CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

6.4 litres of nostalgia

I was reading Hemmings the other night and came across one of the two cars on my bucket list: a fully restored 1957 Chrysler 300 C with a 392 Hemi. The car was located on the west coast, nowhere near me. I got in touch with the seller, and he agreed to pick me up at the airport. I bought a round trip ticket online and packed a small suitcase. After enduring terrible harassment from my wife, I left the next day. After a 5+ hour flight I land in LA. We drive an hour to the guy’s house, and there it was, showroom new in black with tan leather interior. The guy shows me a large attached case with pictures, invoices, and other information documenting the restoration. I saw that the drive-train had been rebuilt by a Mopar expert that I know, so I knew it was ok. Owner hands me the keys and says let’s go for a ride. I slid behind the wheel and waves of nostalgia crashed over me. I hadn’t driven one of these in over 50 years. I turned the ignition key on, pumped the gas once, and pushed the Neutral button to crank it. The big Hemi fired quickly, and the sound made me tingle. The steering wheel is huge compared to the present day. The accelerater pedal is long, narrow, and floor mounted. The brake pedal is around 15" wide to aid left foot braking. I lower the window, and the smell is one that used to be common but is rare today, the smell of unburned fuel. Foot on the brake, push the Reverse button, reach down and twist the umbrella handle parking brake to release it, and we back slowly down the driveway. Seller directs me to a freeway entrance a couple blocks away. I ask him how many miles it’s been since the engine was built, and he says “600, so you can open it up on the freeway”. I was smiling like an idiot. We get to the entrance, traffic was light, and I punched it. There is no way to describe the sound of air being pulled into that big engine through two unsilenced air cleaners on top of two Carter four barrel carburetors at full throttle, but it was magical. The torque-flite shifted into high at 85mph,as it was designed to do. The car handled like it was on rails, which is impressive for a 4,600 lb, 126" wheelbase car. Brakes were typical of the era (lousy). Cabin was noisy and ride was too firm for my taste. Acceration from a standing start was… interesting. Getting started without spinning the wheels was difficult, but once the tires grabbed, it was amazing. We drive back to the guy’s house and put the car on his lift. The underside of this car was as nice as the topside. After some more discussion, sanity prevailed and I decided not to buy this magnificent car. I could not justify spending $100K on a toy that I might play with 3 or 4 times a year. I did get a trip 60 years back in time for the price of a plane ticket.

On the flight home, I reflected on what we’ve gained and lost in 60 years.
That will follow in a second post, tomorrow, this one is too long already.

6 Likes

I definitely recall the transmission push-buttons and that wide brake-pedal from my parent’s Windsor of similar vintage. Does yours crank by pushing on a button on the floor with your foot? I think that’s the way the Windsor got cranked. Regarding the brakes, hmm … the Windsor’s brakes were a little — lets say – “touchy” … Applying the brakes was sort of like going on a roller coaster in that car, pitching forward and backward … lol

That was also one of my dream cars. Did you Know the 56 300 was faster? The sleeker looking 57 had more wind resistance due to the roof protruding forward over the windshield and the large concave headlight buckets that were designed for quad headlights but were fitted with a single bulb on each side because the laws could not be changed in time.
I had a 56 Desoto Fireflight with the same 126" wheelbase that had similar performance to the 56 Chrysler New Yorker even though the Desoto only had 330 cubes to the New Yorker’s 354. The medium block Desoto engine was lighter with closer bore spacing and the tires were narrower and lighter, 7.60s vs 8.20s.

Those cars were extremely tuneable. Mine did 0-60 in 10.5 when I got it and with just a few changes got down to 8.5.

Amoco unleaded high test (hemi’s plugs lead fouled easily) let me bump the timing 6 degrees, one step colder plugs,Mallory points in the dual point distributor eliminated the point bounce at 5000 rpm and moved the low to high upshift from 60 t0 70. Run the transmission a quart low and loosen the fan belt a little and it was time to go Olds 88 hunting.

1 Like

All the 57’s were cranked by pushing the Neutral button past a detent.

Great experience for you for the price of a airplane ticket.

Maybe you knew the car was overpriced. Hagerty has these valued at $78,900 in Concours condition and $55,400 in Excellent condition. He may have every penny of $100K in the restoration but the market is what the market is.

if you have the money to spend on a collector car and you really want it than go for it
i was at a big car show and talked to a shop owner and he said he had just sold a 50’s rig for 230k. he said the buyer wanted the specific car he had done and was willing to pay. shop owner seemed happy
like the cars on hand built hot rods show. i bet they are 200k at least

While I would definitely take a 300, always preferred the way Dodge designed the chrome and two tone paint on the 57-59 bodies. So for me it would be a D500.

If I am going to pick my very favorite early hemi it would be the 57 Desoto Adventurer in black and gold. 345 cubic inches, 345 horsepower.

@oldtimer_11 Man I was sitting with you the whole way. Those 57-58 Plymouth, Desotos, Chryslers were among my favorites. My BIL had a 58 Desoto and when he came to town sometimes we’d end up drag racing one of his friends with a 55 Desoto. I don’t remember who won but just enjoyed the ride.

I was a jealous nine year old back then but one of the neighbor kids dad was a body man at the Plymouth garage. He put his talents to work making a replica fiberglass 57 Plymouth little car for him. Powered by one of the old Maytag putt putt motors so it didn’t go very fast. The kid would never give anyone a ride though or let any of us drive it. Then when 58 hit, he changed the headlights to update it to a 58. I really wanted one of those. Then down the street a half mile, another kid had a replica 57 Mercury electric car. His dad owned the Mercury garage. I did run into him about ten years ago at a retirement event and we talked about that electric car he had. He didn’t even know what became of it. What I would have done to have one.