1955-56 Chrysler 300
By David Bellm
Among the Big-Three automakers of the early 1950s, none was
considered duller than utra-conservative Chrysler Corporation.
Despite having a wide range of products in its five divisions, none
seemed to have the luster and flamboyance that were becoming
increasingly expected by new-car buyers.
Indeed, there was actually a company-wide edict at Chrysler Corporation
during this time that stated that every car had to be high enough to
allow a tall gentleman to leave his hat on while driving -- clearly the
antithesis of the longer, lower, sleeker trend of the era.
But it was becoming obvious that such outmoded thinking had to go. Most
of Chrysler's car divisions were losing ground to more flashy makes. And
it wasn't that the car's mechanical designs weren't good -- the
company's products had long been considered engineering leaders.
just that car-buyers' tastes were changing quickly and people were
voting with their pocketbooks.
With a change in upper management of the corporation in 1950 came a new
emphasis on styling, flash, and visual appeal.
Chrysler division was the
corporation's volume-selling luxury nameplate, and it received an
all-new line of cars for 1955.
With a low, flatter roofline and small tailfins, it was clearly in-step
with the trends of mid '50s American automakers.
But beyond that, Chrysler execs decided they needed to augment the new
line with a heady "image" car, a stylish, high-performance machine to
further banish the public's notion of staidness in the company's cars.
The result was the 300, introduced for 1955. To build the 300, Chrysler
started with the division's New Yorker hardtop coupe.
To that basic
design, stylists added the flashy grille from the pricier Imperial, and
special "300" badges prominently featured on the rear fenders.
To back up the more flamboyant look of the car, Chrysler engineers gave
the car sportier suspension tuning and other chassis revisions. But the
real heart of the 300's performance was under the hood.
Starting with the New Yorker's 331cid "Hemi" V8, Chrysler engineers
added numerous performance parts, boosting output by 50hp, to an even
300 -- hence the new model's name.
It was enough to claim the ultimate bragging right for the 300 -- the
world's most powerful car that year.
Rounding out the 300's uniqueness was a considerably plusher interior
that incorporated the more upscale Imperial dashboard, complemented by
rich leather upholstery.
To preserve the car's clean, tasteful appearance, color choices were
limited to Platinum, Tango Red, and Black -- no two-tones. Completing
the 300's sophisticated look were chrome wire wheels, a popular factory
option for the car.
Sales of the 300 for '55 were modest -- just 1725 were built that
year. But that wasn't the point. The car was intended to boost the
public's image of Chrysler. And it seemed to do exactly that; overall
Chrysler-division sales shot up by 73 percent over '54.
For '56, the 300 got minor revisions, along with the 300B designation.
Most notable of its changes were a significant jump in power, with a
standard 354cid V8 that made 340hp, and an optional 355-hp version.
The following year, the entire Chrysler line was redesigned again.
Accordingly, the 300 received the sharper-edged, high tailfin styling of
its sibling models.
But while the '57 300 exhibited an admirable swagger in its attitude, it
seemed to have given up some of the rich, understated style of the
original 1955-56 300.
Over the decades that followed, Chrysler would toy with the 300
nameplate, applying it to cars with widely varying degrees of
Perhaps the most credible of these, however, is the recent 2005
iteration. With husky, confident styling and exceptional performance to
back it up, this latest 300 displays much of the attitude of its 1955-56
And to a large degree that's very appropriate. Today's Chrysler
Corporation is considered among the most stylish of automakers. It only
makes sense to pay tribute to where that image really began.
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