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      Car History: Car History Year 1955
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 00:13:35 UTC by Cars
      Cars Back in '55, cars were generally regarded as being for family use and categorized by body style - sedan, coupe, convertible or station wagon. If you wanted a sports car, you could look to Chevrolet's Corvette or to the Ford Thunderbird, or maybe even consider one of those itty-bitty European jobs. Combining the two as a sports-type passenger car wasn't really an option.

    However, then came the Chrysler C-300, Styled by Virgil Exner, engineered by Robert M. Roger and powered by the legendary Chrysler FirePower Hemi V8, it was a revelation. Fast enough in standard form to set speed records over 127mph, and win NASCAR races when modified, the 2-door hardtop coupe could also seat six people in comfort. Part of the completely new-look Chrysler line in 1955, dubbed the "100 Million Dollar Look," it heralded a massive upturn in the marque's success as sales leapt an astounding 50 over the previous year. At the very heart of the C-300 was the Hemi engine - so called because of its hemispherically-shaped combustion chambers - a configuration long regarded by engine experts as being the most efficient for producing maximum power. The problem with this design was that the valves were canted over at an angle to fit in to the hemi chamber and it required two rocker shafts and a complex arrangement of pushrods and varying lengths of rocker arms to make it work. This increased the cost of manufacturing the cylinder heads and the Hemi was replaced in 1959 by a more conventional wedge-head design. Introduced in 1951, the Hemi displaced 331 cu.in. and pumped out an impressive 300 horsepower at 5,200rpm - providing the inspiration for the 300 Series name. As fitted to the '55 C-300, breathing through twin four-barrel carburetors with a full-race camshaft and an 8.5:1 compression ratio, the Hemi quickly earned Chrysler the "US Speed Champ" title. Naturally, the cars were great for racing and Tim Flock qualified a Chrysler on the pole at Daytona in 1955 and went on to win the race. He repeated the feat a year later and there's no doubt that the 300 Series would have been a major force in motor racing for some years if the manufacturers hadn't withdrawn it from competition in 1957. The body design of the 1955 Chryslers evolved from a long line of concept cars built by Ghia in Italy under instruction from famed stylist Virgil Exner. The result was a complete break from Chrysler's previous "engineering-led" policy pursued by company president K. T. Keller, who had by now retired. His successor, Lester L. "Tex" Colbert, got rid of the old six cylinder engines and gave the styling department a freedom that was to produce some of the most striking automobiles of the Fifties under the "Forward Look"banner. The C-300 was produced to compete with the limited-production Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird sports cars; not so much for sales purposes, but more to improve Chrysier's performance image. Unable to create a special 2-seater model (although Ghia show cars of this configuration had been designed by Exner), Chrysler used what they had got. The starting point was a New Yorker 2-door hardtop body, with rear quarters from the The C-300 was produced to compete with the limited-production Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird sports cars; not so much for sales purposes, but more to improve Chrysler's performance image. Unable to create a special 2-seater model (although Ghia show cars of this configuration had been designed by Exner), Chrysler used what they had got. The starting point was a New Yorker 2-door hardtop body, with rear quarters from the Windsor and the grille from the Imperial to add prestige, although the New Yorker front bumper was retained. The C-300 was a complete contrast to most other offerings of the time, when garish two-tone paint jobs and an excess of chrome was deemed the way to go. It had very little ornamentation, not even outside mirrors, and was only available in three colors - red, white and black. Even without its outstanding performance, this elegance would have set the C-300 apart from the rest. In 1955, this model represented status, luxury and performance in an exclusive package that was priced beyond the reach of the general public. Rather surprisingly for such an expensive automobile (it was just about double the price of a Chevrolet or Ford), the C-300 didn't have air conditioning - even as a factory option. Another omission from the performance point of view was that the disk brakes used on the Imperial weren't included in the specification, although the drums all round with power assistance were thought to be more than adequate. Uprated springs and heavy duty shock absorbers helped put the cornering capability in a superior class when compared to the Chrysler models, and a beefed-up PowerFlite automatic transmission with a higher stall speed torque converter produced rapid acceleration - 0-60mph in under 10 seconds. Options such as power steering, power windows, radio, heater, tinted glass, and four-way power adjustable front bench seat could all be used to enhance the tan leather and vinyl trimmed interior. Regarded as highly desirable today, was the possibility of having Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels fitted at a whopping $600 a set. It goes without saying that this exclusivity would result in very few C-300 models being produced, only 1,725 in fact, and it is estimated that there are approximately two hundred survivors. But the influence of the C-300 went far beyond mere sales figures. It was to be the founding member of a legendary automotive dynasty - the so-called Letter Series Chryslers. Following the favorable reactions from the media to the '55 offering, the following year a face-lifted 1956 version was designated the 300B. This became an annual feature of the Chrysler model line-up, with a change of suffix letter, until the final 300L in 1965 -although the 300 Series itself lasted as a distinct model group until 1971. As was the trend, all American automobiles were getting longer, lower and wide and size was an important aspect of the C-300 (and all the other 1955 Chrysler models). However, the extra inches on length and width had some unforeseen side effects. While a three inch longer car might not make much difference parked on the driveway, nose-to-tail on the assembly line it soon added up and manufacturers found themselves having to extend their production Sines by up to 30 feet to accommodate the new designs. Police and city officials also voiced doubts over how these bigger cars were going to fit into existing parking places. In purely economic terms, 1955 was a boom year in the auto industry with nearly 8 million cars being churned out by Detroit. Disneyland opened in California, the rock 'n' roll era arrived with Bill Haley and his Comets topping the charts with "Rock Around The Clock" and the minimum wage was raised to $1 per hour. On the flip side, Martin Luther King was leading a bus boycott in Alabama protesting against segregation, and James Dean died in an auto accident. There were many great cars made that year, but the merits of the Chrysler FirePower Hemi engine cannot be denied and, equally, it is impossible to ignore the sheer class of Virgil Exner's design. If ever there was a prize for the perfect combination of performance and appearance, then the '55 Chrysler C-300 must surely rank as one of the top contenders of all time. Specification CHRYSLER C-300 Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 331.1cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.81 x 3.63 ins. Horsepower 300 Body styles Hardtop coupe No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 4,000 Ibs Price $4,110 Produced 1,725     Specification DODGE CUSTOM LANCER CONVERTIBLE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 270.1cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.63x3.25 ins. Horsepower 193 Body styles Convertible coupe No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,610 lbs Price $2,748 Produced 3,302     Specification CADILLAC SERIES 62 Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 331cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.81x3.63 ins. Horsepower 250 (270 for Eldorado) Body styles Coupe de Ville; Convertible coupe; Eldorado convertible No. of seats 6 Weight (lbs) 4,358 Ibs-4,809Ibs Price $3,882 - $6,286 Produced -   Specification CHEVROLET BEL AIR Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 265 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.75x3.0 ins. Horsepower 180 Body styles 2 door sedan;4 door sedan; Beauville wagon; Nomad wagon; Del ray coupe; Handyman coupe; Hardtop coupe No. of seats 5-6 Weight (lbs) 3,140 Ibs-3,370 Ibs Price $1,888-$2,571 Produced 773,240  
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