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A REMARKABLE CONTRAST in R&T road tests prompted these tidbits yesterday and today. In February 1958, the tiny BMW Isetta 300 broke the Berkeley Sport’s smallest engine tested record by 28 cc. And R&T’s April 1958’s cover of the vast Chrysler 300-D wasn’t the magazine’s attempt at any fool’s celebration.
Shorter Than One of the Royales. Introducing the 300-D, R&T wrote, “Of course, it is too big: it is 220 inches long and just short of 80 inches wide, making it 16 inches longer than the already-too-long Plymouth…. (It is shorter, by 26 inches, than the smaller Bugatti Royales!)
“One of our editors,” R&T continued, “suggests reducing the entire Chrysler line to 3/4 scale, a not-so-mad idea which might prove unexpectedly popular. But to get back to earth, they are not about to do it. The 300-D sells against Lincolns and Cadillacs, and they are big too.
Not a Sports Car, But…. “As for those who protest that it is not a sports car,” R&T said, “truer words were never spoken. It is an American prestige car, whose sports-car-derived features and characteristics make it outstanding.”
Derived Features. “The hemispherical-combustion-chambered FirePower V-8 is the outstanding example of this,” R&T wrote…. “The absence of double overhead camshafts, though logical in view of what they would have cost, was at first lamented by perfectionists. But the double rocker arms with conventional pushrods gave plenty of room for big, widely spaced valves to satisfy the volumetric efficiency addicts.”
R&T reported, “Modified versions soon appeared at Le Mans, Watkins Glen, and Elkhart Lake. [Cunninghams, for example, were Chrysler-engined.] “The first (1955) 300 took its name from its horsepower, which would be upped in succeeding years to 340, 375, and now 380 (390 with fuel injection).”
Transistor Intelligence. “At $500 extra,” R&T noted, “the Bendix electronically controlled fuel injection system will tempt few buyers with its offer of 10 more horsepower at the same 5200 rpm; torque remains unchanged. Transistors control the electrical impulses that measure out the fuel.”
Of course, today, transistors control seemingly everything.
A Tire Tradeoff. R&T said, “Nylon racing tires (Goodyear Blue Streaks) are standard, with 30 pounds pressure recommended for high speeds. They have flat spots after the car has been sitting; these worsen in direct proportion to the period of idleness but indirectly with the temperature, and disappear only after several miles.”
How Fast? How Quick? How Thirsty? R&T estimated the 300-D’s top speed at 135 mph. No comment was made about not actually achieving this. However the car proved its mettle in acceleration, with 0-60 mph from a standing start in 8.4 seconds.
To put this in perspective, R&T sports cars that year posted 0-60s of 14.1 seconds (Alfa Romeo 1300 SV Spyder), 10.5 seconds (Porsche Super Speedster), 9.4 seconds (AC Ace Aceca), 7.8 seconds (AC Bristol D-2), and 7.0 seconds (Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster). The AC Bristol was comparably priced ($5599 versus the Chrysler’s $5538); the SL Roadster was listed at $10,970.
In all this accelerative exuberance, the R&T 300-D posted an average 11-15 mpg. Gasoline was 30¢/gallon in 1958, equivalent to about $3.12/gallon today.
Summing It Up. R&T noted, “It is surprisingly easy to be fooled into thinking that this weighty behemoth is both small and light. The feathery, comparatively fast power steering, the power brakes, the torque, and the well-controlled suspension will be appreciated by above-average drivers. Overconfidence in the car’s gentle competence could be a real threat to others.”
The magazine concluded, “This is a significant car—not a sports car, but the very best Detroit has to offer in its ‘sedan class.’ An athletic but lovable Amazon.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023