What's It Like to Drive?
Chrysler stuck to the 300C heritage while sneaking new-car amenities into the 300C's design. Immediately evident was the simple but ultra-comfy interior on the base C-model that included a few modern perks like his-and-her climate controls and digital odometer. The GPS, complicated stereo, and sunroof are all-optional equipment, so the enthusiast can order the big engine without the extra weight, uncool video display, and geeky walnut stuff (unless that's your thing). The climate control was way ahead of our street machine's for kickin' back in traffic and fighting the 100-degree-F California heat, but we'd still trade it for a huge stupid cam with the windows rolled down. Nice, but it hasn't sedated us.
The wide leather seats allowed us an old-car vibe on the inside, while the hiked-up beltline and short '50s-style pillars on the exterior made us feel a little like Bob Falfa looking for Milner's Deuce. This model was equipped with 18-inch aluminum mags, which added to the luxury look, but locals couldn't help but point out to us that the wheel cover looked like chromed plastic. It never flew off though.
The five-speed automatic transmission is built at the Indiana Transmission Plant II in Kokomo, Indiana, and uses the bitchin' AutoStick, which allows you to shift like a full-manual valvebody would or just plunk it into Drive and forget about it. The transmission has a 3.59:1 First-gear ratio and there is a 3.40:1 in the differential, so pedal-down from a stop produces a little tire smoke before the transmission selects a higher gear and takes away the feeling of acceleration. On the open road, we were expecting to feel the MDS system drop cylinders like an '85 K-car, but after driving it for a couple of hours on the freeway, we couldn't tell it happened. It's smooth.
The Hemi uses a direct-coil system that also fires the companion cylinder.
It's a big Chrysler, but it doesn't behave like any we've driven before. We don't claim to be race car drivers, but we couldn't feel the factory understeer and we had to behave very badly with the wheel and pedal to lose control. The turning circle is 38.9 feet, so U-turns and parallel parking were not a problem.
Curb appeal at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank doesn't work until you lift the hood and display the giant Hemi badges and logo. That brings in the gawkers, so be prepared to rattle off the difference between the 426 and your 345. We'd add some loud pipes for a little growl, ditch the chrome wheels for the base-level rims, get some long jeans, flip up the cuffs, and go cruising for Bettys.
Would We Buy One?
We normally don't go for new cars, but we hope people figure out how cool this one is, because if Chrysler sells a few, they'll make more Hemi stuff. For $33,000 you get loads of interior comfort, '50s style, tons of space, good rear gears, overdrive, a CD player, leather...well the list is big. The best thing is the engine. You know that the aftermarket is scrambling to assemble speed parts for this engine, and since most bolt-on power adders give you between 1.5 and 2.0 seconds on the strip, that equates to a 12-second Hemi Chrysler in the driveway, and the neighbors won't have a clue.
Nutty Hemi Trivia From DaimlerChrysler
• The Hemi appeared in the movie Phantasm and its sequel Phantasm II.
• Chrysler began work on the Hemi with a V-16 fighter engine in 1939.
• In 1955, the Chrysler 331-inch Hemi in the 300 was the first production engine to make 300 hp.
• In 1968, Dodge and Plymouth produced a small number of 426 Hemi Super Stock Darts and Barracudas.
• The 300C represents the first time a Hemi has appeared in a Chrysler in almost 50 years.