Found! 1957 Chrysler 300C worth the wait
By Angelo Van Bogart, with Bob Brown
Bob Brown and George Collar of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., have been collecting “Letter Cars” for decades — especially convertible versions. By “Letter Cars,” they mean big-finned Chrysler 300s (300-D, 300-E, 300-F, etc.) and Chevrolet Corvettes (C1, C2, C3). Other big-finned MoPar products from Dodge, De Soto and Plymouth have joined the fray, but throughout their years of collecting, Brown and Collar have never been able to land a 1957 Chrysler 300C, the first year that fins on Chrysler Corp.cars really took off toward the sky.
“We missed out on the purchase of several Chrysler 300Cs for the entire period of collecting,” Brown said. “They were either beyond our price point, or we were too late to the party. We had always hoped to add a 300C rag or hardtop, but they eluded us.”
They were beginning to think a 300C just wasn’t meant to be.
From tracking all manner of old cars and restoring and showing their “Letter Car” collection, Brown and Collar have cultivated many connections. One of them was with a man from their own town who regularly stopped by the annual finned car display at the Iola Car Show in which Brown and Collar participate.
More than a decade ago, a man began stopping at the display to speak to Brown and Collar about “Letter Cars.” It wasn’t until after several years that the man mentioned he had a “Letter Car” of his own: a desirable Chrysler 300C with the beautiful first-year “Forward Look” design and the 392-cid Hemi V-8 with dual four-barrel carburetors — the Chrysler 300 that Brown and Collar desired most.
“He would come faithfully to the Iola Car Show year after year and we would always talk,” Brown said. “Finally, he mentioned that he had a 1957 Chrysler 300C, which he intended to restore, and that’s why he was asking so many questions. I asked if I could visit him someday and see his car, and the response was always, ‘When I get it restored.’”
The cycle repeated for many years without Brown ever seeing the car, so he began to wonder if the 300C actually existed. Then, one year, the man stopped showing up at the fin car display at the show. Brown later made contact with the man’s daughter and learned he had passed away. About once a year, Brown would make contact with the man’s daughter and eventually learned the car had gone to her mother, and then her. She said her dad had instructed her to call Brown and Collar if she decided to sell the 300C, and she planned to honor his wishes.
Finally, in 2018, Brown was invited to see the car himself during his annual call to the daughter. He would finally learn if the 300C was imaginary or truly existed.
“It was winter, two feet of snow and ice, the car was covered with a half inch of dirt and filth, the windshield and side windows were so dirty that you couldn’t see the interior until you opened the doors,” Brown said, “but the excitement of seeing it for the first time made the cold less of a problem!”
Under the dirt and dust, Brown and Collar indeed found a 1957 Chrysler 300C with 1965 Wisconsin plates and 58,000 miles on the odometer. It was painted a desirable Guaguin Red color and, to boot, it was a very desirable convertible version. In their inspection, they noted the driver’s rear fender had been damaged at the fin tip and learned that was how the car came to be parked with relatively few miles and so early in its life.
“I was told that the car had rolled down a hill at the farm decades earlier and hit an oak tree,” Brown said. “It didn’t do the car any good, but the oak tree was just fine! That’s when Dad parked it 54 years earlier.”
Brown learned the Chrysler 300C had been sold new at Universal Motors in Chicago. Robert Ruhs bought it as a used car on April 15, 1964, from the original owner, who was then living in Milwaukee. Just one year after buying the 300C, Ruhs parked after it rolled into a tree. He had only enjoyed it for one year.
True to his word, Ruhs had planned to restored the 300C and in his five decades of good intentions, he had acquired a spare 1957 Chrysler rear fender to repair the tree-damaged fender, as well as a few other parts.
Upon opening the hood during their inspection, a problem was discovered — the entire engine was gone! Not to worry, the daughter assured them; her father had set it aside for a rebuild.
They were later taken to the engine at its longtime resting place, the dirt floor of Ruhs’ barn. The exotic external components such as carburetors, the unique 300C air cleaners, manifolds, Hemi valve covers and all other parts were present and accounted for.
Being stored for so many years had saved the Chrysler 300C from the ravages of most Wisconsin winters, leaving it in relatively good condition. However, it also meant the car would need restoration of all its components.
Now the excitement was building — would Brown and Collar finally get to add the 300C to their collection? And had they found their car just miles from their home? There were no definitive answers that day; they would leave knowing they’d have to continue the patience they had been practicing for years.
Finally, in 2019, the owner called to say she was ready to sell the Chrysler 300C her father had left her. Were Brown and Collar still interested? The answer, of course, was yes.
“We talked several more times last summer and finally came to an agreement to purchase the car,” Brown said. “We promised to give the car a good home and a complete restoration as her father had always wanted.
“Best of all, our search was over — this example would complete our 300 ragtop collection!”
Upon completing the purchase, Brown and Collar verified the car’s numbers and learned it was indeed a very desirable Guaguin Red 1957 Chrysler 300C convertible with its original 392-cid Hemi.
Work immediately began preparing the 300C for restoration. Coincidentally, the unibody restoration was just wrapping up on their 1960 Chrysler 300F convertible, so “the timing couldn’t have been better,” Brown said.
Already, the 300C engine has been rebuilt, the interior restored, and Brown notes new parts are arriving on an almost-daily basis. He and Collar hope to display the last letter of their “Letter Car” collection in 2021.