For much of its history, Chrysler was a frontrunner in building some of the most interesting and exciting high-performance cars Detroit had to offer. Foremost among them are the formidable early Hemi-powered Chrysler 300 “letter cars” of the 1950s, which, by virtue of their cost and long list of standard and optional features, were reserved for the wealthiest and most discerning buyers. Cloaked in handsome Virgil Exner-designed bodies and carefully engineered, the 300 series offered the ultimate in American luxury and performance. Due to low production and high cost, 1958 was also the last year that the company offered its Hemi in a full-size Chrysler. This example is painted white with a tan canvas top. It has excellent body contours and gaps with few, if any, detectable paint flaws, except for some scratches near the top of the driver’s side door, which otherwise fits and shuts very well. The lightly worn tan seats are in good condition, as is the black dashpad. The odometer shows 55,239 miles, which are believed to be original. Other interior finishes include the excellent black carpeting and the tan top boot with optional power steering, power brakes, windshield washers, a power seat, power windows and an AM radio.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 Chrysler 300D Convertible
Years Produced:1958
Number Produced:191 (convertibles)
Original List Price:$5,603
Tune Up Cost:$350
Chassis Number Location:Left front hinge post
Engine Number Location:Block behind water pump
Club Info:Chrysler 300 Club International
Alternatives:1957 Chrysler 300C convertible, 1959 Chrysler 300E convertible, 1960 Chrysler 300F convertible

This 1958 Chrysler 300D, Lot 256, sold for $198,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s John Staluppi Collection auction on December 1, 2012.

The Chrysler letter cars were produced from 1955 until 1965, and each year used a letter as the suffix, with the exception of “I,” which was not used. The first, the 1955 C-300 (300A) was really a race car aimed at NASCAR and was offered to the public for homologation purposes. It could be ordered in red, white or black, and tan leather was the only choice offered for the interior.

To maintain the race car image, there were no outside mirrors, and they quickly made their bones by running 127.52 miles per hour in the Flying Mile at the 1955 Daytona Grand National Stock Car Race.

Fuel injected — for a while

Carl Kiekhaefer, who made his fortune as the founder of Kiekhaefer Marine — later Mercury Marine — decided to use NASCAR to promote his profitable marine business. He bought Chrysler C-300s, had team uniforms and transporters, and painted his cars in team colors. All of which was unheard of in 1955. With Roger Penske-like precision, he won two National Championships until a falling out with Bill France caused him to leave the sport.

Kiekhaefer, however, continued his relationship with Chrysler, and when they installed a Bendix fuel-injection system in about 20 Chrysler 300Ds, he bought one and drove it from the Jefferson Plant to his home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He called the next day and said he did not want the car, as it only got about 10 miles to the gallon. As he had not yet paid for it, Chrysler had to send someone to retrieve the car.

Another 300D with fuel injection was sold to band leader Larry Elgart, and he was so dissatisfied with its performance that he said he was “going to drive it through the Chrysler Manhattan showroom window if he could get it running fast enough.” Needless to say, most of the cars were converted back to standard dual Carter four-barrel carburetion and the fuel-injection premium was refunded.

High speed but stalled economy

Performance was still world class, and a Chrysler 300D, equipped with the 392 Hemi that produced 380 horsepower, set a Class E speed record of 156.387 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Even with this performance, only 618 hard tops and 191 convertibles were produced, and 1958 proved to be the last year for the Firepower Hemi.

In 1958 the economy had the nation on its heels, and that, combined with an industry-wide automotive strike, reduced the number of cars built by all manufacturers. A base price of $5,603 for the 300D convertible was a major hurdle, and while the cars offered the ultimate in American luxury performance, only the wealthiest and most discerning buyers ponied up the cash.

The Walter P. Chrysler Club suggests that only 55 of the original 1958 Chrysler 300D convertibles exist; however, three others have been recently offered at auction. The SCM Platinum database shows that Mecum sold one, rated a 1-, for $121,900 at their Monterey 2012 Auction. RM sold one — an older restoration — from the O’Quinn Collection at their 2010 Amelia Island Auction for $203,500. In 2007 RM, at Amelia Island, sold another for $140,250. This scattergram hardly establishes a trend.

We’ll say that the Mecum 300D was extremely well bought, the RM O’Quinn sale was a bit aggressive due to the list of needs, and the RM Staluppi 300D was every bit of retail and a touch ahead of the market. Chrysler letter cars are hot property, and the new owner will, in due time, be on the right side of the ledger. ?

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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