The largest, most powerful battleship ever made was the WWII-era Japanese Yamato and her sister ship, Musashi. They came late to the war and didn’t survive it – in part because they were just too massive to hide themselves from the swarms of Allied dive bombers that eventually sent them to the bottom.
A parallel fate befell the Chrysler 300 convertible.
Descended from the famous “Letter Series” high-performance (and high luxury) line of large Chryslers that dated back to the 1950s, the 300 convertible had been classed 300 M convertible until 1966, when the “M” was dropped and the car became simply the 300 convertible. Chrysler was apparently trying to shift its marketing strategy for these cars by fiddling with the nomenclature. It was believed that the letter series designations had become a liability, as sales of these lead-bellied large Chryslers had been flagging for several years.
However, the truth is this was more likely due not to any defect with the names but simply because of the demographic shift of the early-mid-1960s. The new crop of Baby Boomers liked their performance cars closer to Mustang-size and meanwhile the older cadres who favored the Fulsome were getting beyond their tire-frying years. They were gravitating toward more sedately configured steamships, and had no use for the big guns of the Yamato-like Letter cars.
Still, there would be one last run for glory – just like the one-way trip of the famous Japanese battlewagon in the autumn of ’45.
It would begin in 1969.
This was the first year for Chrysler’s all-new “fuselage” look, inspired by military aviation – and the 300 convertible displayed it to full effect. Sleek, wide and low, with minimal ornamentation and ready to get down to business. The one-piece wrap-around grille seemed pressed into the front end sheetmetal and from there the stamped steel just flowed like a freshly cast lead ingot.
Riding on Chrysler’s largest wheelbase (124 inches) a 300 convertible easing into the road called forth images of an F8 Crusader turning into the wind, afterburner lit and flaps down.
The ordnance it carried was just as impressive. No less than a big-block 440 four-barrel powered the 300. It made 350 hp and 480 lbs.-ft of torque. And it was merely the standard engine. Buyers could arm up even more heavily by selecting the optional TNT version of the 440 – and enjoy the bullying force of its 375 hp. A three-speed Torquflite automatic came with either engine.
One of the many things that makes these 300 convertibles so special today was their very low production back in the day. In 1969, only 1,933 were built – vs. 16,075 hardtop coupes and another 14,464 sedans. 1970’s totals were even slimmer – just 1,077 were made. With a combined two-year production of barely more than 3,000 cars, Chrysler decided to drop the 300 convertible.
It would be the last five passenger ragtop built by Chrysler, but at least it went out with a bang – just like the Yamato some 25 years previously.
300 Things to Know –
* In 1971, Chrysler offered a Hurt conversion package which according to official records was available only with hardtop coupe versions of the 300. However, some claim that at least a handful of Hurst 300 convertibles were made. If true, they would be among the rarest and most collectible of Mopars.
* Base price for the ’69 300 convertible was $5,060 vs. $4,714 for the hardtop coupe. In 1979, the base price rose to $5,195 (convertibles) while hardtop coupes listed for $4,849.
* The 300 hardtop coupe lasted until the end of the ’71 model year, after which it was dropped. Production by then had declined to just 7,256 examples.
* In 1979, Chrysler resurrected the 300 nameplate and used it for a specially modified, high-performance version of the Cordoba coupe. It can with a 195 hp 360 V-8 but was never available in convertible form.
* The full-size Newport convertible shared the 300’s 124 inch wheelbase (also the same as the New Yorker sedan’s) and general outsized dimensions but not its performance emphasis. However, like the 300 convertible, the ’70 Newport convertible was made in exceedingly small numbers. Just 1,124 for 1970.
Excerpted from “Road Hogs” (2011) by Eric Peters; see http://www.qbookshop.com/products/147301/9780760337646/Road-Hogs.html