In the fall of 1954, the American car market
exploded with new power and styling advances from all three of the major
automakers. Chevrolet brought out their great looking new models and
equipped them with one of the best engineered V8s of all time. From
Dearborn, Ford presented several new larger and more powerful versions
of their new Y-block V8 which had been introduced in the previous
Some of the most exciting news, however, came from
the folks at Chrysler. All models sported flashy new styling penned by
the new head of design for the company, Virgil Exner. In addition,
Plymouth received its first V8, Dodge was promoting it high-powered
D-500 performance package, and Imperial was now a "stand-alone" make.
But the biggest and most impressive story was a new breed of Chrysler,
Based on the big New Yorker, the C-300 was
available only as a two-door hardtop. While the entire Chrysler line-up
for 1955 wore brand new sheet metal and served up stunning good looks,
the C-300 took this one step further. Where most upscale models of the
day wore gobs of chrome and bright stainless trim, the usually
flamboyant Exner felt this model should exude the "less-is-more"
approach. No fender skirts, no heavy application of shiny flash, just
clean simple lines accented with the use of the new Imperial grilles up
front, Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels (optional), and simple ornamentation.
Exterior colors were limited to red, black or white -- the latter by far
the most popular choice -- while interiors were richly appointed in
|Fins on the '55
sprouted from the taillight,
||while the '56 had a
heavier, integrated fin.
||The cabin was
luxurious and sporty!
While the eye-appeal for the C-300 was (and is)
outstanding, it was the action under the hood that really set it apart
from the rest of the crowd: a new and improved version of the Hemi-V8
that generated 300 horsepower, hence the "300" designation. The Chrysler
C-300 was the most powerful stock production car in the world in 1955.
The "souped-up" Hemi engine maintained the 331 cubic inch displacement
as other Chryslers, but sported dual four-barrel carburetors, solid
lifters, full race cam, and an 8.5:1 compression ratio. Maximum output
came at 5,200 rpm.
With all this power it was only natural that the
C-300 would be a force to reckon with on the track. Among the
accomplishments for the year were 37 NASCAR and AAA wins of races with
100 or more miles, including the Grand National with an average speed of
just over 92 miles per hour. It also won top honors for the Daytona
Flying Mile, averaging an outstanding 127 miles per hour. If winning
races wasn't enough, it also duly impressed the auto writers of the day.
The grand-daddy of them all, Tom McCahill, said in Mechanix Illustrated
after his test drive of the C-300 at Daytona Beach, "it was as solid as
Grant's tomb and 130 times as fast."
Big production numbers was never a goal of the
C-300. Just enough were produced to meet the demand of those willing,
and able, to pony-up the hefty base $4,100 price tag. 1,725 were built
in its premiere year, with 33 of these designated for export.
Returning for ‘56, the 300 was given a "B" suffix
to its model designation, and a bigger engine with more power.
Maintaining its unique Imperial styled grille, limited color selection,
and leather interior, it garnered even more respect from the motoring
public and writers of the day.
The new Hemi V8 now displaced 354 cubic inches and
generated 340 horsepower, this time from a single four barrel
carburetor. The list of options grew this year, and the list of standard
equipment shrunk a little. Big news was that buyers had a choice of
transmissions. A standard manual three-speed shifter, or an automatic
transmission controlled by push-buttons mounted on the left-hand side of
the dash were offered. Most sources peg manual transmission production
at only 31 cars. Early 1956 models were equipped with the Power-Flite
automatic transmissions, while later in the year the new Torque-Flite
was released which provided smoother, less power-robbing shifts.
While the new 354 cid Hemi V8 was equipped with
only a single four-barrel carburetor, it was plenty potent enough with
the high-lift cams, high-compression heads, and solid lifters. A dual
four-barrel set-up was offered as an option which increased the output
to 355 horses. This extra output gave the 300-B enough energy to get up
to 139.9 miles per hour in the Daytona Flying Mile in pure stock form.
The car also did what it was supposed to on the track, taking victory
About the only place the $4,419 300-B didn't
out-perform the original version was in the sales department. Just 1,102
were produced, with 42 of these destined for foreign export.
While both cars look basically the same, there are
some differences which should be considered. For those looking
from the historical standpoint, the original 1955 C-300 is clearly the
way to go. It was the first of the breed, and came with full power and
all the toys as standard equipment. It was the pure design, unaltered
with unwanted items.
From the start, the 300 emphasized performance
There are, however, a couple of minor drawbacks to
the 1955 model. One of them concerns the 6-volt positive ground
electrical system, which was upgraded to 12-volts and negative ground
for 1956. The 2-speed automatic transmission is also a minus here. Later
‘56 models with the new 3-speed Torqueflite (early ‘56 models also
carried the 2-speed unit), and the bigger, more powerful engine, have a
better performing powertrain.
Verifying a 300
As with any car that is based on another model, the
C-300 and 300-B have certain cues, codes, and points of authenticity
that need to be verified to make sure you’re looking at the genuine
article. In 1955, the C-300 was officially model C-68, and the vehicle
identification number or VIN, began with the code of "3N55". For 1956,
the model was designated the C-72-300, and carried the ID prefix of
Minor styling cues, such as the automatic gear-shift lever coming out of
the dashboard rather than on the steering column, is an interesting item
on the 1955 models. Another interesting fact about the original model:
outside rearview mirrors and backup lights were not available in an
attempt to preserve the ultra clean lines. 1956 brought a pushbutton
shift mechanism. 1956 models also saw a revised, sleeker, but slightly
heavier-looking rear end.
Potential problems areas with these cars include
rusted out floors and trunks. Make sure any repairs were done correctly.
Fortunately, many body parts are interchangeable with other Chrysler
models of the same vintage. The body is a New Yorker (with Windsor rear
quarters!), and the dash, along with the grille, comes from the
Imperial. Finding and maintaining performance parts can take time,
however. There are several organizations that can assist you here (see
sidebar). Parts are expensive. Expect to pay $5,000 for an interior and
similarly high prices for unique trim items.
While the “letter-car” 300s continued through 1965,
the original versions are the ones most representative of what the model
was intended to be. They represented style, speed, luxury, and
exclusivity. Many of early 300s ended up on the track, and as a result
didn't survive. Hard driving, accidents, and natural attrition further
drove their numbers downward. Fortunately, by the early seventies they
were recognized as a hot property and were beginning to be collected and
restored. As a result of their early recognition as an historic
and interesting car, many of the remaining C-300 and subsequent letter
cars were not sent to the crusher as quickly as other Chryslers.
An often forgotten axiom in the the collector car
hobby is that premium cars when new do not always translate into premium
collector cars. The 300, however, has always been a strong performer in
the market place. Like most collector cars, prices of these cars rose
dramatically in the late 1980s, and then leveled off in the early 1990s
and drifted down a bit. Recently, they have enjoyed a steady climb in
value over the past five years as more buyers are appreciating the
performance, style and the legend of the 300s.
The 1999 introduction of the new 300-M, also helped to spark interest in
this model, though the new edition really doesn’t capture the essence of
Current prices can easily break the $30,000 mark
for well restored and authentic editions. For 1956 a 15-20% premium
should be expected for the dual-quad set-up, while a similar premium can
be placed on either model with rare factory air-conditioning.
We searched our auction database of over 20,000 results and found only
one 55-56 300 entry. A strong #2 car sold for $34,000 at Kruse Fall
Auburn in 1998. If you are planning on purchasing one of these it
appears as though going through a dealer or private party will offer the
most chance of success. There are a few decent cars on the market now in
the high-teens to low-twenties.
Regardless of which early 300 series Chrysler you fancy, one thing is
for sure, it was the best then, and it is one of the best
dollar-for-dollar collector cars on the market today. With
distinctive style, strong heritage and a large following, these big cars
will always have appeal.
This profile first appeared in the
May 2001 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide