1957 Chrysler 300C - Motorized Dynamite
If you want to start a friendly argument among car enthusiasts, ask when the first muscle car appeared on the scene. While the term it self came into being in the 1960s, around the time the first Pontiac GTO arrived - one could readily argue that the first postwar muscle car appeared in the 1955 model year, when the Chrysler C300 was introduced. Given that a muscle car is a standard-bodied production car with a big powerful engine, it could be argued that the very first muscle car was the 1936 Buick Century. This Buick used the shorter and lighter Buick Special body with a large engine from the bigger Roadmaster and Limited models, giving the Century more performance. Buick named it 'Century' because it supposedly had a top speed of 100 mph.
Getting back to the Chrysler 300 series cars, the first model was introduced in 1955 and carried the name C-300. The 300 designation was because the car's souped-up Hemi engine produced 300 horsepower, a remarkable number in those days. By comparison, the new 1955 Chevrolet small-block V8 with Powerpack made only 180 horsepower. All 1955-58 Chrysler 300 models were powered by the Hemi V8. The 1955 C-300 had a Chrysler New Yorker Newport hardtop body, smooth Chrysler Windsor side trim and rear-quarter body panels. The front end was fitted with the distinctive Chrysler Imperial 'eggcrate' grille. The 1955 300 was almost unstoppable on the track, winning its first NASCAR Grand National race. It took the checkered flag at 37 NASCAR and AAA races of more than 100 miles.
Chrysler always intended the 300 to be a halo car. It was an expensive model and, in 1955, represented only a fraction over 1% of Chrysler sales. But its racing successes begat newspaper publicity and drew traffic to Chrysler-Plymouth showrooms.
The 1955 and '56 models were victims of the K.T. Keller mandated tall, stodgy bodies. Chairman of the Board Keller dictated that all Chrysler Corporation cars should be tall enough that passengers need not remove their hats while in the car. Chrysler Director of Styling Virgil Exner did what he could but was stuck with such limitations until Keller retired in the mid-1950s. The 1957 models were designed by Exner's team without height restrictions. And he let them go wild.
It is difficult for people who are not living witnesses to understand the turmoil and chaos these low, sleek, wild and befinned offerings from Chrysler Corporation caused within the Detroit auto community. And the excitement they generated within the car-buying public. And to 13 year-olds like me and my car-crazy buddies. For example, Plymouth referred to the new 1957 look as "dramatic Flight Sweep styling." One ad proclaimed, "3 years ahead ... the only car that dares to break the time barrier!"
Motor Trend named the entire Chrysler Corporation lineup as its 'Car of The Year' for superior handling and roadability of all its cars. And, I'm sure, its trend-setting looks.
When General Motors found out about Virgil Exner's new 'Suddenly It's 1960' '57 Chrysler Corp. line-up, the styling department almost soiled its corporate trousers. Suddenly, The General realized that Harley Earl's age of high 'power dome' hoods and chrome applied by the bucketful with a trowel was over. It was too late to do anything about the '58 models (the '58 Buicks and Oldsmobiles are case studies in high hoods and excess brightwork), but a crash program was initiated to make GM's 1959 models as wild as Chrysler's. The result was the soaring-finned 1959 Cadillac and the bat-winged '59 Chevy.
Of Chrysler Corporation's spectacular 1957 offerings, the Chrysler 300C was the most dramatic with a big, gaping grille. It's yawning, air-sucking proboscis differentiated it from other Chrysler models, such as the Windsor, Saratoga and New Yorker models.
These lesser Chryslers had less-powerful engines and were equipped with smaller conventional grilles. The forward-leaning, eggcrate 300C grille was inspired by stylist Virgil Exner's concept cars such as the 1954 Dodge Firearrow IV.
The 300C was a big car - over eighteen feet long - specifically, 219.2 inches long, 78.8 inches wide, riding on a wheelbase of 126 inches and with a curb weight of 4410 pounds. Worry not - the 300C had plenty of power to handle the bulk. The 300-C Hemi was up in displacement from 1956's 354 to 392 cubic inches by means of both greater bore and stroke - from 3.94 by 3.63 inches to 4.00 by 3.90. The compression ratio was also increased to 9.25:1, solid lifters actuated the valves, and a hotter cam increased their lift. Double valve springs helped combat valve float at higher rpm, the crank got a special hardening treatment, and its bearings were made of a special tri-metal material. Power output jumped to 375 hp at 5,200 rpm. If that wasn't enough, a special 390 horsepower engine was offered for racing purposes.
A stock 300C could reach 60 miles per hour in 8 seconds from a standing start - incredibly impressive by '57 standards. At Daytona Beach, a 390 hp version of the fire-eating 392 Hemi would propel the 300C to 134 mph in the flying mile in 1957. Tom McCahill called the 1957 Chrysler 300C "the most hairy-chested, fire-eating land bomb ever conceived in Detroit," adding that the car was "motorized dynamite."
Priced at $4,929 for the coupe - $45,900 in 2021 dollars - and $5,309 for the convertible (a new addition to the 300 line in '57), the 300C was an expensive car. A Chrysler Windsor hardtop coupe was priced at $3,154; the tony New Yorker hardtop coupe cost $4,202. A '57 Imperial Southampton hardtop coupe could be had for $4,736. A 1957 Corvette was priced at $3,465, while a 1957 Thunderbird carried a $3,408 price tag.
In 1957, 5,413 Chrysler 300Cs were sold - 4,929 coupes and 484 convertibles. This represented only 1.3% of the Chrysler brand's 124,604 sales for the 1957 model year, the 300C was indeed a rare halo car for the marque.
Even today, the Chrysler 300C is a desirable car - a concours condition 1957 coupe will command close to $80,000 in 2021 dollars. (posted 3/31/21)
Remember When: 1957
|In 1957, the U.S. established the Eisenhower Doctrine and extended the Truman Doctrine to protect the Middle East.
In the Arctic, the Distant Early Warning System began operation. Three USAF B-52s completed the first nonstop jet circuit of the world in just over 45 hours.
New U.S. products included Sta-Puf fabric softener, pink plastic flamingo lawn ornaments and electric can openers.
'57 American cars were longer, lower and wider. Every Big Three offering was either all-new or extensively restyled but Chrysler's second-generation Forward Look was the most dramatic and outrageous with soaring fins on all models. Chrysler Corp. offered torsion-bar suspension throughout its model lines; Chevy and Pontiac had fuel-injection on their hottest engines and Oldsmobile offered a three-carb J-2 performance option.
The '57 Ford Skyliner became the first U.S. production automobile featuring a metal retractable hardtop. The 1957 Mercury was all new with styling inspired by the 1956 XM Turnpike Cruiser dream car.
The top-of-the-line '57 model was given the Turnpike Cruiser name and featured a wrap-over windshield and reverse-slant, retracting rear window.
'West Side Story' and 'The Music Man' debuted on Broadway. New words included 'baby-sitter', 'scuba' and 'moonlighting'.
xTop 1957 record hits included 'All Shook Up', 'Teddy Bear', 'Too Much' and 'Jailhouse Rock' by Elvis Presley, 'You Send Me' - Sam Cooke, 'Chances Are' by Johnny Mathis, 'Whole Lotta Shakin' by Jerry Lee Lewis, 'Bye-Bye Love', 'Wake Up, Little Suzie' by the Everly Brothers and 'Honeycomb' by Jimmie Rodgers. 'Wake Up, Little Suzie' was banned in Boston as too suggestive. In '57, many radio stations throughout the U.S. switched to a Top 40 format.
The postwar American baby boom crested with a one-year record of 4,308,000 1957 births. For the first time, margarine outsold butter. Wham-O introduced the Pluto Platter - soon to be rechristened as the Frisbee. The new $55,000 IBM 610 - described as "the size of a spinet piano" - could solve a six-hour calculator computation in a mere 20 minutes.
Memorable 1957 movies included 'Peyton Place', 'Jailhouse Rock', '12 Angry Men', 'A Face In The Crowd', 'Funny Face' and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'. A poll found that 50% of American teenagers went to the movies at least once every week.
New '57 television shows included 'Have Gun, Will Travel', 'Leave It To Beaver', 'Perry Mason' and 'The Price Is Right'.
A long-time Philadelphia favorite, 'American Bandstand', went national in August. Kermit the Frog made his television debut on Steve Allen's 'Tonight Show'.
Significant new books debuted in 1957, including James Agee's 'A Death in the Family', Vance Packard's 'The Hidden Persuaders' and Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road'.
Deaths included Humphrey Bogart, Oliver Hardy, Louis B. Mayer, Jimmy Dorsey, Christian Dior, Joe McCarthy, Bugsy Moran and Elliot Ness.
In California, Don Bowden became the first American to break the four-minute mile. And, the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, beating the NY Yankees 4-3.
Read more about 1957 America here.
More AutoSketch car drawings can be found here.
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The facts presented on this website are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
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