Collecting the Alphabet
By Randy Guyer
It generally takes 3 years to produce a car from concept to manufacture.
Imagine being a mid-century, American auto manufacturer and trying to predict what the hot, new thing will be in 3 years. Will the idea of a new body-style, feature, technology still be relevant, desirable, and/or affordable in 3 years to support mass production and yield a profit?
Every design decision can affect success or failure, potentially costing millions of dollars.
Some cars have been hugely successful such as the ’55 Chevy and the Ford T-bird which sold well into the millions of units. Others, not so much, like the Edsel. But sometimes the success of a particular design or edition cannot be measured in units sold.
Often when it comes to the luxury vehicle, for instance, the intention is to produce in limited quantities, as seen with the Cadillac El Dorado, or the Continental Mark II etc. These cars are built to show what is possible – new technology – and that the manufacturer has the capability to produce something that is supremely the best and that gives them credence to also sell cars in the lower price brackets where the volume and profits are.
Some cars are targeted to the luxury market and some to the sports market, but few are targeted at both.
During the late 50’s and early 60’s the Ford Thunderbirds and Chrysler 300 Letter Cars are a couple that dared to hybridize these markets and they did it with great success!
Letter Cars (as we call them today), also referred to as “beautiful brutes” or “banker’s hot rods,” were produced in very small quantities from 1955-1965.
The term “banker’s hot rod” is used to describe any car that possesses high-end luxury and a sporty look with the manufacturer’s largest engine. Letter Cars were the top-of-the-line automobile in terms of performance, luxury and stature. They were expensive and therefore production was limited, which also added to their mystique. In all eleven years of production, only a total of 16,856 were made, with the lowest production year being 1963 at 400 cars and the highest year 1964 with 3,647. Today, there are only 3,614 Letter Cars registered existing with the 300 Club International.
My first experience with a Chrysler 300 Letter Car was at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, AZ in 2007.
I had been wandering the tents, perusing the vast carscape, when I came across a vehicle like nothing I had ever seen. I inquired about this “beautiful brute” with the fellow standing next to it and he explained that it was a 1960 300F Convertible. It was apparent that I should have known something more about this vehicle, so I walked away so I wouldn’t offend with my ignorance.
I couldn’t get it out of my mind, though: those incredible, long and sleek fins; that arrow-dynamic body-style; the huge, exotic-looking engine with the long “tubes” extending across the top of it. And how about the interior: four bucket seats with a full cabin length console clad in leather; And that dash, with the dome and a speedometer that goes to 150 mph! To me it was the most beautiful, incredible car I had ever seen.
I began researching and asking friends what a Letter Car was and that I wanted one, but it had to be a 1960 300F convertible, black, with all or as many options as possible, restorable with most or all its parts still there.
At the time, I didn’t fully comprehend that there were only 248 of them ever made and that the odds of even finding one that met my specifications were, therefore, slim. But I was determined and by July 2008 not only did I find it, I owned it.
As a result of my addiction to style, luxury and power, today I also have 3 more letter cars consisting of two 1957 300C’s in each style of hardtop, and convertible, and a 1959 300E hardtop. Each of them is restored or in the process of being restored. I probably need an intervention. I wonder if there is an AA group. (alphabetics anonymous?) I couldn’t admit that I’m powerless in a twelve-step program though when I have hemi’s and cross rams on tap.
That day at Barrett-Jackson elevated my interest and appreciation for not only Letter Cars but also
cars of historical significance, in general.
So, in 2013 I founded the 10,000 Lakes Concours d’Elegance in Minnesota. Now in our 7th year, we [of the concours] are hosting the Chrysler 300 Club International fall meet in conjunction with the concours. The 300 Club meet will be held on the days preceding the Concours from Wednesday 7/24 arrival through Saturday 7/27 with a banquet. All 300 cars will be invited to participate in the 10,000 Lakes Concours on Sunday 7/28. Many interesting activities are planned during this event.
Being involved with both organizations, I am very excited about this year’s merged event and would like to invite people to nominate their Letter Car or any collectable automobile as soon as possible to be considered to participate.
Or if you don’t have a collector car, come and enjoy a great day of seeing automobile, watercraft, and motorcycle history displayed on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior, MN. on July 28th, 2019.
For further information please visit; www.10000lakesconcours.com and