Chrysler chose the Detroit Auto Show to introduce their 300 Hemi C Convertible concept, and that concept to reintroduce their famed Hemi engine. In a way, Chrysler was re-reintroducing their hemispherical combustion chamber design since it was actually the third chapter.
Hemispherical engines trace back to the early 20th century but were found mostly in European applications; however, American luxury maker Stutz employed the design by 1912. Chrysler debuted its version for 1951 and labeled it FirePower. It was later used in Dodges and DeSotos, named Red Ram and Fire Dome, respectively. That line ceased in 1958.
The next chapter started in 1964 when it was officially branded “Hemi” and, with DeSoto gone, Plymouth got in on it. That line ceased in 1971. Hemi’s third and current chapter started in 2003 (and is now technically written “HEMI”), with Jeep having subsequently been added to the recipient’s list, as well the Ram brand.
So, do you know the genesis of the 300 model name and its letter series? To start, the first letter used in the series was not an A. That’s because, going back to their earliest models, Chrysler used an alphanumeric coding system which sometimes doubled as the model name and, by 1933, all Chrysler model codes started with the letter C (for example, the 1948 Saratoga was C-39K, while the 1951 New Yorker was C-52). That practice lasted until 1973 when alternative letters were again used to start the code.
Before you think you have it figured out, the 1955 C-300’s code was not C-300. It was actually C-68 which, signifying nothing more than model chronology, was dull. Whereas, by pretending codes C-69 through C-299 didn’t exist, code C-300 would coincidentally match the car’s horsepower rating and make for an exciting model name. Thus, C-300 was coined. Logically, for its second year, the model name was scrambled to 300B. From there, however, the letters advanced orderly, by one each model year, with the last of Chrysler’s original letter series cars ending at L, in 1965. Did you notice that makes for one too many letters? Presumably to avoid confusion with the Roman numeral one, there was no “I” in the series.
The letter cars resumed in 1999 with the 300M built on Chrysler’s prolific, front-wheel-drive LH platform. While it was handsome and a relatively fine car, regarding it as a true 300 letter car was a stretch. That brings us to our subject concept car, the 2000 Chrysler 300 Hemi C Convertible. While the name’s “300” and “C” merely pay an homage to heritage, the “Hemi” part was a thing of substance.
Chrysler referred to this concept as the “most ultimate-ever Chrysler” and, although I might disagree (only because Chrysler has had some real winners), I think this certainly ranks high for exterior style alone. I was unable to determine for certain which platform Chrysler used for this exercise but, thanks to its rear-wheel-drive architecture, it was long and low slung, very low. In fact, it sat more than seven inches lower than a contemporary Chrysler Sebring convertible and half an inch lower than a 2016 Corvette Stingray—despite seating four.
Its antiseptic interior was done in soothing Light Taupe with California Walnut accents. Certainly an uncluttered and orderly environment but this was from the beginning of what I considered Chrysler’s interior malaise period. The switchgear, admittedly growing old now, looks swiped from a budget VCR rather than high-end electronics one would expect to accompany a vehicle of this caliber.
From what I’ve read, the 300 Hemi C Convertible concept included a power-operated, walnut paneled tonneau cover that transformed the car into a two-seater by concealing the rear seats. It was equipped with a fingerprint scanner to bolster security; the vehicle would not function if the driver’s fingerprint and picture didn’t match the system’s information database. Once approved and situated, the Infotronic system would take commands verbally. Rollover safety was provided by way of a mid-car, pop-up rollbar that was pneumatically-deployed when necessary.
Chrysler’s restraint in surfacing details, and extraneous folds and creases allow the proportions to shine. The star, to me, is the long, flat hood line and the passive-aggressive front fenders that straddle luxury and sport. Even the third brake light is elegantly integrated. All the while the designers managed to bridge the gap to the then current 300M with easily identifiable cues, such as the front and rear lights.
My opinion, even today, is that something like this would make an excellent LeBaron revival. Luxury and even premium brands need a flagship-type vehicle to carry the name and sadly Chrysler is still wanting.