The cars we loved.
1969 was a turbulent year. Protests, riots and rising inflation made headlines. Despite all the gloom and doom, the Flower Power movement was in full bloom and men were walking on the moon. All the optimism brought about due to “space age” technology quickly spread to the automotive market. Bigger, roomier and more powerful became the mantra of the day, even as strict emissions and smog regulations loomed just around the corner. One of the last holdouts in the big is beautiful camp was the Chrysler 300. The 300 was part of a series of cars spawned from the C-body platform that included the Chrysler Newport and Imperial. While these cars started at around $5,000, cheaper less luxurious versions could be had as the Plymouth Fury, Dodge Polara and Monaco.
These were big six passenger cars that came in coupe or sedan forms. Some even came as giant two door convertibles, the perfect parade float for a high school football team. The closest big drop top today might be the four passengers Bentley Azure T at almost $400k! While the Newport and the Imperial were designed as comfortable luxury cars, the 300 was more performance oriented, even though the technical differences between these cars were small. 1969 marked the beginning of the fuselage styling theme that would last until 1971. With space exploration and military jets on everyone’s mind, the fuselage theme would adapt the clutter free look that suggested modern performance. Its wraparound grill with hidden headlights looked futuristic and hinted at the muscle of the Dodge Charger.
The 300 letter series could have been called the Chrysler equivalent to today’s BMW M5. From 1955 to 65, it was Chrysler’s highest performing luxury sport car with the handling chops to match anything from Europe with similar pretensions. After the letter designation was lost in 1966, the 300 became less the performance car and more the boulevard cruiser, perhaps to appease the increasingly influential insurance industry.
By 1969, the 300 had morphed into a huge boat of a car, loosing much of its performance along the way. Weighing in at over 4,000 lb, it was among the last of Chrysler’s really big cars before emissions standards kicked in. Although the 300 had become a shadow of its former self performance wise, its engines would not have suggested it. Two big block 440 V8’s were offered. While names like Hemi, Magnum and Super Commando may have been better known, the 300 used the TNT brand for its top four-barrel engines. The 440 TNT used high lift cams and sent its power to the rear wheels via a three speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. No manual was offered, but by 1971 a part throttle downshift feature improved engine response and efficiency, not that saving gas mattered – yet.
In 1972 changes in how power ratings were quoted spared the 300. Had it survived the new regulation, the 440 TNT would have been rated at 305 hp thanks to the rating reflecting output after passing through the air filter and exhaust system. The change left advertisers with some explaining to do, but no one really believed published hp numbers anyway, as Detroit had under quoted power during the much of muscle car era.
While power real or imagined was going down, the 300 maintained its comfortable ride. The long 124 in wheel base insured a stable and comfortable glide at highway speeds. Chrysler had switched to the newfangled unibody frame system since 1969 for the C-body. It helped improve the 300’s ride and resistance to body flexing. Torson-Quite was Chrysler’s term for the system that used plenty of rubber brushings to separate the body from the suspension to create a luxury car ride. The smooth ride did not come at the expense of handling. An independent front torson bar suspension coupled with a widetrack rear axle on multileaf springs in back gave the 300 above average handling next to competitors from Ford and GM. Power disc brakes were standard in the front with drums in the rear.
The interior for a car so large was obviously spacious. A five foot person could easily stretch out and nap in the back seat. Highback seats were a departure from the low bench or buckets of the past and offered more comfort. The dashboard design emphasized the width of the cabin with its thin horizontal design. All the gauges and controls were nestled close to the steering wheel. The layout of the speedometer was not unlike most large cars of the era with digits sprawled out horizontally – up to 120 mph on a panel designed to reduce glare. The radio featured an optional cassette player with the ability to record – this was at least 12 years before Kraco introduced the feature in an aftermarket deck.
Sales of the 300 were relatively low with production in the final year at less than 14,000 for the coupe and sedan combined. Chrysler ended production of the convertible after 1970 (as well as all of its convertibles). The 300 series was too similar to the Newport and Imperial, so the entire range was retired by 1972. The market had been moving to smaller muscle cars and the market for big performance coupes had all but dried up. The 300 name would not reappear until 1979 in the form of a modified high performance Cordoba coupe.