The cars we loved.
Before Chrysler scored a home run with it’s big luxury sedan the 400C, it had a ace with the 300M. The M car carried on the legacy of the legendary letter cars of the 50’s and 60’s, but updated with import European flair. Unlike the old letter cars, the 300M was based on a front wheel drive second generation LH platform. Shorter than the larger Concord, the 300M was designed specifically to be exported to Europe and was intended to be the flagship car of the Chrysler corporation. As such, it used the best of the Chrysler parts bin including a 253 hp 3.5 L V6, fully independent sports tuned suspension and styling that recalled the late Eagle Talon in sedan form. All 300Ms featured a four speed automatic transmission with Autostick, a system that allowed for manual gear changing without the use of a clutch.
The sleek LH cars were a hit and the 300M became popular low key favorite with the press and consumers. It’s unfortunate that there was such an obsession with Chrysler marketing in pushing the 300M as a “European import fighter”, as the 300M had a uniquely American character, with bold styling that was fast becoming a trait of Chrysler products. No one would have ever mistaken the 300M for a 5 Series BMW behind the wheel, but it did offer plenty of performance and value.
The most interesting and sporting version of the 300M was called the Special. The Special was slipped into the 2002 lineup mid-year, catching buyers and some dealers by surprise. Although it had 2 hp more than the standard car, it’s gearing ratio was tweaked for improved performance. In addition to drive train modifications, the Special was distinctive due to grey ground effects rockers, performance exhaust system and special headlights. Inside the wood grain was replaced by carbon fiber (fake) panels and special sport leather seating. All of this was rolling on insanely large (for the time) 18 inch wheels used just for this model. Closer inspection revealed a emblem that resembled those on the letter cars of the past, just ahead of the front doors. Even with the big chrome wheels and Euro flair, the 300M was not nearly as popular as it’s successor the 400C. I don’t ever recall seeing it featured in a single rap video, often a future barometer of style and success in the market.
The Special remained the most powerful 300M, but not the rarest. In 2002 a 300M Pro-Am was introduced offering many of the features of the Special, but with the standard engine. It was geared more toward audio with an potentially loud Infinity system and special two tone interior. By the end of the 300Ms run in 2004, many of the appearance features of the Special like the 18 in wheels had become options on all models. Chrysler design looked backwards for inspiration when the 400C rolled into showrooms in 2005 as the replacement for the 300M. With a more American flavor and power the 400C, especially the V8 HEMI versions continued the legacy of the famous letter cars that the 300M re-introduced to modern car buyers.