Chrysler debuted their mighty Hemi V-8 in 1951. It displaced 331 cubic inches, produced 180 horsepower, and was known as the Fire Power V-8. The engine was a technological marvel, but it was used to power stately, if not sedate, Chryslers.
It wasn’t until 1955, when Chrysler combined the Hemi V-8 with the new Chrysler C-300 luxury/performance hardtop, that people really paid attention to the Hemi. The stunning C-300 gave Chrysler a quantum leap in performance and status. It was a gentleman’s hot rod that was at once sophisticated and brutal. The Chrysler C-300 embodied the fifties American ideal of a large imposing powerful car that was also roomy, comfortable and stylish. It was a car made for the wide-open highways and emerging freeways. The 1955 Chrysler C-300 was an American success symbol on wheels.
Styling of the C-300 was athletic, but rather restrained compared to the direction of other Chrysler Corporation products. Legendary Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner combined a New Yorker Newport hardtop with an Imperial egg crate grille. The C-300 was only offered in the two-door hardtop body style and in a limited color palette. The first cars were white followed, by the stunning red seen here on Wayne Davis’ beautiful car (Wayne’s car also has the optional wire wheels). Black followed red, and it too makes for a spectacular grand touring automobile.
The C-300 was a full size car, weighing slightly over two tons and riding on a 126-inch wheelbase. New, the cars listed for $4,100-$4,400, but prices are far, far higher today. Production was 1,725 units in 1955 and 1,102 for the similarly styled (but even more powerful) 1956 C-300.
The handsome styling has held up extremely well, and it’s easy to see the 1955’s heritage reflected in contemporary Chrysler 300C SRT8s. The strong, masculine grille cues were a key styling element then as well as today.
The 1955 Chrysler C-300 was much more than an attractive but underpowered fifties cruiser. It had more than enough under-the-hood ammunition to back up its virile looks. The 331-cubic-inch Hemi was boosted to a then-unheard-of 300 horsepower (the 300 moniker was supposedly chosen to emphasize the huge horsepower rating).
Three hundred horsepower was an incredible number for a fifties production car. The substantial horsepower gain was achieved with improved cylinder heads, a higher-lift camshaft, solid lifters, high compression (for the day) 8.5:1 pistons, and dual four-barrel carburetors.
The air cleaner was a work of art that emphasized the massive, powerful nature of the engine. The triangular air cleaner looked like an experimental aircraft with the two outboard oil bath filters stretched to the equally impressive Fire Power valve covers. The transmission was an automatic with a unique vertical shifter quadrant on the dashboard (to the immediate right of the gauges).
That prodigious Hemi horsepower was useful for more than wide-open highways – it also proved very successful on NASCAR racetracks back when stockcar racing actually revolved around relatively stock cars.
The 1955 Chrysler C-300 is the car that really established the Chrysler Corporation as a builder of superior performance automobiles.
1955 Chrysler C-300
Owner: Wayne Davis
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