The Chrysler 300 was first introduced in 1955, a great model year for the Big Three: Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. All three manufacturers released completely new models for their entire range, and all were well styled and popular. Automobile sales in the United States increased from 5.8 million in 1954 to 8.3 million in 1955.
The Chrysler 300 turned heads. The “300” designation is derived from the 300 horsepower, 331 cubic inch Hemi Firepower V8 engine. It was America’s most powerful car, with considerably more horsepower than the Corvette of that year with 195. The 300 was a bit pricey, with a base cost of $4,100 (about $43,243 in 2022 dollars) and was sometimes called “the banker’s hot rod”. . It turned out to be the first of the “letter” Chrysler cars although it was never marketed as the Chrysler 300 A.
The next year, however, was the 1956 Chrysler 300 B, then the 1957 Chrysler 300 C. The company used letters for each model year with significant changes until 2004, when the Chrysler 300 M was introduced. been built.
Many thought 1957 was Chrysler’s golden year. It was the start of what Chrysler called “The Forward Look”. The 1957 Chrysler 300 C was only available as a convertible or two-door hardtop. Quad headlights which claimed to improve night driving appeared for the first time, but they were also a new styling feature. However, in some states they were actually illegal, so both conventional headlights had to be used in cars sold in those states.
Automotive experts generally agree that Chrysler took over automotive styling leadership from General Motors in 1957, credited in large part to their chief designer, Virgil Exner. The tail fin designs were part of the aerodynamic styling that initially looked great and added stability. But it was much more than styling that made the 1957 Chrysler 300 C popular. At that time, the traditional thinking in Detroit was that radical styling and engineering shouldn’t be introduced in the same model year, but Chrysler managed to deviate from this caveat.
The new push-button three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission paired with more powerful engines were notable new features, as was the new torsion bar front suspension which improved the car’s handling without detracting from ride comfort. The Hemi engine was then 392 cubic inches and rated at 375 horsepower, but if that wasn’t enough, an option would increase the output to 390 horsepower.
The featured car in this issue is an insanely perfect 1957 Chrysler 300 C. For owner George Pehanick of Fairfield and Tahoe, owning classic cars is both a hobby and a business. Although he is a serious collector of classic cars, he is also a licensed dealer and frequently buys and sells his classics. He owns 40 to 50 of them, some of which are exhibited in various automobile museums in the country. He doesn’t seem to be brand loyal but prefers American cars. Although this car, like many of his others, is clearly a show car, he also enjoys driving it.
Pehanick’s car has all the standard features of the era, including a Hemi engine, power steering, power brakes and a signal-seeking AM radio, but it also has a record player mounted under the dash on board. According to Google, Chrysler was the first to offer the “Highway Hi-Fi” feature, offering six Columbia discs 7 inches in diameter and played at 16⅔ rpm. The record player option only lasted two years and at around $190 was expensive, around $2000 in 2022.
Pehanick’s car is a beautiful coral with a white canvas roof. The interior is in supple and comfortable fawn leather covering two seats. Sitting behind the wheel, the dashboard and steering wheel whisper opulence. There are three round boxes on the dashboard, one for the speedometer and odometer, one for measuring gas, oil, engine temperature and battery, and in the center is an electric clock which always works accurately.
The most interesting part of the dash, however, is the push-button drive mechanism. The driver actually presses one of five buttons about a quarter inch to operate the car: “R” for reverse; “N” for neutral and start; “D” for reader; “1” for low speed; and “2” for first and second gear. There is no “park” gear, only what is hopefully an excellent parking brake.
Pehanick offered to take me for a ride, and I learned firsthand why this was considered one of the first muscle cars. Information on the car stated that the 1957 Chrysler could go from zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds, very fast for the time, with a top speed of 145 mph. I didn’t time it, but my back was sunk deep into the back of the front seat as we went from zero to 80 mph pretty quickly. The owner has no plans to sell the car soon, but he will one day. After all, he’s a drug dealer.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected] To see more photos of this and other vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.