New Car/Review

Chrysler

The Chrysler 300M
A car for all reasons

By Larry Weitzman

Daimler/Chrysler Full Line factory footage (39:14) 28.8, 56k or 200k Part 1 and 200k Part 2

When testing a car with the nomenclature "300M", it brings to mind the history and memories of one of the greatest cars of all time, The Chrysler 300. The original C-300 was a late 1955 introduction; the first modern super high-performance luxury car ever built (Duesenberg owners may disagree).

Starting in 1951, Chrysler launched a horsepower war in Detroit with its 331 cubic inch (5.4L), 180 hp hemi-head V-8. In that year, a Cadillac only produced a 160 hp V-8. Next year Cadillac went to a 190 hp V-8 and in 1953 a 210 hp V-8. Not to be outdone, Chrysler, in 1954 came out with a 235 hp V-8, besting Cadillac by a mere 5 hp. Both cars used 5.4L V-8's of identical dimensions, but different head design.

When 1955 Cadillac came out with a 255 hp engine, which exceeded the 1955 Chrysler by 5 hp, Chrysler decided it was time to set the automotive world on its ear with the 300 hp Chrysler 300. By combining the front end of an Imperial with the back end of a New Yorker, Chrysler created a beautiful high performance automobile, that now is one of the most sought after post war collector's car.

The first C-300 astounded the auto world when it blew the competition away at Daytona Beach's Speed Week with a two way flying mile of over 127 mph (exceeding the old record by of 117 mph, set in 1954 by a Chrysler). The following year the C-300B with a 340 hp engine did an amazing 139 plus, a record that stood for several years. Some say that of all the 300's the 300B was the most beautiful and maybe one of the most beautiful coupes ever made. To this day it is one of my favorite cars (as well as the New Yorker of the same vintage)

The peak for C-300's came in 1960 with the 300F. It was another gorgeous design exercise that was combined with one of the most powerful V-8's ever produced. The standard 413 cubic inch (6.8L) V-8 produced 375 with an optional 400 hp available. One of seven of this variety (with a four speed Pont-a-Mousson manual gearbox) did the Daytona flying mile at nearly 170 mph (it was alleged to put out 450 hp).

After 1960, the 300 letter cars went downhill until production ended in 1965 with the 300L model. Now you understand the model designation 300M.

The new 300M is not designed with the same concept as the original 300 letter cars. It is a four-door sedan, with a smaller 3.5L, V-6 engine. Sounds pretty ordinary. Not.

Even though the concept is different from the original, this car can wear the 300 badge proudly. The engine is the highest output mass-produced V-6 made anywhere in the world, and it does it without super or turbocharging. The styling is world class, unique and beautiful. The interior is leather and tasteful with understated elegance. The chassis is state of the art. This car has it all.

The design relies heavily on the Intrepid/Concorde LH cars, sharing some chassis and body components, however, the engineers did a marvelous job at creating a new look with totally different front and rear ends. And what a look they created. With its definite wedge shape, the short sleek front end flows in one continuous line to a strong, angular truncated rear deck. The beautiful Chrysler wing emblem on the grille carries that feeling into the gorgeous twin halogen headlight assemblies. It's an exceptional look.

The interior is better that the exterior. Its overall design is about the best I've ever seen. The seats have wide tuck and roll perforated, leather inserts giving a classy yet sporty look (the rest of the seating surfaces are select leather as well). The very comfortable, body forming front seats, are adjustable to any position with its 8-way power adjusters. Both of the seats have a high/low heater and the driver's seat has a two-position memory. The rear seats are just as comfortable as the front with the middle position being acceptable. Both rear seat backs pull down to expand the already humongous trunk.

The rear legroom is gigantic and could be measured by the yard. Headroom could be a problem for big six footers, although I was very comfortable (I guess my career in basketball is never going to happen). The door paneling is soft, simple and tasteful. I could do without the fake wood (how much more would real wood cost?).

The dash is a piece d'resistance. Maybe the most beautiful I've seen (watch out Lexus), it is a work of simplicity and elegance. The pod in front of the driver contains a large tach and speedo, flanked by a fuel and temp gauge left and right. But their design is anything but ordinary. They are white with black numerals and done in a classic script ala 1920's and 30's. There is a small chrome bezel surround to finish off their neo-classic look. It works. The night lighting is a bluish green electroluminesent. Driving at night has never been more fun, especially with the quad halogen headlights and lower mounted fog lights. You could play night tennis with this kind of illumination.

The center of the dash has as its focal point an analog clock with the central circular HVAC vents located directly underneath. Beneath that are the electronic controls for the powerful environmental systems and below is the standard nine speaker (7 locations), 240 watt CD/cassette stereo. If the engine isn't making enough music, this stereo certainly will. All the controls and switches are where they should be and of nice quality.

The leather covered, console mounted shifter for the electronic 4 speed automatic (with standard switchable traction control) has the ability to be operated manually. By placing the shifter in the autostick position, gear changes are accomplished by flicking the shifter either to the right for up shifts and left for down shifts. The transmission shifts imperceptibly in full automatic and crisply and authoritatively in autostick (not jerky).

What about the little (by comparison) V-6 of the 300M? Being a redesign of the prior 3.5L V-6, the new engine is now an all aluminum, SOHC, 24 valver, which puts out an incredible 253 hp at a lofty 6,400 rpm and a commensurate 255 lb-ft of torque at 3,950 rpm. This translates into super quick passing power, for this otherwise super smooth, silk motor.

By quick passing performance, I mean 50-70 mph times averaging 3.9 seconds with one run a 3.57 seconds. That number exceeds the best time so far by over half a second (prior king of quick was the Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9L and Taurus SHO V-8). Going up hill slows that time to 5.8 seconds, not the fastest but only a tenth of a second from tying the best number I've recorded to date (Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9L and Pontiac Grand Prix Supercharged).

0-60 mph averaged a brisk 7.7 seconds. In comparing this performance to the 300's of yesteryear, it would blow the doors off of all of them except maybe a stock 300F which would probably hold its own. The reason is that the 300 plus hp ratings of the 50's and 60's were rated differently than today. In 1971, a new system of horsepower rating was developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), named SAE 342. Engines instead of being tested without accessories and exhaust, are now tested with all accessories attached (things like power steering pumps, generators and fans) and the exhaust system in place. Consequently, engines of the 50's and 60's rated at 400 hp may only be putting out 300 hp under the current standard.

Fuel economy for the 300M during my test average 22 mpg. EPA rates the 300M at 18/27 city/highway. At a steady 68 mph the fuel computer fluctuated between 30-33 mpg with the engine turning slightly less than 2200 rpm (an original 300 driver might be happy with 33 miles per tank). On the highway the car is silent with only some road noise entering the cab on coarse roads.

Cars of that era were also much heavier, sometimes by as much as 1000 pounds over the current 300M (versus the previous model 300s). But that weight reduction adds other bonuses to the car. Handling is much more nimble without sacrificing any of the ride quality. Braking distances become shorter.

The independent suspension are struts up front and multilink in the rear. Both ends have stabilizer bars. The handling is crisp and confident. The 300M easily straightened out Green Valley Road and the roads in Apple Hill. Spirited driving in the twisties is as much fun as burying the go pedal deep into the plush carpet. The steering is accurate with the appropriate road feel for a car with this ability. A slight amount of understeer does become evident during very hard cornering which is to be expected.

Chrysler proves that responsive handling doesn't require a sacrifice in ride quality. The 300M is like glass on the highway and well controlled over the bumps. Big bumps are absorbed like a dense sponge and small ones simply eliminated. Ponderosa Road was smoothed out by the compliant suspension which exhibited no wheel hop in the bumpy corners. There are no creaks or rattles. Call it your strong, silent type.

The new 300M has four wheel disc binders with standard antilock. Pedal feel and modulation are excellent.

So what do great cars cost these days. The price of admission for the 300M is $28,700. Destination will add another $595. California emissions are $200. Everything else is standard. There are a few special options you could buy such as a power moon roof (a great buy at $795), the performance handling group for S400, an even more powerful stereo for $215 (320 watts, 11 speakers in 9 locations) or chrome wheels for $600. The car is superbly equipment at the base price, however.

This is one car I would like not to give back, but every road test must yield to another. With the design and engineering as exemplified by this wonderful motor car, it's no wonder that Mercedes wanted to merge with Chrysler.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                           $28,700 to about $30,000
Engine 
   3.5L SOHC,                   24 Valve253 hp @ 6,400 rpm
   V-6                          255 lb-ft of torque @ 3,950 rpm
Transmissions
                                4-speed electronically
                                controlled automatic 
                                with autostick

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase                       113.0  inches
Length                          197.8  inches
Width                           74.4   inches
Height                          56.0   inches
Curb Weight                     3567   pounds
Fuel Capacity                   17.0   gallons

PERFORMANCE

0-60                            7.6    seconds
50-70                           3.9    seconds
50-70 (uphill)                  5.9    seconds
Top Speed                       I am sure is would best the original
                                300B (139 mph) and maybe the (stock)
                                300F (145 mph).  Please keep it
                                reasonably legal
Fuel economy                    EPA rated 18/27 city/highway, my 
                                estimate is about 22 in El Dorado County 
                                and 30+ on the highway for a range
                                in excess of 500 miles.

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