The first in a range of iconic machines that came to be known as the Letter Cars, the Chrysler C300 is widely considered the first American muscle car. Its story is intertwined with that of Robert MacGregor Rodger, Chrysler's young chief engineer. Part of the team that launched the brand's first Hemi V8 back in 1951, Rodger was disheartened by the fact that Chrysler did not have a production car that was good enough to handle the performance of his 331 cubic-inch Hemis, which were beginning to dominate the drag racing scene and making a mark at Le Mans in Briggs Cunningham-built cars.
Since the corporation didn't have enough budget to develop a special car from scratch to showcase the Hemi, Rodgers, with help from chief designer Virgil Exner, envisioned a new car that would borrow styling and parts from three existing Chrysler cars. Bolting the Imperial's nose on to a New Yorker's hard-top two-door body and the Windsor's rear quarter, they produced a brand-new car, which was introduced in 1955 as the C300. With two four-barrel carburettors, a solid lifter cam, large dual exhausts and special manifolds, the 5.4-litre Hemi under the C300's long bonnet produced 300 horsepower, helping the car breeze through to 100kph in just about 10 seconds and hit a speed of over 200kph.
Not only the most powerful production car of its time, it also handled like a dream thanks to its heavy-duty suspension, which was uprated to cope with the extra power. It was also one of the most elegantly designed American cars of the era, with its smooth, flowing lines and restrained use of chrome.
But it was not just on the road that the C300 established its name. A fleet of C300s fielded by Mercury Outboard founder Carl Kiekhaefer dominated Chevys and Fords in the 1955 Nascar Grand National season with driver Tim Flock taking the Drivers' Championship and winning 18 of the 38 races he entered. It also won the AAA Championship and finished first-in-class at Daytona's Flying Mile.
A legend was born, and while the C300 was a limited-production model, it spawned a line of so-called Letter Cars to which the current 300C traces its roots.
Understandably getting hold of a 1955 C300 today is going to be a very expensive mission. Beware of unscrupulous dealers who might try to sell non-letter Chrysler 300-series cars from the Sixties and Seventies as classics.
If you find one, then be sure it has all the important bits intact, as sourcing parts is virtually impossible today.