“L” – The Final Letter of the Alphabet (Well, as far as Chryslers are concerned)
By Bill Rothermel, Museum Board Member
Prior to the introduction of the intermediates in the 1960s, full-size cars carried the performance banner for domestic manufacturers. Impala Super Sport, Galaxie 500XL, Mercury Marauder S-22, and Catalina 2+2 quickly come to mind. But it was Chrysler who popularized the full-size sports car with the C-300 in 1955 — so named because it was the first automobile with a factory 300-hp rating. It began the legend for each of the next ten years when a new 300, identified by a letter of the alphabet, appeared.
The 1965 full-size Chrysler was the first to employ Elwood Engel’s signature style — squarish corners, chromed-edged fender lines, and a Thunderbird-like roofline — all design hallmarks he used while at Ford. The handsome new styling retained a strong sense of identification with past 300s by using the cross-bar grille design. Unique to 1965 were tempered glass shields for the dual headlamps. Chrysler delivered 2,405 coupes and 440 300L convertibles in 1965, the final year of Chrysler’s Letter Cars. Despite its trimmer look, the new model was three inches longer than the 1964 version, while the wheelbase increased two inches to 124 in.
The sole power choice was Chrysler’s 413-cu.in. wedge, producing 360 hp. Motor Trend reported a 0-60 mph sprint of 8.8 seconds and a 17.3-second quarter mile time at 82 mph. Most manufacturers, Chrysler included, turned their attention to increasingly popular midsize-performance models as full-size cars like the 300 lost favor… and sales.
Hershey, Pennsylvania resident and museum board member Hank Hallowell is fond of Exner and Engel Chryslers, with several of each in his collection. “I like the flamboyant styling of the Exner cars, but also the quiet elegance and conservative nature of the Engel cars,” says Hallowell. He bought his Daffodil Yel-low 300L for $1,500 on Labor Day weekend 1980.
“The guy I bought it from paid $800 three weeks earlier,” said Hallowell, referring to friend and fellow Chrysler 300 Club member Ron Chuchola, who discovered the car for sale in the Wilmington (Delaware) newspaper. He found it barely running— the original owner was living in the caretaker’s house of a cemetery. “I went with him to pick it up, and I made such a fuss over it, he sold it to me,” Hallowell quips. “That’s how quickly it became a four-owner car!”
The first of four 300Ls Hallowell has owned, this car appealed to him because of the color — a “Spring Special” available late in the model year. The car is equipped with the TorqueFlite automatic transmission, power steering, and brakes, Sure Grip rear axle, AM radio with power antenna, tilt steering wheel, whitewall tires, and a black vinyl top (which is still the original). Hallowell added Magnum 500 wheels, which became available through Mopar during the summer of 1965.
The 300L was initially owned by an accident investigator for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The car was solid, but with 155,000 miles on its odometer, it burned oil and had questionable compression, so Hallowell did a quick “ring job” on it and sent the interior out to have it re-done. The first owner traveled extensively with the car as evidenced by postcards of an LA hotel found under the back seat. Twenty years passed before the car was treated to a proper restoration.
It was first shown in 2001, whereby it received its AACA First Junior; and, one year later, its Senior Award. Hallowell remembers that day in Greensburg, Pennsylvania quite well. “It was raining. I got in the car, the windows steamed up, and I put the defroster on high. Twenty years of dust, particles, and anything else you can think of was blown all over the inside of the car.” Says Hallowell offering some sage advice, “Let that be a lesson to others.”