21 July 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #9

It's time for another Fantasy Garage already? Well, recently I've written about moderately-sized personal cars like the Cougar and Barracuda, and I'd like to throw the Firebird into that discussion, but I'm going to hold off for now and swing back to something large and luxurious, because as I mentioned in my Matador article last week, that's still where the heart of the US car market was in the late 1960s (though a shift was underway).

I've already established that I have a thing for big four-door hardtops, which reached their style peak around the mid-to-late '60s before starting a slow fade from popularity. Among such cars, one of my favorites is the 1968 Chrysler 300. The "non-letter" 300 series was introduced in 1962 as a way to expand the expensive, limited production letter cars (like the 300F I started this series with) and bring some of their cachet to a broader, lower-priced lineup of models.
By 1966 the enormous 440 cubic-inch V8, the largest engine Chrysler Corporation produced, was standard on the 300 and other Chrysler models. (In later years many of these cars became engine donors for swaps into other Plymouth and Dodge models.) The 300 was the middle line, below the New Yorker but above the Newport Custom and Newport; its intent was to combine luxury with sportiness, which is part of why it appeals to me.

Another reason, probably the main one, is because it's one of the only four-door hardtops I'm aware of that came with standard bucket seats and an optional console at a time when four-door cars almost exclusively came with bench seats. (I believe this setup was also available on the Buick Wildcat, very much a GM counterpart to the 300, but it may be the only other one I know of; I've always been somewhat surprised that Pontiac didn't try offering a four-door hardtop version of the Grand Prix during the '60s.)
So why would I specifically choose a '68 300 (or "Three Hundred," as it appeared on the side of the car)? The final model years of 1969-'71 are nearly as appealing with their "fuselage" styling, and I'd probably be just as happy with one of those, but as is often the case, it's in the details. The body panels are identical to those of the '67, but the front end gained hidden headlights (always a bonus for me) with a red-trimmed grille dividing bar, and horizontal tail lights which I prefer to the vertical ones on the '67.

The sides of the car are fairly plain, but if you view the front end of the car from above it's heavily sculpted, with bladelike fender ends and a center peak; these are the sort of body details that started to get sanded away shortly afterward as car companies looked to reduce their engineering, design, and assembly costs. To me this car represents that period of transition at Chrysler and stands as a reminder of everything that had led up to it.

(Images from Old Car Brochures, as usual.)

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