Five primo examples of Chrysler’s performance legends, the 300 series “letter cars” from the 1950s and ‘60s, will be offered from a single collection when Mecum Auctions returns to Glendale, Arizona, for its third annual collector car auction March 18-20 at State Farm Stadium.
The super-sized Chrysler 300s are called letter cars because each model year received an ascending letter designation, with the cars in this group including a 1957 300C convertible, a 1958 300D hardtop, a 1959 300E hardtop, a 1960 300F convertible and a 1962 300H hardtop.
A 1963 300 Pacesetter convertible rounds out the collection, although it is not a factory letter car but an official pace car used in the 1963 Indianapolis 500.
Chrysler chief designer Virgil Exner’s Forward Look styling was in full bloom in the gaping grilles and, on the earlier models, prodigious tail fins. The 1957 model was the first to break out with that extravagant look under Exner, and a whole new design direction for Chrysler and its divisions.
What set the letter cars apart were their high-performance V8 engines, which produced impressive acceleration despite the massive size and weight of the full-size cars. There was a full-on horsepower war going on in Detroit starting with 1955, as Chrysler rolled out its first 300C to compete with GM and Ford powerhouses that also arrived that model year.
For the 1957 300C and 1958 300D models, the engine was a FirePower Hemi V8 displacing 392cid and generating 375 or 390 horsepower, depending on the setup, for the ’57 car, and 380 horsepower for the ’58.
For 1959, the Hemi was replaced by the Golden Lion wedge-head V8 with 413cid (6.8 liters) and 380 horsepower, and a resounding 525 pound-feet of torque. A new 413cid wedge design was produced for 1960, initiating a unique “cross-ram intake,” with 375 horsepower and similar torque.
For the 1962 300H, the tail fins had gone away but the letter-car power remained, with a slightly smaller profile and lighter weight. For this year, the 413cid V8 was called the Max Wedge, fed by a pair of 4-barrel carbs on a normal intake and boasting 380 horsepower and that same muscular 525 pound-feet of torque.
For whatever reason, Chrysler did not use a 300J for its 1963 300 Pacesetter featured at Indy but a standard non-letter model, which was still a powerful car with its factory 383cid V8.
Mecum says it expects 1,200 collector cars, trucks and motorcycles to cross the block during the 3-day Glendale auction, held in the NFL stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play their home games. The collection of Chrysler 300s is set for bidding on March 19.
For more information, visit the Mecum Auctions website.