We've been lusting after a Hemi anything ever since the announcement that DaimlerChrysler would once again include the engine in something that wasn't a truck. Those two Mopar guys on TV driving a Duster didn't help, as the only difference between those dudes and us is they weren't wearing Car Craft T-shirts. So you can imagine our thrill when our long-shot phone call to Chrysler PR netted us a genuine Hemi street car right from the factory. We drove this car knowing the heritage behind it, and we were wondering if they'd get it right. Let's go.
Back to the '50s
To understand this car you have to go back to 1955 when Chrysler installed the Firepower 331ci Hemi in the New Yorker coupe body and added custom parts from the Windsor and Imperial trim levels to form a lighter, faster luxury sedan. The nomenclature within the company was C-300, named for the horsepower rating of the freshly tweaked engine, so the production name became the Chrysler 300. At the time, the 331 represented the first passenger-car engine to produce 300 hp and put it to use through power goodies like two four-barrel carbs and a bigger camshaft. The chassis was lightened to 4,000 pounds and had a simple unadorned interior. This was street machine stuff and was a defining point in the company's history. The 300 opened the door for the 300B, a bigger engine with more power. Soon Chrysler became the company we love, joining the horsepower wars and dominating NASCAR and drag-racing venues throughout the '60s with a group of racing and street 426 engines.
This is an original press photo from 1955. It appears the new 300 is true to its lineage.
The '05 version is called the 300C. It's not really a retro car, but it's true to the original design with the first Hemi engine in a Chrysler passenger sedan (as opposed to a Dodge or Plymouth) in nearly 50 years. We hope this is the beginning, as it was in 1955, of a series of Hemi engines in modern musclecars. The Charger is coming, but what else? The possibilities are endless.
The New Hemi
From our viewpoint, whether this is a real Hemi or not can't be argued since just as the first version went away in 1959 and reappeared as the 426 in 1964, the 345-incher represents the redesigned Hemi of today. The new engine uses the same basic combustion-chamber concept from the days of the 331 with a couple of quench areas that allow the thing to make EPA standards, and it uses the multi-displacement system (MDS), which disables four cylinders to save fuel. It's still a basic pushrod V-8 with aluminum cylinder heads and two valves per cylinder designed to accommodate large valves and put the spark plugs close to the center of the combustion chamber just like back in the day.
This new engine is a rodder's dream with a bottom-end clearly designed for punishment. A deep skirt and cross-bolted mains combined with a cam position placed high in the block make it a natural for a displacement-enhancing stroker kit. In fact, we've already heard the news about the 425hp normally aspirated 6.1L Hemi from the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) division. It will make 420 lb-ft of torque and have a bigger bore, steel crankshaft, and an orange block and black valve covers just like the Street Hemi did in 1966.
We have to give the Chrysler guys a lot of credit for actually building a performance engine based on the original engineering instead of just using the Hemi nameplate. They've put a 13-second stock 300C on the horizon.
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.
The five-speed uses an AutoStick that can be shifted like a full-manual valvebody. Or you
The stuff-stowage areas are plenty. We like the sunglasses holder and cargo net in the tru
The 300C is all about leather. It drives like a Mercedes and looks like a lead sled. We ap
The new Hemi makes 340 hp at 5,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. It's hidden under a log
The traction control (ESP) can be switched off...
...and for once, the button is right out in the open.
Vehicle: '05 Chrysler 300C
MSRP: $33,530 as tested
Exterior color: Magnesium
Interior: Jade/gray stone leather
Engine: 5.7L (345ci) Hemi, 90-degree V-8 cast-iron block, aluminum heads
Horsepower: 340 hp at 5,000 rpm
Torque: 390 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Valvetrain: OHV, two valves per cylinder, eight deactivating and eight conventional hydraulic lifters
Bore/stroke: 3.92x3.58 inches (99.5x90.9 mm)
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Redline: 5,800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Axle ratio: 3.40:1
Front suspension: Upper and lower control arms, coil springs over gas-charged shocks, antiroll bar
Rear suspension: Five-link with coil springs, gas-charged shocks, anti-roll bar
Brakes: 13.6-inch vented discs, front; 12.6-inch vented discs, rear
Wheels: 18x7.5, aluminum
Wheelbase: 120 inches
Curb weight: 4,018 pounds
Quarter-mile*: 14.27 at 98 mph
*Motor Trend, 2004