The cars we loved.
Every once in a while a car comes along that strikes a chord with a wide cross-section of people. Chrysler’s 300 was such a car. When it appeared in 2005, it caused an immediate frenzy. Everyone from elderly retirees to gangster rappers was clamoring to get their hands on Chrysler’s latest luxury sedan. For a car that could cost as little as $28,000, the 300 had nearly as much presence as a Bentley. The large prominent grill would not have been out-of-place on a Mulsanne. Bentleys had become such a point of reference for the 300 that kits were available that allowed you to swap out your stock grill for one that would have made Walter Owen Bentley proud (or squirm).
The Bentley reference might have been enviable, but the 300 recalled the best of Chrysler’s luxury car heritage by evoking performance classics like the letter cars of the 50’s and 60’s. There was even a touch of the New Yorker and Dodge Dynasty in the sedan’s blocky profile. The angular theme continued inside with a rather simple, but elegant interior that recalled the 1998 Chrysler Chronos show car. Aircraft styled gauges had a faint hint 1930’s elegance, while a simplistic metallic (plastic) faced center stack completed the understated luxury look. There was no shortage of gadgets inside with everything ranging from iPod friendly interfaces to hard drive based entertainment systems. Sound quantity and quality were high thanks to the available Boston Acoustic 5.1 stereo with a trunk mounted subwoofer. Where Chrysler’s previous big sport-luxury sedan, the LH based 300M was very European in its aspirations, the 300 would celebrate those things that made it distinctly American.
The 300 was a big car with an upright profile, although the high belt line and shorter side windows gave the impression of being lowered. The 300 managed to be easy to get into and out of due to higher seats, while the greenhouse was still able to mimic the style of chop topped hot rods of the 50’s.
The appeal of the 300 would go beyond the Ralph Gilles penned lines to its impressive mechanical credentials. The 300 used proven components from the Mercedes E Class like steering, suspension and interior bits like seat frames. Of course the highlight of the 300C for performance fans was Chrysler’s use of a Hemi V8, the first time in 30 years a Hemi would be used in a Chrysler. In theory Chrysler’s versatile LX platform provided a microcosm of all the products Chrysler sold save for trucks or small cars.
With the 300, there were no less than six models and four engines (2 V6 and 2 V8) starting with the base cars all the way up to the SRT-8. Lesser models of the 300 came with a 3.5 litre V6 making 190 hp. It was mated to a Mercedes-Benz 5 speed automatic from the E Class. It was bad enough that so large a car was under-powered, but in base trim the 17’ rims looked tinny in the huge wheel wells. The more popular step up models; Touring and Limited would feature the same displacement with 250 hp. Some models were available with all-wheel drive; otherwise all flavors of the 300 were motivated from the rear.
The top of the regular line was the 300C. In addition to having all the luxuries appointments of the lesser models, it was the 5.7 litre Hemi V8 that was the source of its charms. The 340 hp engine was capable of 28 mpg on the highway, thanks to a multi displacement system that would shut down cylinders when they were not being called upon at highway speeds.
The most attractive of all the 300 was the SRT-8. It packed a larger 6.1 litre V8 Hemi with no less than 425 hp. As the ultimate car on the LX platform, the $43,000 SRT-8 could reach 60 mph in the low four second range. The large wheel arches of the 300 were filled nicely by 20’ rims and tires that were wider in the back to emphasize rear wheel drive power. The SRT-8 quickly became an aspirational car for Chrysler, but many buyers could not afford the asking price. In 2006 Chrysler solved that problem and managed to pay homage to the 1957 300C, nicknamed ‘The Beautiful Brute’, with a model called the Heritage Edition (HE). Never mind that the 1957 car was a coupe, Chrysler still used the C designation on its modern sedan interpretation.
The HE featured special badging and the first application of SmartBeam headlights in a Chrysler product. The SmartBeam system automatically controlled brightness and dimmer levels with the aid of a small camera sensor. For those who did not want or need that much Hemi under the hood, the Heritage Edition filled a void that combined the smaller Hemi with the looks of the SRT-8. This was a popular model for many reasons, least of which was its price that undercut the SRT-8 by as much as $7,000 and was nearly as much fun to drive.
Other variations including a limited production long wheelbase variant would appear, but the most interesting versions were either in Europe or Australia. For instance the Touring model was actually like the US Magnum, but with a Chrysler 300 face. There were convertible teasers, built by ASC for the show car circuit, but they never materialized in production.
The 300 remained distinctive among luxury cars throughout its production run. Aging nicely, it had been yet another hit for Chrysler and was still popular through the first generation. The popularity not only translated in sales, but accolades from the media as well. Car and Driver chose the 300C as its Car of the Year in 2005. So successful was the 2005-2010 cars, that the second generation model would not stray too far from the original formula.