Muscle Car Files
Chrysler Corp is undoubtedly the American manufacturer that most enthusiasts identify with performance vehicles… or ‘muscle cars’ as they’re referred to in the common vernacular. And the Chrysler division’s 300 series was surely the daddy of them all…
When Chrysler’s 1955 C-300 swept the field at Daytona, many would argue that was the moment when the whole muscle car phenomenon began. It would set the mould for the big, powerful American two-door coupes that would follow, with its ‘million-dollar look’ styling and rich interior appointments, including Chrysler New Yorker spec leather interior. All these typical big American sedan credentials however were offset with heavy-duty suspension, dual exhausts and most crucially its 300bhp FirePower V8.
It was, at the time, the most powerful car in America, matching its cubic inch displacement with horsepower. To the untrained eye the C-300 may well have looked like a regular Windsor, but enthusiasts knew different… that 150mph speedometer which replaced the original 120mph unit was a clue to start with!
What precipitated the car’s development was a burgeoning performance boom that was kicked off by Chevrolet’s launch of its compact, light and relatively powerful V8 engine in 1955, along with Ford’s sporty Thunderbird the same year. Chrysler’s answer was to develop the C300. Virgil Exner had a hand in the styling of course and as a ‘sports car’ decreed that there was to be minimal gingerbread and chrome on the car, giving it a mean, lean appearance when lined up with other Chrysler products of the time.
Based on a 1955 Windsor hardtop, the C-300’s base price was $4055 and air conditioning was not an option on the model (although three were allegedly special-ordered with A/C). The model’s name was based on its power output (300bhp) and the ‘C’ stood for Chrysler, the 332cu in V8 being at that time the most powerful engine available to car buyers in the US. Utilising dual Carter four-barrel carbs and solid lifters, its racing credentials were somewhat watered down by the fact that the only transmission available was the two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission (although again apparently one car was built with a three-speed manual ’box).
Suspension comprised stiffer coils on the front (than those used on other Chrysler products) and uprated leaf springs on the back, along with heavy-duty shock absorbers. Now while this may have given it a harsher ride than any of the other Chryslers at the time, it did mean it handled well, which was a revelation to the motoring press at the time. Motor Trend reported: “With its firmer suspension the 300 sets itself up for corners better than its brothers. There’s still body lean going into sharp turns, but the driver doesn’t worry about it because he’s got the wheel to hang on to …” That may well have been, but as another pundit observed, a leather bench seat was always going to be treacherous in turns and really bucket seats would have been the ideal solution to drivers sliding around in hard turns.
Daytona, February 1955 was where the C-300 won its spurs, where in the American Stock Car Flying Mile Class it finished first, second and third. The 160-mile Grand National Race, which was traditionally the closing event of Speed Week, was won by Fireball Roberts in a Buick Century; however, scrutineering after the race discovered the car’s pushrods had been altered, gifting the two top positions to the two C-300s that had come second and third previously.
It was an auspicious start to the C-300’s tally of wins, as it went on to compete in NASCAR and AAA National competitions, where it won 18 and 10 races respectively. Carl Kiekhaefer went on to many, many famous wins campaigning C-300s… but that’s another story, for another day!