Mecum Auctions is offering this elegant Chrysler C-300 at its 12-13 December sale in Austin, Texas
Range-topping American cars of the 1950s are not exactly known for their restraint and, although the era of tailfins and chrome didn’t reach its gaudy peak until the end of the decade, when models such as the ’59 Cadillac Eldorado and the blingtastic ’58 Buick Century Caballero Estate Wagon blobbed along the roads of the USA, most manufacturers and stylists had taken leave of their senses years earlier.
It is a miracle, then, that the Chrysler C-300 appeared as it did at its launch in 1955 – well-proportioned, remarkably coherent considering it was cobbled together from existing designs, and wonderfully clean and understated. It wasn’t entirely sensible, of course. For a two-door it was vast, measuring 219in long, and lurking under the hood was the most powerful mass-production engine in the world: Chrysler’s 300bhp, 331ci Hemi V8.
If those numbers seem a bit meaningless, allow us to provide some context. No US marque had offered 300bhp in a factory-spec car since Duesenberg had unveiled the astronomically expensive supercharged SJ in 1932, and Chrysler ran away with the NASCAR Grand National in ’55 because most other cars on the grid were giving up somewhere in the region of 70bhp to the C-300.
You could make an argument that the C-300 was the first muscle car and the first Q-car. Although it was a bit noisy at speed and didn’t ride as softly as its contemporaries (it was stiffened to improve handling and roadholding), it was sufficiently unassuming to be billed by journalists as a ‘gentleman’s express’.
It’s a first-rate classic by just about any measure you’d care to think up but, despite its importance, quality and rarity (only 1725 were built and around 250 are known to survive), the C-300 has never quite caught the imagination of the market, and prices are all over the shop. The pre-sale estimate on the Tango Red car pictured below, which has been restored to concours standard and has done only 53,000 miles, is $85,000-120,000. The higher number represents top money for a C-300, but re-read the previous four paragraphs and tell us it doesn’t make sense.