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by Jay Traugott
The classic Chrysler 300 coupes and convertibles were powerful, stylish, and innovative for their time.
Chrysler's rich history is filled with many wonderful cars. Although the American automaker has certainly had its troubles, to say the least, they've often been a source of fantastic design and innovation. Yes, there have been quality issues as well, but the fact that Chrysler is still with us today and once again building great cars is something we can all smile about. By popular request, we've been asked by several readers to profile one specific classic Chrysler that's now a legend in design and engineering, the 300.
To avoid any confusion, we just want to clarify: in the 1950s and 60s, Chrysler built the 300 letter series, which were high-performance luxury cars. From 1962 until 1970 were the 300 non-letter series. They were marketed below the letter series in both price and prestige. However, it was the letter series that really put Chrysler on the pedestal in terms of beautiful design and performance. It all started in 1955 with the C-300. Powered by a 331 cu in 5.4-liter Hemi V8, it also served as a racecar for NASCAR and was sold to the public mainly for homologation reasons.
The '300', if you haven't guessed already, stood for the 300 horsepower the engine produced. In 1956, the C-300 became the first American production car to have more than 355hp. In addition to this massive amount of power, the car also featured Chrysler designer Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" styling which helped to distinguish it from other coupes at the time. Throughout the rest of the 1950s, Chrysler continued to improve both the performance and design of the 300 letter series (a convertible was added in 1957 with the 300C) and by 1960 the 300F featured a 413 cu in 6.8-liter V8 with 375hp.
This year also saw new lightweight body construction and even sharper, more edge-like exterior styling and rear tilting fins. Sales increased and Chrysler restyled the car (now called the 300G) again in 1961, with the most notable change being the quad headlights, which used to be side-by-side, were now angled with the inward at the bottom. The rear tailfins disappeared in 1962, which was also the year Chrysler launched the non-letter series. These were powered by a 383 cu in V8 as opposed to the 413 V8 in the letter cars. In 1963 the Chrysler 300 convertible was selected as the official pace car for the Indianapolis 500.
A total of 1,861 Pace Setter convertibles were built, most of which painted Pace Car Blue. However, there was one painted black and it's featured here today. This 1963 300 was restored back in 2000 with new original black paint, a new correct interior and top, and a re-cored radiator. The original engine and transmission were rebuilt by Chrysler as well. As you can see from these photos, there's zero rust and the owner says it drives great with no rattles. He also makes the car available for rent for movies and other video productions and photo shoots.
Now that Chrysler is (hopefully) free and clear from total collapse, there's been some talk of a new 300 convertible based on the current sedan. If it can churn a profit, then anything is possible. Photos courtesy of Pace Setter.