At the height of the muscle car era, the performance standard car companies and tuners tried to hit was one horsepower per cubic inch, a standard set with the 1956 Chrysler 300B. Although its luxury trappings make it far different from the typical muscle car, its dominance on the track and in the showroom helped kick off a horsepower race that lasted until the emissions regulations and fuel crises of the 70s.
Introducing the Hemi
Like many great cars of the 50’s, the 300B can trace its roots to the dark days of WWII. Chrysler discovered a half-sphere shape, soon known as a “hemi” head, cut down on carbon buildup and provided excellent flow characteristics. A P-47 Thunderbolt using a prototype Hemi engine reached 505 mph, 70 mph faster than a stock plane, but the project was shelved because it couldn’t compete with jet engines.
The design made its way to civilian vehicles via Chrysler’s Firepower engine. Originally producing 180 horsepower, Chrysler had boosted output to 300 horsepower for their first performance car, hence the name “300.” Although the name stuck, a new version of the 300 called the “300B” blew past the performance benchmark with a new 354 c.i. engine that produced 340 horsepower or, when equipped with high compression heads, 355 horsepower.
1956 Chrysler 300B – Win on Sunday…
The 300B was built primarily to meet NASCAR’s homologation requirements: By being “production” cars, they could be used on the race track. The suspension may have been stiffer and the engine more powerful than other Chrysler models, but rules were lose enough that it could still have all the luxury of their stable mates; the company was even able to lobby the race board to allow them to use manual transmissions in place of the 300B’s two speed automatic.
The strategy paid off: 300B-based stock cars won the NASCAR championship taking the checkered flag at over half the races and secured the AAA (now USAC) circuit title. Meanwhile, a 300B set the world passenger car top speed record at Daytona Beach clocking an impressive 133.9 mph.
…Sell on Monday
The car was built as a halo model intended to boost prestige, not overall sales. It used a New Yorker Newport hardtop body fitted with the Imperial’s egg-crate grill to imply that its performance was shared with the rest of Chrysler’s line.
Just 1,102 were produced, but the impact of its racing success would extend for decades, lending caché to the Hemi name.
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