1955 Chrysler 300

Chrysler’s letter perfect cars spelled dollars

In the early 1950s Chrysler in the USA had a dowdy image.

It sold well engineered cars but they had no pizzazz.

And so they hired stylist Virgil Exner to inject some life into their designs, in order to compete with the increasingly more stylish Ford and General Motors products.

Exner’s first effort was the ‘Forward Look’ cars of 1955.

The range topper in that year was a hero car called the “300”.

It was first American production car to have a motor that produced 300 horsepower — hence the name.

Chrysler’s positioning of the car was simple. 

Combine attractive and distinctive styling, excellent engineering, a high level of luxury, a big motor delivering outstanding performance, and then sell them at a premium price to people with lots of money. 

It is not surprising the 300 quickly acquired the label as the “banker’s hot rod”.

Come 1957 and Exner excelled himself with a range of wide, long and low cars with towering fins. 

Chrysler’s advertising agency came up with the slogan “Suddenly, it’s 1960” and sales exploded. 

The 1957 300C was the most stylish of these automobiles.

It is a well documented fact that Chrysler’s 1957 cars frightened GM so much, they threw out their planned 1959 models and completely restyled every car in the range. 

By 1961 the letter cars — they were now up to ‘H’ — contained massive 413 cubic inch engines which catapulted them to 100km/h in a little over seven seconds.

That’s quick, even by today’s standards.

But change was a comin’.

Pontiac’s cheaper, smaller and sexier 1964 GTO, the Ford Mustang, and Chrysler’s own Valiant-based Barracuda and value-for-money, full-sized Plymouth Ramcharger caused sales of the letter car to decline.

The 1965 300L was the last of the breed.

But the lure of the letters lives on.

Collectors seek them out.

A couple of years ago, a rare 1960 300F went for almost half a million dollars in the US.

David Burrell is the editor of

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