Here’s Your Hat: the 1965 Chrysler 300 L

Here's your hat what's your hurry? Chrysler showed the famous Letter Series the door in 1965. Source: Walter P. Chrysler Museum.
Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry? Chrysler showed the famous Letter Series the door in 1965. Source: Walter P. Chrysler Museum.

Imagine that you are Chrysler Corporation in the Sixties. You created the muscle car in 1955 with the Chrysler 300. Now, the muscle car craze rocks thanks to 300-wannabes like the Pontiac GTO. What do you do?

Cancel the 300.

Huh?

You read correctly. Chrysler trashed the Letter Series 300 at the height of the muscle car era. The 1965 300 L was the last of its kind.

Yeah, we know Chrysler discovered recycling 34 years later; let’s leave the “cab forward” 300 M in the bin. As for the asynchronous 300 C and 300 S in showrooms now, future historians can unravel that tangle of botched nomenclature later.

Good-byes are never easy.

A straight shooter. Chrysler made the cross-hair grille a 300 trademark beginning in 1960.
A straight shooter. Chrysler made the cross-hair grille a 300 trademark beginning in 1960.

Curbside critics faulted the ’65 300 L for being less than the Letter Series cars before it. Even so, the L still looked at life through a set of cross-hairs,

Chrysler deleted the dual quad, ram induction, 390hp, 413ci V8 from the 300 L options list. The L made do with a conventional four-barrel Carter carburetor and a mere 360hp at 4800rpm and 470lb-ft of torque at 3200rpm.

Ed Nelson’s “Detroit Listening Post” in Popular Mechanics asked in big letters, “What Happened to the 300L’s Missing 30 Horsepower[?]”

As recently as 1963, the Chrysler 300 J had sold with the ram induction 413 standard. That engine became optional on the ’64 300 K. Chrysler 300s equipped with 390hp 413s rocketed from 0-60mph in 8 seconds or less.

Nelson offered an explanation for what he called “a step backward” in the 300 Series.

“Apparently,” he wrote in the May 1965 issue, “the stylists won this battle with Chrysler’s engineers. The hood line is so low this year that it wasn’t possible to stuff in two four-barrel carburetors. Hence the 300L lost 30 hp.”

What would Walter Chrysler have said to that? Something unprintable, no doubt.

According to Motor Trend, the ’65 300 L took 8.8 seconds to travel from 0 to 60mph. Not bad when you consider that a contemporary Corvette with a standard 300hp, 327ci V8 took the same sprint in 7.5 seconds with less weight, interior room, and luggage space.

That was the thing about the Letter Series. Just going fast didn’t satisfy the typical owner. The 300 had to be fast, and fully able to go somewhere. Maybe that’s why Chrysler sometimes called the Letter Series “America’s Grand Touring Automobile.”

1965 Chrysler 300 L Interior with automatic was the height of sophistication in the Sixties.
1965 Chrysler 300 L Interior with automatic was the height of sophistication in the Sixties.

The L lived up to that standard. Inside the New Yorker size body, the 300 L sat five. A center console with shift lever, “performance indicator,” storage locker, courtesy lights, and rear seat cigarette lighter separated the front buckets. The passenger seat reclined.

When ordered with the no-cost, 4-speed, manual transmission, a true tachometer replaced the indicator on the console.

Like the standard Chryslers, a hide-away drawer in the dash held two ashtrays, lighter, a slotted coin sorter for toll roads and parking meters, and a compartment for odds and ends. The traditional glove box in front of the passenger hid a tissue dispenser and map holder.

The ’65 Chrysler brochure snobbishly showed the glove box loaded with golf balls, gloves, tees, and a mug of hot coffee in the cup tray.

Driving like that would have been a hot mess.

Unlike most of the new-breed muscle cars, the 300 L still bothered to carpet the trunk and give you power brakes and power steering as standard equipment.

Purists complained that Chrysler relegated the heavy-duty suspension and brakes to the options list. When so equipped, however, Motor Trend said the 300 L rivaled European sports cars for excellent handling. Heady stuff for an 18ft car weighing 4,245lbs as a two-door hardtop, slightly less in convertible form.

Purists resented the lack of choice in rear axle ratios, too; 3.23:1 or nothing even with the optional Sure Grip differential.

The public didn’t seemed to mind. Chrysler sold 2,845 300 Ls, making the L the second most popular Letter Car in the series.

According to Chrysler 300 author Robert Ackerson, plans for a Hemi-powered 1966 300 M died during planing in 1965.

If only.