Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Don Verhoff is a modest, low-key guy who just happens to like really fast cars. He doesn’t make a big deal about them, but chances are if it’s got wheels and it’s in Verhoff’s garage, it’s really fast.
So it’s only fitting that when Verhoff was in the market for a finned-era Mopar a few years back that he stumbled up perhaps the fastest specimen of the time — a sweet 1961 Chrysler 300-G hardtop. Make no mistake, among all the fast company in his garage, the fancy and horsepower-packed Chrysler with the prominent fins fits right in.
“It was called the banker’s hot rod at the time. It was the fastest car on the road, even the Corvettes — nobody had anything close to 300 hp,” chuckles Verhoff, a resident of Oshkosh, Wis. “This thing would outrun anything on the road at the time.”
Verhoff swears he wasn’t in the market for another swift car when he got the bug to find himself a finned Dodge-Chrysler-Plymouth back in the late 1990s. Somehow, fast cars find him even when he’s not looking.
“I was looking for a mid- to late-‘60s Dodge or Plymouth with a Hemi in it, and my brother-in-law was in the State Highway Patrol in Ohio, and he knew where everything was," Verhoff recalled. “He said, 'I’ve found this car and I think you might like it'. I asked what it was, and he said, 'It’s a Chrysler.' I said, ‘Eh, I don’t really have the money and it wasn’t really what I was looking for.’ But he said I really should take a look at it.
“So he sent me a picture and the number of the lady who had it. They had it at [the] Auburn [auction] and it was the last car of the day and it didn’t sell. It didn’t meet reserve. This was in 1997. So she took it home and she had it for a couple years after the auction and she had gotten rid of all the rest of the cars that they had. I don’t know how many cars they had. I know they had Duesenbergs and Auburns and a whole bunch of other cars. This was their hot rod. He bought it because it was fast and she wouldn’t give it to the kids because it was too fast of a car... So I called the lady up and offered her the last bid, and she said, ‘Well, I’d really like to have more for it.’ I said, ‘Well, how much do you want?’ So she thought about it and said, ‘I’ll take your offer.’ So I went down there sight-unseen and picked it up in Ryan, Ohio.”
Chrysler’s Cool Cruiser
Car Life called the Chrysler 300-G “the best road car on the market.” Chrysler called it “the brand-new 1961 version of Chrysler’s championship breed of rare motorcars. A limited-edition automobile, precision built for the connoisseur of careful craftsmanship and superb engineering.”
The 300-G’s suspension had front torsion bars that were approximately 33 percent stiffer than standard. The 60-inch leaf springs were 9 percent stiffer than stock. The 1.38-inch shock absorbers were considerably larger than units found on other Chryslers. The tires were 8.00 x 15 Goodyear Blue Streak Super Sport high-performance whitewalls.
The 300-G continued to use Chrysler’s 413-cid wedge V-8 with 375 hp at 5000 rpm and 495 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2800 rpm. This engine had 30-inch ram-induction tubes that increased torque up to 10 percent in the mid-engine range. Dual Carter four-barrel carbs were carried over. As with the 300-F, Chrysler offered a 400-hp option for the 300-G. This V-8 had solid lifters, “short” induction tubes, slightly larger carburetors and a longer-duration (284- to 268-degree) cam. The short rams reduced maximum torque to 465 lbs.-ft. at 3600 rpm. The 300-G’s standard axle ratio was 3.23:1. This change gave the G a slight top speed advantage over the F.
The push-button-controlled transmission gave test results 0-to-60 mph in 8.4 seconds and the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds at 87.4 mph. Top speed of the 300-G was reported by Car Life to be 131 mph. At Daytona, a 300-G running with the optional 2.93:1 axle ratio won the NASCAR Flying Mile Championship with a two-way average of 143.0 mph. A 300-G also won the NASCAR Standing Mile Championship with a speed of 90.7 mph.
Replacing the four-speed Pont-a-Mousson manual transmission as an alternative to TorqueFlite was a heavy-duty three-speed Chrysler-built gearbox. A manual transmission 300-G had almost identical acceleration times as the TorqueFlite version.
The appearance of the 300-G was altered by the use of an inverted grille shape and the relocation of the taillights from the fins to above the rear bumper. Other revisions included a redesign of the headlights, reshaping the canted tailfins and replacing the (optional) Imperial-like trunk lid with a ribbed unit. Interior revisions were highlighted by a speedometer that read from 0 to 150 mph in single-mph intervals, a black finish for the painted sections of the dash and changes in the design of the dash panel padding and seat perforation. Numerous options were available, such as air conditioning, remote-control exterior mirrors, six-way power seat, power door locks and a “Sure-Grip” differential.
Letter Car production was the highest since 1955. A total of 1,617 Chrysler 300-Gs—1,280 hardtops and 337 convertibles—were manufactured. Respective prices for the hardtop and convertible were $5,413 and $5,843.
Discovering a gem
Even though he hadn’t driven the 300-G or seen it in person, Verhoff smelled a bargain and a keeper when he began to learn about the car and he figured out almost immediately that he had made a good deal.
“The price was good I thought because the value of these was starting to climb, and this was all-original. This was a car I liked because I like cars as close to original as possible,” he said. “[The husband] was the original owner. They just used it in the summer as a fun car, that’s what she said. They didn’t drive it in the wintertime. It’s a totally rust-free car.”
After some long periods of inactivity, the Chrysler needed some sprucing up and TLC, but mechanically and cosmetically it remained wonderfully solid. “I’ve put a new seat kit in it and last year we pulled the engine and put all new seals on it because it was leaking oil out of everywhere,” Verhoff laughed. “It was running fine, but it was leaking all over. So we put all new seals in the engine and transmission and put it all back together.
“We re-did the interior and brushed it all … put a new dash pad in, re-did the steering wheel … The paint is still very good. It got it’s second paint job in ’95. Whoever painted it really did a good job. The reason they painted it is the guy’s youngest daughter wanted to use it when she got married. And she did, and then shortly after that he passed away.”
Part of Verhoff’s fascination with the 1961 300-G is it’s unique dual-four barrel setup with the prominent ram induction tubes and all the linkage required to synch everything together. “I never liked all the detailing. I’m an engineer, so the mechanical stuff is my thing — tuning the car up and getting those carburetors to work together instead of just talking to each other," he says. "But once you get them working together, boy, it really runs great.
"You gotta really spend your time getting those linkages set correctly. If you don’t get them set right, those carburetors, like I say, they talk to each other in stead of working together. But when you get them opening up right, you stomp on it and away you go.”
An endangered species
Only 1,617 of the hot Chrysler 300s were built for the 1961 model year, and it’s believed that less than 350 of the 1,280 hardtops remain. As a collector car, the “banker’s hot rods” have a lot going for them — they are gorgeous, scarce and able to turn copious amounts of oxygen and gasoline into exhilarating straight-line speed.
Verhoff has been known to leave some marks on the pavement with his Dodge Viper, 2007 Charger SRT-8, 1968 Plymouth GTX and ’68 Dodge R/T, 1966 Hemi Coronet and 1965 Coronet 440 Six-Pack. He makes sure all of them, and the Chrysler 300-G, get properly exercised.
“Yeah, how does that Beach Boys song go?,” he says with a grin “Line it up and blow it out?”
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