chrysler was intent to leapfrog the competition, and the 300 made the biggest leap of all. There was simply nothing quite like it.
I’m also going to intersperse the review with a few vintage ads for the 300C, including this PR shot at the top, one of my all-time favorites.
1957 was the year the AMA agreed to stop direct involvement in racing and tone down the ads in terms of performance. It was a hollow promise, as there was no way the performance Genie was going back in the bottle. “There’s no doubt the horsepower cycle is coming to the end of its course”. Ha. The 1958 Chrysler 300D upped the ante to 380hp. It would be almost 15 years before that prediction would come true. For the time being.
SCI suggests that the 300C is big enough to be considered an eight seater. It was a big car, although its 219 inch length would be well surpassed soon enough. At 4745 lbs, it certainly wasn’t a lightweight either.
The way to unleash the 300C’s potential was of course to get its revs up by a downshift and simultaneously making sure the throttle pedal was depressed far enough to engage the second four barrel carb, which offered considerable resistance via a heavy spring. A deliberate undertaking, to avoid unintended acceleration: “It’s nothing at all to lay ten feet of rubber on a quick start before both wheels start biting”.
The new three-speed Torqueflite gets a hearty round of approval; “a big improvement over its two-speed predecessor”. Its smooth, silent shifts are highly regarded.
The 300C’s suspension was firmer that the standard car, but not as harsh as the 300 and 300B had been. The improvement in geometry made that possible while still providing the best handling big American car. The brakes were decent for the times and for an American car, but clearly the weakest link, given the 300C’s world class performance otherwise.
A lot of praise overall for a car whose “status as an American classic is assured”.