Return of the Beautiful Brute by Peter Grist
Way back in 1955, Chrysler astounded the automotive world when
they unleashed the remarkable C-300. The first in a series of
now legendary luxury powerhouse cars, they performed as well
on the track as on the road. With its groundbreaking 331ci 'Hemi'
V8 engine, the C-300 became the car to beat and was dubbed the
Now, 50 years on, Chrysler are doing it again with an all new
300 that is wowing American buyers but this time, and for the
first time ever, we in the UK are able to get a right hand drive
version. The new 300C builds on its rich heritage and offers
a unique package to UK buyers of luxury, handling and performance
in a refreshingly stylish body.
To achieve the honour of carrying the illustrious 300 badge,
DaimlerChrysler have produced what they think is a world-beating
car that is refined as it is powerful. The car's bold design
exudes a presence hard to find in other vehicles. Stylish, elegant
contours with more than a hint of American pizzazz are complimentary.
The imposing egg-crate front grill carries the winged Chrysler
'wax-seal' emblem, flanked by round dual headlamps either side
and fog lights set low in the bumper. The radius, flared wheel
arches accentuate the large 5-spoke 18" wheels, which in turn
compliment the restrained use of chrome on the door handles
and mirrors. The 300C has a low, hungry stance that could perhaps
be described as brutish.
The interior offers spacious comfortable seating for five large
people, rear legroom is generous and standard equipment is extensive.
The full leather trim is augmented with a stylish art deco inspired
dash that features black numerals on dulled silver dials. Items
such as leather-wrapped steering wheel with flush-mounted audio,
phone, navigation, and trip computer controls, along with dual
driver memory system controls for adjustable steering column,
driver's seat, mirrors, radio presets and adjustable pedals
add to the opulent feel of the 300C. There is no getting away
from the fact that this is a car made by DaimlerChrysler, with
shared parts from both German and American sides of the company;
little things like the indicator stalks and steering wheel are
pure Mercedes, which is no bad thing. But it is under the bonnet
of the Bentley-esque body that the heart and soul of the car
is to be found.
The engine design that powered Chrysler's 'letter series' cars
in the 1950s has been re-engineered and reborn as a modern,
high-performance, fuel-efficient and durable power plant known
as the all-new 5.7-litre HEMI V-8. With 387 lb.ft. of torque,
the Chrysler 300C can go from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds
and reach an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
The V8 engine that powers the new 300C uses aluminium cylinder
heads with hemispherical combustion chambers for outstanding
airflow leading to high power and torque. Dual ignition (two
spark plugs per cylinder) increases peak power and torque, reduces
exhaust emissions, increases fuel economy and provides a smooth
idle. This car will be the first modern volume production vehicle
produced in North America to feature cylinder deactivation when
it goes on sale here next year. The Multi-Displacement System
(MDS) seamlessly turns off the fuel consumption in four cylinders
of the 5.7-litre HEMI engine when V-8 power is not needed. This
provides a combination of outstanding performance, power and
very competitive fuel economy. I was lucky enough to test-drive
one of these cars recently when Chrysler brought over two left
hand drive examples from the States. I have to admit that I
was completely smitten, excited and surprised by the drive.
At the turn of the key a mild mannered, smooth note sang from
the twin exhaust pipes, almost lulling me into a false sense
of security. I selected 'Drive' from the 5-speed automatic transmission
shifter, added a pedal full of accelerator and the mild note
from the exhaust was replaced with a deep, urgent V8 rumble.
Time to drive!
Acceleration is incredibly quick, taking me from 0 to 120mph
within a matter of seconds, and achieving that with relative
quietness, but the big surprise was in the handling. The car
felt so solidly attached to terra firma at all times it belied
the speed being read on the speedo. The large, chrome, cast
aluminium wheels and Continental tyres gripped the road with
a surefootedness that was as surprising as it was reassuring.
Underpinnings for this car are again, pure German technology
utilising Mercedes' tried and tested independent suspension,
steering and even their automatic gearbox on the Hemi version.
So in a straight line it was impressive but what about cornering?
Time to venture from racetrack surroundings onto country roads.
Although the car appears outwouldly large, the tight European
suspension handled the toughest that Cheshire's leafy country
lanes could offer. The 300C gave a precise and responsive driving
experience. Looking over the long, flat expanse of the bonnet,
it would be easy to imagine a typical rolling ride of an American
land-yacht. However, the suspension and steering proved athletic
and nimble, with front and rear suspension tuned for greater
handling performance for the European market, it excelled at
keeping me in control. Even in its automatic transmission guise,
with the Traction Control System disarmed it was a joy to put
it through its paces. The MDS seamlessly alternated between
smooth, high fuel economy four-cylinder mode when less power
was needed, and V-8 mode when I asked for more oomph from the
HEMI engine. As with many other manufacturers of premium and
performance saloons, Chrysler has returned to rear-wheel drive
because of the superior performance and handling characteristics.
The unique steering, suspension and wheel and tyre set-up I
mentioned has been tuned exclusively for European roads, which
has reduced body roll and improved handling at higher speeds,
offering a winning package.
So how much does this premium class car cost? When the 300C
went on sale in the UK recently, it was available with a 3.5li
V6 and diesel option as well as the Hemi V8. The V6 saloon kicks
off at just £26,250 with the Hemi version still at a relatively
inexpensive £33,550. If the Hemi doesn't give you enough power,
you will shortly be able to buy an SRT-8 race version for £39,750.
Compare that to the price of the competition, like the Volvo
S80, BMW 5 series, the S-type Jaguar and Audi A6, that's a bargain.
The bottom line is that if you are looking for something different
to park in your executive parking space, but gets you home in
extreme comfort and if necessary, high speed, check out your
local Chrysler dealer for the new Chrysler 300-C.
The very first Chrysler Hemi engine, the Firepower V8,
was introduced in 1951, powering their top of the range cars.
The 1955 C-300 held the record as the fastest stock car
produced in the USA.
The 300 got its name from the power supplied by its Hemi
In 1956 the car was numbered 300B, and engine power jumped
Letter series 300's ran until 1965 when they stopped
with the 300L.
Rarest 300? Sixteen 1958 300D's were fitted with a Bendix
fuel-injection system, which proved troublesome. The sixteen
cars were later recalled and replaced with carburettors, although
they kept their unique badges.
In 1959 the 'early Hemi' was replaced with a potent but
cheaper to produce wedge-head V8.
The 'second generation Hemi' was introduced in 1964 for
the Daytona 500. The 426 race Hemi powered cars came in 1st,
2nd and 3rd place.
'HEMI' is named for the ultra-efficient hemispherical
(or lenticular) shaped combustion chambers.
Text by Peter Grist