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The Chrysler 300 Club gets back on track at International Meet

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By William Hall. Photos by the author.

It’s hard not to feel the optimism at the Chrysler 300 Club’s International Meet. From an early age we instinctually recognize smiles, and this event is full of them; upturned bumpers and toothy grilles that suggest a friendlier, forward-looking era of automotive design. Paint colors taken from comforting memories of pastel kitchen aprons, Rat Pack tuxedos, and Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats.

Under that pleasant exterior lies Chrysler’s nasty “FirePower” Hemi V-8 drivetrain, which dominated NASCAR in the late 1950’s and is universally recognized as among the first factory-produced Muscle Car powerplants.

Chrysler 300 Club

A 392 c.i. Hemi engine in a 1957 Chrysler 300C.

No accident then that the 300 Club chose to meet September 21-25th in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with proximity to Carl Kiekhaefer’s Mercury Marine test facility and the Road America racetrack; hallowed ground to fans of the privateer’s early 300 stockcar racing dynasty.

Chrysler 300 Club

If you are waiting for it to be perfect to drive it, think of all the fun you are missing in the meantime.

The club officially recognizes the 1955-1965 300 Letter Car series, each adopting successive letters (except skipping “i”) as well as the “fuselage” bodied 1970 300 Hurst. But all manner of full-size Chryslers are in attendance, reveling in their excess. About 35 cars came to the meet, in varying stages of restoration. It became apparent that this club is not afraid to drive their cars, as 300’s arrived from as far as Manitoba, Canada and Florida.

Chrysler 300 Club

Chryslers stop for root beer floats at a nearby drive-in.

An early lunch saw the club takeover Chester’s Drive-In in nearby Plymouth (really, that’s the name of the town) providing some afternoon entertainment and great photo opportunities to the friendly carhops.

Chrysler 300 Club

Lindsey and Paula Fuller’s 300F undergoes close scrutiny during points judging.

The Club’s concours points judging is comprehensive, involving an underbody inspection that calls out worn bushings, leaky shocks, and frame corrosion. However, the spirit seems constructive rather than critical; the equivalent of a free safety check for those older club members who like to log the miles on their big Mopars but perhaps not crawl under them.

Chrysler 300 Club

Not a 300 Hurst, but a very handsome Jade Green 1970 “U”-Code factory 440 car.

The rarest of the rare are here, including a 1-of-9 built 1960 300F Special, featuring the solid-lifter 400hp/413 short cross-ram motor with a French-sourced Pont-a-Mousson 4-speed manual transmission. Seven of these cars were used in racing, posting a top speed of 145 mph at Daytona. Two special order cars made it to the public; one hardtop and one convertible. This is the only one of the nine that came with air conditioning.

Chrysler 300 Club

The Holy Grail: Joe and Peggy Jordan’s 1-of-9 prototype 400hp 4-speed 300F.

An unlikely track car by today’s standards, the Chrysler 300B rumbled around Road America in 1956 during the reign of Carl Kiekhaefer’s Mercury Marine team, which would capture back-to-back championships 1955-1956, and post a season-winning percentage that still remains unbeaten. A team car graced the cover of the 1956 Road America NASCAR race program, and club members recreated the scene at Turn 12 during a sunset cruise of the 4-mile roadracing track.

Chrysler 300 Club

The front straight of Road America as seen from a 1959 Chrysler 300E convertible.

As the guy who piloted the LeMay-America’s Car Museum 1961 Chrysler 300G from Tacoma to the Detroit Auto Show in “The Drive Home” last winter and documented the journey here in Hemming’s, I have achieved a level of micro-celebrity amongst the fine folks of the 300 Club. I parlayed that notoriety into a few parade laps of Road America in the back of Bob Brown and George Collar’s exquisite 1959 300E convertible, emerging with new respect for the drivers who horsed these cars around the track in 1956.

Chrysler 300 Club

Joe Jordan at the wheel of his Best-Of-Show 300F Special.

Could it have gotten better? It did. Following his win at the Concours, Joe Jordan allowed me to get behind the wheel of his incredible 4-speed 300F Special, and I immediately realized this car was far different from any other Letter Car. The torsion of the manual driveline makes the whole car tauter, as if an invisible turnbuckle had been tightened between the front and rear ends of the chassis, revealing the true vision of the performance car the 300 was meant to be. The much-maligned French four-speed transmission gave a precise, European-feel to the shifting, but we wondered aloud about the warranty claims American drivers would have induced with their aggressive driving style. It was a rare glimpse of the true proto-muscle car; regrettably available to too few.

Joe’s passion and generosity in sharing his car was characteristic of each of the Chrysler 300 Club members. They are a warm, fun and diverse group of individuals- as varied and interesting as the array of 300’s that make up the fantastic Chrysler Letter Car series.

William Hall is a writer, collector and classic car broker based in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.