My "H" and Me
by Gil Cunningham

reprinted from the Winter 1990 Club News Volume XVI Number II

It is a good thing that cold March day was overcast. Just sitting in its owner’s driveway, the sparkly, strawberry red convertible still managed to reflect most of the neighborhood’s wan sunlight. I guess I sort of just looked and said nothing.

The little Detroit News ad said “300H” and one just has to check that sort of thing out, just to confirm, if nothing else, it was another Dodge 880 or Chrysler Newport. I wasn’t really in the market for another car --- my F convert driver ran fine and looked great, except for its interior that had been seriously muddled by some previous owner. My C however had been temporarily retired with a severe case of Michiganus Rustosis, so one could possibly see a “need” for a back-up 300, I suppose. I was not an especially H fancier though, and in fact harbored a suspicion that they were not “Real 300s”! So, even if the car in the ad turned out to be an honest to gosh 300H, there seemed little likelihood that I would be the one to buy it.

As my eyes adjusted to the glare from what was actually a well applied metal flake paint job, I looked the car over. It had chrome wire wheels of the 1955 – 1956 variety, a fair top, not bad interior and four little chrome characters on the decklid: 3-0-0-H. (In 1971, that was likely to mean it was a 300H). It also sported a strange lever sticking out of the console! No-no not a manual --- just a 300K tranny installed with the 300K engine (bored to 426 the owner said) which replaced the original, blown while drag racing. An immediate look under the hood allowed me to breathe easier --- the 2-4s were still there. The car still had its original 4.56 racing gripper which he wanted to keep (I didn’t care) and sat up high --- like when the local spring shop boys replace your stock springs with reverse arched springs leaving you the only recourse of cranking up your torsion bars --- if you don’t want to keep sliding off the seat!

The guy actually wanted to sell one of two cars; he didn’t care which. Since the other car was a Corvette, I didn’t have the same choice --- I just didn’t know if I really wanted an H. Well, I finally bought it --- what’s a few hundred dollars, and besides, I might find a B someday to use the wheels. More importantly, he produced the original wheel covers in mint condition, to gladden the heart of this old purist and clinch the deal! I was later to find out that if I had dallied a little longer, George Riehl would own it now instead of me.

Driving it home, my first impressions were: (1) How short the hood seemed and (2) How choppy the ride felt compared to the F. Apparently, this car was going to have a hard time endearing itself to me.

The H’s first Club participation was a trip to Kokomo, Indiana, for our first annual Spring Meet. I don’t know what club members originally thought of my glow mobile but they were tolerant anyway. Besides, I had stiff competition at the meet from a yellow F convertible with yellow metal flake plastic upholstery! Ah, those early meets --- weren’t they great?

At any rate, I had to get my H back to its original festival Red. By the Ann Arbor meet of spring 1973, that had been accomplished; but not without flaw. Inexperience with paint stripping (attempting to leave the original base) and block sanding (not enough) had left the H’s body surfaces, ah, less than glossy smooth. The H was destined to show up at meet after meet with lepro-look paint until the mid eighties when I repainted above the chrome strips. I should quit assuming that I can paint. Trouble with the spray gun and the spray gun operator resulted in moocho sunkisstness on the deck and hood until 1989 when I sanded and polished to finally reduce embarrassment to a tolerable level. (Apparently fear of embarrassment has not been that strong of a motivational factor, over the years.)

Over those years though, the H did manage to endear itself to me, primarily because of its reliability. It never stranded us or even gave us much trouble. Even at the 1977 Pocono meet when it lost its over running clutch (so much for the ’64 tranny) it still made it back to Michigan under its own power, albeit the last hundred miles or so accompanied by ominous sounds. I cannot begin to recall all of the places the H has taken Carol, myself and our kids without incident. New England several times, Florida, back and forth from Michigan to South Carolina when we lived there, plus 21 Chrysler 300 Club Int. meets --- very likely a record.

There has to be a first time for everything so they say, and the first time the H stranded us was one night in Virginia while returning from Don Rook’s 1986 Spring Meet. The torque converter bushing failed, wiping out the Torqueflite’s front seal and dumping “type F” all over I-81. I could not scramble enough to get out of that one, so we took a motel. It was fixed the next day and even earned a retro-active hard luck award from Don at the Rochester meet.

The SC to Rochester to NYC to SC was incident free but luck, whatever that is, was starting to wear thin. 1988’s spring brought a new sound from the old cracked block (yes – I bought it, unknowingly, that way) ever faithful 413. Peremptory teardown, found a large chunk of #3 piston in the oil pan. Since I did not have a proper 300H engine and didn’t have the time to look for one, I decided to have the K engine welded (wrong decision, another story) and then rebuild it. Unfortunately, the man that I bought the car from was telling the truth about the engine being bored out to 426. Ever try and find an 8th match for a set of .060 O.S. TRW pistons in 1988? I was rescued by Cotton Owens who has an extensive Chrysler parts operation (late model, mostly) near me in Spartanburg, SC. He happened to have a set of 426 street wedge pistons that were just what I needed. The vast difference in weight between the TRW and Chrysler pistons mandated balancing --- probably for the good anyway to take advantage of the new valve springs, lifters and club camshaft. George Riehl even passed through Spartanburg about that time and rebuilt my Torqueflite (nice coincidence eh?)

Now the H resides here in Tallahassee and driving has been reduced to weekends instead of every day as was pretty much the case in SC. However questionable, no really bad luck continued. The trip to the recent Pittsburgh meet turned into somewhat of an adventure, the H consuming a gallon of water every hour if we were lucky! Our pit stop time and performance steadily improved through the night and early morning hours. By Pittsburgh arrival, we had become really good at hot radiator cap removal and water jug filling. A radiator, borrowed from Jeff, alleviated most of the problem, allowing us to make it back to Florida. Well, not quite. We had to locate a crankshaft pulley in Columbia, SC but at least I now know of a new junkyard with lots of old Chrysler products.

The water consumption problem is not over yet; but this story is going to be. After returning home, water was getting into the oil so off came the heads. They needed a .012” shaving and passed the magna-flux test but some water still disappears. The final solution awaits totaling the car off in a traffic accident or the location of a 300H uncracked block, whichever comes first.

Through our relationship, my 300H has given me considerably more than I have given it, even considering recent “rough sledding”. Such should, perhaps, be the case with some poor faithful old Newport or hapless abused Dodge wagon --- not a 300 Letter Car! It certainly deserves better than the intermittent “Defensive Restorations” I have given it over the years. So what can I say? Just this: “300H, the nineties will be better, I promise!”

Thanks to Bill Elder (Wild Man of the North) for preparing this article