Chrysler 300 Letter Car History
by Tony Rinaldi
November, 2014
Revised October, 2021

First Generation: 1955-1956

Officially offered for sale on February 10, 1955, the first Chrysler 300 was athletic looking with 300 gross horsepower aboard, it was among the quickest cars of its time. It was able to achieve 60 mph in just 9.8 seconds, according to a test in Mechanix Illustrated by “Uncle Tom” McCahill. Uncle Tom also spurred the car up to a full 130 MPH. Tom McCahill and others in the contemporary automotive press used the term Beautiful Brutes” to describe Chrysler 300 series cars.

Besides being the most powerful production car of its time, the first Chrysler 300 was also among the best handling, thanks to a heavy-duty suspension. It can very well be considered an ancestor of the later muscle cars, though much more expensive, luxurious and exclusive.

The most prominent display of the first 300’s attributes did not come in any showroom, but on racetracks around the Southeast. Back in 1955, NASCAR stock cars were, in fact, stock production vehicles. Except for some crude safety equipment and numbers on the doors, they were almost indistinguishable from the cars the public could buy. With absolutely no financial support from Chrysler, Mercury Outboard founder Carl Kieckhaefer campaigned a fleet of white 300s during the 1955 NASCAR and AAA seasons with drivers like the Flock brothers (Tim, Fonty and Bob), Norm Nelson, Buck Baker, Speedy Thompson and Frank Mundy to name a few.

The Kieckhaefer 300s were spectacularly dominant and overwhelmed the factory-backed Chevrolets and Fords. Tim Flock took the driver’s championship while winning 18 races. He finished in the top five an astounding 32 times. His brother, Fonty, took another three victories, while Chrysler campaigner Lee Petty took home three trophies. Suddenly, the 300 had a glorious racing heritage in addition to its advertised Hundred Million Dollar Look.

Considering the short model year for that first 300, 1,725 were sold at an expensive $4,109 base price.



This was the car to start the legacy. Virgil Exner, then Chrysler's design chief, called his new styling direction "The Forward Look". The 1955 300 had a 2 door coupe body and clean, simple Chrysler Windsor side and rear quarter trim. Up front were two large Imperial “egg crate” grilles. This first of the letter series cars did not actually bear a letter. Chrysler’s original manuals named it the C-300, which was an appropriate name for the car. The “C-” designation was applied to all Chrysler models, and the 300 stood for the engine horsepower.

It was THE first modern American production car to achieve this 300hp output. Power came from an updated source already available; the fabled “Hemi” 331 cubic inch hemispherical head engine, modified with a “full race” cam, solid lifters, larger dual exhaust, and topped off with 2 4-barrel carburetors. The suspension was made firmer, allowing it to handle far better than most cars. It was given a special performance PowerFlite 2-speed automatic transmission, while the inside remained pure luxury.

Notably, it was fast. The battle lines would be drawn when it ran 127.58 MPH in the flying mile on the sands at Daytona Speed Weeks, and averaged 92 mph in the Daytona Grand National stock car race. This car dominated the stock car circuit, earning the NASCAR and AAA championships its first year out.

The car was available in three standard exterior colors: Black, Tango Red and Platinum, combined with a luxurious tan leather interior.

Advertised as "The Car That "Swept the Field" at Daytona..."

Production: 1,725 units



From 1956 through 1965, each year’s model used a new letter of the alphabet as a suffix. It was no surprise that the 1956 300 was pretty much a carryover machine. Actually, the easiest way to tell the ‘56 300B from the ’55 C-300 was Exner’s new bigger fins. Of course, it now wore the name “300B.” The 300B was the longest of all the 1955-1965 Letter Cars at 222.7 inches.

Beyond that name modification and new tail lights, the 300B also featured the latest version of the Hemi V8, now displacing 354 cubic inches and producing 340 hp. In addition, there was also an optional version featuring a 10.0:1 compression ratio that was rated at 355 hp, thereby achieving the long sought goal of one hp per cubic inch engine displacement. (One year before Chevrolet's optional’s 283/283 of 1957!) Standard for the 355 hp Hemi was a special three inch exhaust system. Standard 300B colors were Cloud White, Raven Black and Regimental Red.

The 300B transmission availability was the PowerFlite 2-speed automatic, a 3-speed manual, or the 3-speed TorqueFlite, which became available later in the year. Twin 4-barrel carburetors were still standard. Push button transmission controls were introduced for all automatics.

In the racing arena, the increased output helped the 300B to win the Daytona Flying Mile with a top speed of 139.373 MPH, a new record. Again the 300B dominated the Grand National circuit to take its second Grand National Championship. The 300’s accomplishments, from 1955 and 1956, would give it legendary status in the car world.
300B advertising - "Announcing America's Most Powerful Car, The New Chrysler 300B With 340 Horsepower."

Success on the racetrack continued, but sales softened a bit.

Production: 1,102 units

Second Generation: 1957-1959

Virgil Exner took Chrysler’s "Forward Look" styling to an industry leading sleeker level for 1957. Upswept tailfins adorned the car’s rear flanks. The car that best exemplified the new look was the 300C. This car was glamorous. From its Ferrari-like grille to the bold rear fins, the 300C exuded sex appeal in a way no domestic car had before it. The original 300C is still considered by many to be among the most beautiful and desirable 300s of them all.

More than just the sheet metal was new, as Chrysler engineered a whole new chassis under its cars for ‘57-’59, featuring torsion bar front suspension.



The first two years of the 300 may have established the marque’s performance credentials, but it was the 300C that added to the 300 aura of greatness. The 300C was also the first 300 available as a convertible that featured a massive cross based frame so it handled as well as its stiffer bodied coupes. The 300C received 6 red, white and blue ”300” badges of a totally new circular design. Front brake cooling ducts (probably a first) were also standard.

The Hemi engine grew to a final size of 392 cubic inches and a standard output of 375 hp, With its dual 4-barrel carburetors. The 300C advertising boasted, "Announcing The Mighty Chrysler 300C, America's Most Powerful Car - 375 HP! and Newest Version of the NASCAR Grand National Champion...Chrysler 300C. For even more performance, a more radical cam and 10.0:1 compression raised the output to 390 hp. These very limited production higher hp engines also had larger diameter exhaust pipes. The standard motor received the 3-speed TorqueFlite, an outstanding and responsive automatic transmission first introduced in 1956.

Three-speed manual transmissions were included in and only available in the 18 special high performance chassis package 300Cs that also included the 390 hp engine, special cam and exhaust. To go with the new higher performance 300C Hemis, there was also a new torsion bar based front suspension. It featured angled upper and lower control arms to reduce dive under braking. Included were twin leading shoe front brakes with 9.00 x 14 inch Goodyear Blue Streak Nylon race tires on wider rims.

Fins were now the industry wide rage and the 1957 300Cs took fins to a new, yet pure level. They started at the rear edge of the door opening and continued in one near straight simple line up to the top of each tail light tip. The only chrome on the clean side styling was a simple spear-like trim on the rear quarters which included a proud 300C in a simple chrome ring medallion. This red, white, and blue 300 medallion design was also featured on the grille, glove box door, trunk and steering wheel center. Virgil Exner continued the stunningly successful development of his “Forward Look” with fins and a bold grille that filled the front of the car . This would remain both the 300 and Exner’s trademarks for five 300 model years. Standard 300C colors were Cloud White, Jet Black, Gauguin Red, Parade Green and Copper Spice.

The 300C again won The Flying Mile at Daytona, making it the fastest American car for the third straight year in Class 7. Along with excellent engineering and record setting performance, the 300C had a high luxury level, including standard tan leather seats, making these the most desirable cars in Chrysler’s line up and a powerful “Halo” car drawing customers into Chrysler showrooms.

Despite a sticker price higher than most US luxury cars, sales were strong.

Production of 1,767 Coupes; 484 Convertibles



The 392 Hemi carried over from 1957, as did the majority of styling with upgrades to interior and ornamentation. The engine received another horsepower bump to 380. This was accomplished through 10.0:1 compression, new camshaft, and piston modifications.

Available for the first time for Chrysler Corporation cars was Bendix electronic fuel injection which added another 10 horses to the base motor. This system, although ahead of its time, proved unreliable with the electronics then available. Most of the 21 300Ds built with the system were recalled and retrofitted with the stock 2 4-barrel carburetors. The TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic was continued from 1957. The 2 known 300Ds with manual transmissions were dual carburetor equipped.

Styling was little changed for 1958. Why mess with a good thing?

During Proving Grounds testing, Chrysler found that Exner’s “Forward jutting” chrome ”eyebrow” header on top of the front windscreen cost 5 MPH in top speed. So in a massive tooling change, the convertible’s compound curved type “bubble windshield” was adopted on all models to become 1958’s biggest body change.

Other main changes included tail lights that were shorter and did not reach the top of the fin; wheel covers with the 300 medallions; and redesigned tan leather interior patterns. Standard 300D colors were Ermine White, Raven Black, Matador Red, Tahitian Coral, Mesa Tan and Aztec Turquoise.

Performance was still world class and best demonstrated when a modified 300D was driven to a new Class E record of 156.387 at the Bonneville Salt Flats. However, production was down and the Hemi would disappear in the next model year.
300D advertising - "See the Mightiest Chrysler of Them All - The New 1958 Chrysler 300D!"

Production: 619 Coupes; 191 Convertibles



The big news for the 300E was the introduction of the new “Golden Lion” V8 that replaced the tried and true Hemi. This engine had a wedge-shaped combustion chamber, 413 ci displacement and was lighter and less expensive than the 392 it was replacing. The two 4-barrel carbs remained and compression was slightly higher (10.1:1 vs. 10.0:1). Horsepower was unchanged, but torque was up from 1958 with the new engine. The TorqueFlite 3-speed transmission was the only transmission offered. The tires remained the same 9.00 X 14 Goodyear Blue Streak Nylons as in the previous two years.

The exterior was similar to the previous year, with the most significant changes being the use of anodized narrow red horizontal bars, highlighted by 4 horizontal aluminum bars in place of the previous 2 years’ egg crate grille. The rear bumper and tail lights were updated considerably from the ’57/58’ styling. The side 300 emblems were moved from behind, to in front of the rear tire.
Standard 300E colors were Ivory White, Formal Black, Radiant Red, Cameo Tan, Turquoise Gray and Copper Spice.
Inside the car, swivel front seats were standard, finished in perforated tan leather upholstery embossed in a basket weave pattern. This allowed the circulation of air in warm weather. The bench seats could swivel through a 60 degree angle to ease entry and exit from the car.

However, it was not all good news. With the loss of the Hemi came the loss of sales as production reached a low that would not be seen again until 1963.

300E advertising - "The Fifth Edition of an International Classic...The Chrysler 300E" and "The International Classic...Made in America"

Production: 550 Coupes; 140 Convertibles

Third Generation: 1960-1962

All the new 1960 Chryslers looked different from their predecessors. They truly were different as the Corporation adopted unibody construction for all its full size cars except the Imperial line. So the 300F would be the first 300 to lack a traditional ladder frame underneath it.

The 300F adopted an elegant styling adding even more beauty to the powerful 300 beasts. The tail fins were now canted out and ended in a point, housing boomerang taillights. Up front, there was a spectacular, yet tastefully simple, grille with just two thin chrome bars intersecting at the grille’s center adorned with a red, white and blue 300F medallion. Also standard was the Flite Sweep deck lid that featured a faux spare tire complete with a hubcap.
Standard 300F colors were Alaskan White, Formal Black, Toreador Red and Terra Cotta.

Matching the elegant exterior, the 300F’s tan leather interior featured four individual bucket seats with a center console running the length of the cockpit between them. The “AstraDome” instrumentation displayed a 150 mph speedometer and the 4 gauges under a large, clear plastic dome, illuminated by Electroluminescent lighting. In total, 10 red, white and blue round 300 emblems were found on the exterior and interior of the 300F. Popular options included air conditioning, six-way power seats, "Sure Grip" differential and power rear antenna.



The 413 ci Wedge continued to in place of the old Hemi, but it was improved for 1960. In standard trim it was good for 375 hp, but optional goodies could bring out 400 ponies from this motor. “Ram Induction” was used with a new and completely unique “Cross Ram” manifold placing 4-barrel carbs on opposing sides of the engine. The design provided a “supercharging” effect in the heart of the rpm range. Low range performance was helped with the design, but at some cost of performance in the higher ranges.

To solve that problem, engineers removed a section of the inner walls to create the 400 hp versions. Externally, the 30 inch “short rams” looked similar to the 30 inch “long rams”, but the internal runners were in effect half the length. At least 8 of these “short ram” cars were built, mostly for Daytona or as Flying Mile racecars that were dubbed “Gran Turismos.” Six of them captured the first 6 places at the Daytona Speed Weeks Flying Mile event, with speeds ranging from 141.50 MPH -144.9 MPH. Four of the 8 still exist and are among the most rare of the post-war collectable cars. These were fitted with alternators, as opposed to generators found on the long ram cars.

The “short ram” option also included the French made Pont-a-Mousson 4-speed manual transmission, which was made for the Facel Vega, a Chrysler powered French luxury car. The standard “long ram” 375 hp engines received the 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic. The car was lightened with the use of uni-body construction, which also helped performance.

300F advertising included - "Red Hot and Rambunctious! 300F by Chrysler" and "Spine Tingler! Chrysler 300F" and "A Rare Kind of Car for a Rare Kind of Man - The Chrysler 300F"

Production: 964 Coupes; 248 Convertibles



This would be the last year for Virgil Exner’s fins. A major exterior redesign gave the 300G a new, inverted grille shape and canted headlights. The taillights were moved down from the fins to just above the rear bumper. Numerous options, available in 1960, were again available including A/C, remote control outside mirror, six-way power seats, power door locks, and the “Sure-Grip” differential.

Both engine variations were continued from 1960 with their same hp ratings, but the standard axle for ’61 was changed from 3.31:1 to 3.23:1 ratio giving the 300G a higher top speed potential than the 300F. The high output 400hp engine also received the new heavy duty Chrysler 3-speed manual transmission replacing the more expensive 4-speed French unit. The standard engine was available with either the TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic or the optional 3-speed manual transmission.

New for 1961, 300Gs were fitted with 8.00 x 15 inch Goodyear Blue Streak Nylon white sidewall tires. An alternator was standard, replacing the generator of previous models.
Standard 300G colors were Alaskan White, Formal Black, Mardi Gras Red and Cinnamon.

A GT 300G won the Daytona Flying Mile and a stock 300G won the One Mile Acceleration Run.

300G advertising included "Sand Blaster - Chrysler 300G", "Try the key of G" - Chrysler 300G, "Hardnose - Chrysler 300G" and "One Man Brand - Chrysler 300G".

Production: 1,280 Coupes; 337 Convertibles



Gone in 1962 were the fins. New management at Chrysler decided that it was time to remove Virgil Exner’s styling cues from the lineup. The 300H also now shared the shorter wheelbase platform of the Newport line. The 413’s 5hp boost and the 300 pound weight savings of the smaller wheelbase combined to give the 300H the best power to weight ratio of any Letter Car to that point. The long ram manifold was no longer available. Solid lifters were installed with two 4-barrel inline carbs. There was also an optional 405 hp short ram engine (most if not all were dealer installed).
Gone also were the black dashpad and black carpeting found in the previous years' Letter Cars along with swivel front seats of the previous 3 years. The 300H interior, including its leather seats, was now caramel colored. 1962 was the final year for the AstraDome dash pod.

Available for the 300H were the standard new aluminum case heavy duty TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic, and optional 3-speed manual transmissions.
Standard 300H colors were limited to Festival Red, Oyster White, Formal Black, and Caramel.

Another change for 1962 was the addition of a non-letter 300 series car. This was in the form of the 300 Sport Series, which replaced the Windsor series and was priced and equipped between the Newport and New Yorker.

300H advertising included - "Beautiful Brute - Chrysler 300H" and "Rare Treat - Chrysler 300H"

Although the 300H was an outstanding performer, the ability to equip the Sport Series with most of the 300H’s features and the relatively high price of the 300H made 1962 the worst selling year for the Letter Car to that point.

Production: 435 Coupes; 123 Convertibles

Fourth Generation: 1963-1964

A major restyling came to all Chryslers for 1963 with an all new outer shell, designed by the Elwood Engel led design team, that carried the last of Virgil Exner’s styling influences. The styling carried over into 1964 with a few minor changes. The major change between 1963 and 1964 was the expansion of the rear window in both height and width, and the addition of small fins to the top of the quarter panels. This change allowed the driver of a 1964 model Chrysler to actually see where the rear corners of the car were while backing up. Minor changes for 1964 included redesigned tail lights and a redesigned front bumper and grille.



For the Letter Series 300 in 1963, Chrysler skipped over the letter “I” and named the letter series model 300J. Perhaps the letter (I) was not used, as it probably would look too much like the number (1). It was available only as a 2-door hardtop with a 390 hp 413ci wedge engine. Sales shrank to a total of just 400 300J’s, making it the lowest production Letter Car.

The 390 horsepower twin 4-barrel cross ram 413 wedge engine was a special design that included the “short ram” style cross ram manifolds, special cast iron headers, a lower 9.6:1 compression ratio, and solid lifters. This was the most powerful standard equipment engine ever supplied in a Letter Car and it provided spectacular performance. Motor Trend magazine recorded a ¼ mile time of 15.8 seconds with a speed of 89 MPH using the standard 3.23:1 axle ratio.

The heavy duty TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission was standard, with the final year of its pushbutton controls. A 3-speed manual was optional, with only seven cars so equipped. The new Bendix brake system provided better stopping ability. Gone was the Letter Car convertible for this year.

The 300J featured a unique “square” deluxe steering wheel that some found uncomfortable. However, it allowed an unobstructed view of the redesigned instrument cluster for 1963, and easier ingress and egress for the driver. A new wiper was used on the 300J too. Airfoils were designed into the blade to press it harder against the windshield at higher speeds. This was the final year of the Letter Cars' 150 mph speedometer.

Standard 300J colors were: Alabaster, Formal Black, Oyster White, Madison Grey, and Claret. A claret leather interior was standard with all exterior colors. Two pinstripes ran the length of the body, and the redesigned “J” medallions were placed on the C pillars, the rear deck lid, and rear speaker grill.

The 1963 Chrysler non-letter 300 was chosen as the official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500. A non-letter 300 convertible equipped with the 390 horsepower cross ram engine and fitted with 300-J wheels and tires was the actual pace car. After the race, a special 300 Pacesetter trim package was offered for both 2-door hardtop and convertible. The majority of these cars were painted Pace Car Blue with special checkered flag emblems and a “300 Pace Car” emblem on the center console.

300J advertising - "And Now...Chrysler 300J - the Ninth and Newest of Chrysler's Hot-Blooded Clan" and "Coming Out Party at Twelve Thousand Feet - Chrysler 300J"

Production: 400 Coupes



The corporate reaction to car sales in 1963 brought about changes in 1964. After a one year absence, the convertible returned to the Letter Car line up. Luxury appointments such as leather trim and power accessories were now extra cost options. Interiors could be had in a variety of colors. The 413 was still the base engine for the Letter Cars, but for the first time a single 4-barrel version rated at 360 horsepower was offered as standard equipment. The previous year’s base engine, the 390 horsepower, twin 4 barrel short ram 413, was now a $375 option. This cost cutting effort knocked almost $1,000 off 1963's base price.

The TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission was standard on the 300K with a 4-speed manual available. 1964 marked the introduction of the console mounted automatic transmission selector on all 300Ks. In the spring of 1964, Chrysler offered the Silver 300 promotional trim package on the 300K for the 2-door hardtops only. This package consisted of special silver metallic paint, a black canopy style vinyl top with special roof molding, and black interior color only. 1964 marked the high point in Letter Car sales. 300Ks were offered in a choice of 17 standard colors.

300K advertising - "Custom Build your Own 300K".

Production: 3,022 Coupes (including 255 Silver 300-Ks); 625 Convertibles

Fifth Generation: 1965

For 1965, the 300s received a sleeker body. For the first time, dual carbs were not available and the output of the 413 dropped to 360 hp in the 300L. Barely discernible differences distinguished the 300L from the “Sport Series” 300s. The lower stainless side trim on the doors was different as was the center design of the grille and the trim on the rear panel between the taillights on which a 300L medallion was placed. It was obvious that the Letter Series was being phased out.



This would be the last year for the Letter Car series, although the non-letter 300 would remain in production. The Elwood Engel designed body style mimicked the square lines of the lines of the 1964 Imperial. A truly unique feature of the 300L was a medallion in the center of the grille that illuminated when the ignition was turned on. With nearly every feature of the 300L available as either standard equipment or an option on the “Sport Series” 300, there was little reason to justify a separate model line. Only the unchanged base engine from last year, a 360 hp 413, was available for the 300L coupled with a TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic as standard equipment or an optional 4-speed floor shifted manual. 300Ls were offered in a choice of 26 standard colors.

300L advertising -"For the Purist - A Very Special Chrysler, The 300L""

Production: 2,405 Coupes; 440 Convertibles

Sixth Generation: 1970

300 Hurst


In 1970, a limited production, special edition 300 would be produced. This car was assembled by Chrysler and refined by the Hurst company with special striping and two tone paint treatment, deck lid spoiler, wheels, and the like to approximate the panache of the 300 Letter Car. The high performance 300-Hurst was a Chrysler 300 modified by Hurst Performance Corporation. These were built in Detroit by Chrysler as a Spinnaker White coupe and shipped to Warminster, PA, where they were modified by the Hurst Corporation in their plant.

It was offered with saddle color leather bucket seats that was an Imperial interior brought over from the Imperial plant and installed on the Chrysler factory line. Hursts had fiberglass power bulge hoods (with functional air scoop); dual, depressed, rotary hood latches and a fiberglass decklid with rear end caps. The car was built with a factory hood and Hurst took the metal skin off and installed a fiberglass skin.

The factory deck lid was removed and an all fiberglass one installed along with the spoiler extensions. Some had spoiler supports installed at dealers later as they were starting to crack from people using them to close the lid. There was special paint (Spinnaker White) and Satin Tan color accents with special striping and an integrated wing type rear spoiler. This Tan was in reality a Cadillac color, done at the Hurst plant.

Stripe colors were actually chocolate and orange, often thought to be black. The Chrysler 300 Club International, Inc. had them reproduced. The Stripe kit is still available from vendors.

Other standard features included: 440-TNT engine; TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission; heavy duty suspension with sway bar; styled road wheels with a matching stripe circle around the center and raised white letter tires. This was Chrysler’s last attempt to make the 300 something special and the 300-Hurst is considered in the same class as the Chrysler Letter Car series by the Chrysler 300 Club International, Inc.

Note: Limited production was due to Chrysler and Hurst taking so long to decide and then each thought the other would advertise it. The cars just showed up on the transporters without a dealer order.

Production: 2-Door HT/Hurst Special 502; Convertible/Hurst Special 1

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