While the Chrysler 300 is widely recognized as America’s first true muscle car, it was also a refined full-size automobile with abundant luxury features.
Its dual-quad 331-ci Hemi V8 delivered 300 horsepower and was the most powerful engine available to the public since the supercharged Duesenberg Model SJ.
Finished in Tango Red with a luxurious tan leather interior, this C-300 has been the subject of numerous magazine articles, and it has been a consistent and proven show winner at every major show it has entered. Accolades include the Amelia Award at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, AACA Senior Grand National honors (2008), and Best in Class at Greenwich, Hilton Head, Meadow Brook and the New England Concours. Recently detailed, this impressive C-300 is one of the finest of its kind, and it remains a great example of Chrysler’s famed “letter cars.”
|Vehicle:||1955 Chrysler C-300 2-dr hardtop|
This car, Lot S119, sold for $126,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Amelia Island sale in Amelia Island, FL, on March 10, 2012.
Stunning to look at, beautiful to the core and coupled with wildly passionate horsepower, the Chrysler C-300 would change automotive history. These magnificent machines, sculpted by Virgil Exner as part of his “Forward Look” styling brand, would come to be known as the Banker’s Hot Rod, thanks to the 300-horse Hemi paired with the relatively high entrance fee of $4,110, which was a hefty sum in 1955.
Still, well-groomed men gladly forked over their cash for the car with country club looks — and the power to flat-out light up the rear tires if one so elegantly chose to do so.
Think of it this way: If the C-300 were a lawyer, it would be a well-groomed, impeccably dressed, perfectly eloquent and well-mannered person — albeit one who would tear you apart in court.
The car was powered by Chrysler’s legendary hemispherical head engine, which was introduced in 1951. By 1955, the “Hemi” was a technological high-water mark for per-cubic-inch V8 horsepower. The 331-ci iron motivator powered the car forward with authority. The engine package, which consisted of two 4-barrel Carter carburetors, a solid-lifter camshaft and larger exhaust, produced 300 horsepower, and it was the first American production engine to do so — a remarkable achievement in 1955.
The first muscle car
Some car addicts consider the 1955 C-300 as the first true entry into the muscle car wars, which were really a marketing race in which higher horsepower led to higher sales. While a fast car always got the attention of horsepower-hungry, red-blooded, all-American males, most cars that displayed a sporty exterior didn’t offer all that much in the way of performance.
Chevrolet debuted their 265-ci V8 engine in 1955, which was another milestone, but to say they would be playing catch-up would be quite the understatement. Both Ford and Chevrolet introduced some cool new models, such as the Thunderbird and the newly designed Bel Air, but nothing got guys more fired up than discovering the all new C-300 sitting on showroom floors.
Gearheads flocked to the showroom to see it, hear it and learn more about the 300-horse Hemi under the hood. Had the car been more affordable, it might be as common today as a 1955 Shoebox Chevy (which comparatively listed at about $2,000 for the Bel Air trim level).
Still, the car was impressive and arguably sparked the boardroom discussion about unconventional horsepower in a full- to mid-size automobile — and perhaps inspired the concept of the modern muscle car.
Learning our ABCs
From a marketing standpoint, this beautiful brute would brand the horsepower output to the machine, hence the name, the C-300. The name resonated well with the public, as it was pure, easy to remember and reinforced the 300 ponies under the hood.
As the model continued in subsequent years, the horsepower grew but the name 300 stuck, with later years using different letters to differentiate the model.
In 1956, it would be known as the 300B and in 1957 the 300C, a simple-to-follow nomenclature. These series of 300s, which continued from 1955 to 1965, would become known at the “Letter Cars.” Plenty of Mopar collectors and enthusiasts yearn to house one of each in a tidy collection. Other years followed, but most enthusiasts consider the 1965 model as the end of the Letter Series cars.
Today, the first four years — 1955–58 — are considered the most sought-after examples because of the muscular Hemi V8. While horsepower ratings remained high throughout the series, there’s something about having a Hemi under the hood that melts your ice cream.
A glorious example
Our subject car is simply stunning. The list of accolades and prizes bestowed on chassis number 3N552584 is long and with considerable merit. The car carries a laundry list of high achievement that reads like the Oscars for automobiles. Amelia Island 2009, AACA Grand National Honors 2008, Best in Class at Greenwich, Hilton Head, Meadow Brook and the New England Concours. Further, we see a gorgeous C-300 that is finished in Tango Red over tan leather, one of the best color combinations. The restoration work is simply stunning. The craftsmanship and attention to detail displayed here are world-class. In a nutshell, it’s one of the best C-300s on the planet.
The market speaks with clarity
Our subject car was last seen at the RM Auctions sale in Rochester, MI, on August 1, 2009 (SCM# 142167). At that auction, the car was reported to be in 1- condition and was a no-sale with a high bid of $106,000. At Amelia Island, the car sold for $126,500, including the buyer’s premium.
According to the SCM Pocket Price Guide, we can see a buy/sell range of $40,000–$70,000. The guide tracks valuations for a typical 2 condition car. The range of prices is designed to show what you might target as a buy-in amount and what you might suggest as a proper selling value. Plus, the range is based on a 2- up through a 2+, so that allows us to project a range — much like an auction house does with their pre-sale estimates.
Digging deeper, we ventured into the SCM Platinum database and located a few good comparables we could use as foundations for our research. First up, a 1957 Chrysler 300C Sport, Lot 198, sold for $93,500 at the RM Auctions sale in Amelia Island, on March 13, 2010 (SCM# 159980). The car was reported to be in 2+ condition.
Up next, we find Lot 363, a 1955 C-300 that sold for $84,800 at the Mecum Auction sale in Indianapolis, IN, on May 17, 2011 (SCM# 181041).
Finally, another 1957 coupe, Lot 363, a 1957 300C that sold for $111,150 at the Bonhams sale in Greenwich, CT, on June 5, 2011 (SCM# 182278). This car was reported to be in 2- condition.
Our three comparison cars give us an average sale amount of $96,483 for a very nice 300 coupe that would grade in the 2 range. Our subject car appears to be in very fine condition, most likely remaining in the 1- category. Given that fact — plus the national provenance of awards from prestigious events — we need to factor in some additional value, perhaps in this case, at least 25%. This brings us to a fair market valuation of $120,603.
The 1955 C-300 models carry the most weight and value with collectors. This is not a cursory opinion. Most price guides, including SCM’s, show a gap of approximately $5,000 for the 1956 cars and $10,000 for the 1957 cars. That said, we can easily add to our fair-market valuation an additional $7,500 for the bump in value for a well-sorted 1955 C-300, which fits this car perfectly. This takes our final appraisal number to $128,103.
So, we can see that this was a fair deal for both the buyer and seller.
Provided that the car remains in stellar condition and continues to show strength at various shows, the buyer should continue to see appreciation.
However, if the new owner wants to see whether the car can live up to the claim that it’s the fastest American production car built in 1955, this Chrysler might slide in value, but it would more than make up for that paper loss with sheer enjoyment.
As a side note, perhaps it’s time to move these Letter Cars up a letter grade in the SCM Pocket Price Guide. I would suggest a “B” rating for the 1955–58 cars.