Rebirth of a classic beast

BY Larry D'Argis. Nov 04 04:00 am

By the mid-1950s, luxury, style and performance were all on the menu when it came to the high-priced field. Buyers not only wanted the latest designs — with parlour-like comfort and panache — but they also wanted the horsepower to go along with it and leave the competition in the dust.

In 1955, Chrysler drew first blood with the new 300 series. Based on the luxurious New Yorker line, the 300 was the most powerful automobile of the year thanks to its modified 331 cubic-inch Hemi V-8, producing 300 horsepower.

Dual four-barrel carburetors, a racing camshaft and heavy-duty suspension brought out the beast, but Chrysler wrapped it all in a high-class, two-door hardtop coupe, with a leather interior and styling cues from the posh Imperial.

Followed in 1956 with the 340 horsepower Chrysler 300 B, the letter series was born. For 1957, a completely new 300 C car would emerge with styling that coupled the new Jet Age looks with even more performance. The early Hemi V-8 was now enlarged to 392 cubic-inches and developed a staggering 375 horsepower. Offered in both hardtop and convertible models, production figures were low, but bragging rights were high. This was the car for discerning enthusiasts.

Road test reports in the 1950s were steadfastly reported by Mechanic Illustrated magazine. Automotive journalist Tom McCahill was noted for his use of extreme metaphors and similes in his prose that almost brought the vehicles on the page to life. So much so, that many of the baby boomer generation, grew up with McCahill’s recommendations.

For Winnipeg’s Lindsey Fuller, it was McCahill’s 1950s road tests of the early 300 letter series cars that led him to his first foray into the old car hobby.

“My father didn’t drive, but he bought the magazines for their projects,” Fuller says. “For me, reading about these specialty vehicles left an indelible memory.”

In 1992, Fuller was waiting in a checkout line at Safeway to pay for his purchases when he thumbed through an Old Car Trader magazine and saw a white 1959 Chrysler 300 E for sale in Edmonton, Alta. Reasonably priced, he made a deal over the telephone after having his cousin look it over and headed to Edmonton with the family to pick up the car.

“Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, because the car was pretty tired, but it did make the 900 mile trip without any problems,” Fuller says.

Highly optioned from the factory, the 300 E came with power steering, power brakes, power windows, six-way power swivel front seats, Solex-tinted glass, day/night mirror, sure-grip differential, “Mirror-Matic” adjustable side-view mirror and “Auto-Pilot” cruise control.

The 300 E is a massive car with a “Forward Look” grille, high swept rear fin styling and a restrained use of chrome side trim. With a 126-inch wheelbase and weighing in at 4,300 pounds, the 300 E was still quite a performer. Thanks to a performance-inspired suspension with large drum brakes, the car handled and stopped very well and with the powerful V-8, 0-60 m.p.h. times were in the 8.3 second range.

Fuller drove the 300 E and made mechanical repairs as needed, but by 2007 it was time to get serious about doing a full restoration on the car. Disassembly and reassembly was done by Fuller with the help of Wally Breer and Randy Koop of Mitchell, Man.

The car had some rust issues and had been hit in the rear quarter panel, so there was considerable body filler and fiberglass repairs that had to be stripped off.

“The deeper we got, the worse things looked. So we got a parts car and used that rear quarter panel for the repair,” Fuller says.

The frame was cleaned, painted and all-new brakes, suspension and steering components were installed. New Coker wide whitewall radial tires roll with the original full wheel covers.

Koop got the body back into shape and laid down a new base/clear Cameo Tan paint finish, which is the correct colour for the car. Breer rebuilt the three-speed, push-button TorqueFlite automatic transmission and took on refurbishing car’s electrical system.

For the engine, Fuller went to see Aime Verrier in LaBroquerie, to rebuild the 300 E’s powerplant to factory specifications.

For 1959, a new wedge head Golden Lion 413 cubic-inch V-8 replaced the costly to produce 392 Hemi V-8. The wedge motor had many advancements over the first-generation Hemi, with its additional displacement, light weight casting and a reduced production cost. It was the wave of the future for the big Chrysler cars. With 10.1:1 compression and dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors, the 413 cranked out a very healthy 380 hp at 5,000 r.p.m.

All of the glass was all good, except the front windshield was delaminating in the corners, so Otto Szalai of Otto’s Custom Upholstery, in Beausejour replaced it with one from the parts car and installed the newly upholstered in tan ultra-leather interior upholstery.

With the restoration completed in 2009, Fuller and his wife, Paula, have enjoyed many trips and cruises in the 300 E.

Members of the Manitoba Mopar Association since 1992, their 300 E is a true representation of what power and performance was all about in the late 1950s.

There were 550 hardtop 300 E models produced in 1959 and there are 104 known to exist today. Their ride and styling are still unmatched and highway speeds are virtually effortless, making these banker’s hot rods the ultimate highway cruiser both then and now.

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