The Chrysler 300 finally went out of production earlier this year after 18 badass years of production. So when I heard that someone had traded in their 2006 model to Galpin Honda, I knew I had to get the keys — and my god am I glad I did: This V8-powered, rear-wheel drive Teutonic-American sedan may be ancient enough to enlist, and it may be falling apart in more ways than I hoped, but it has a powertrain that even all these years later feels absolutely phenomenal. This traded-in 300C has a strong heart in a weak body, but it’s the former that will win you over. Here, let me explain.
After last week’s Trade-In-Tuesday episode explored the lethargic Toyota Mirai hydrogen car (a “Fascinating Waste Of Money,” as I put it), I was pleased to see on my list of vehicles traded into Galpin’s enormous dealership network a 2006 Chrysler 300C.
You see, the “C,” means it has a HEMI V8, and though this second-model-year 300 is old as all hell and came from an era when V8s were putting out some pretty weak power numbers, its 5.7-liter Hemi V8 has been a beast from day one. The engine actually made its non-SUV/Truck debut in this very car, and it was a mainstay in the Chrysler sedan lineup all the way up until its death just this year. I was excited to try that powerplant out to see if it still held up, and my god does it — well, except not literally. Here, watch that incredible V8 engine do its thing, and then overheat:
The product of an ultimately failed merger between Daimler (maker of Mercedes-Benz) and Chrysler, the Chrysler 300 was a huge deal when it came out, as I’ve mentioned before in my article “Badass For 18 Straight Years: How Chrysler Worked Hard To Keep The Dodge Charger And Its LX-Platform Mates From Going Stale.” As I say in that piece, this was a car that found its way into “driveways of rappers and politicians alike (Barack Obama famously owned a first-gen 300), in some ways bridging the gap between social classes by offering timeless style at a reasonable entry price (the 2005 Chrysler 300 and 2006 Dodge Charger started at about $23,000, which is about $35,000 today).” In that article, I reference a New York Times article titled “From a Bad Marriage, Pretty Babies,” which discusses how Freeman Thomas, Trevor Creed, and ultimately Ralph Gilles had penned such an already-iconic design:
When Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler a decade ago, predictions for the offspring — chunky German sedan meets lithe PT Cruiser — ran to cartoonish extremes. But the 300 hangs marvelously and daringly on the edge of cartoonlike excess, never quite succumbing. The 300 and its Dodge sibling, the Charger, combine American bravado with German solidity, just as the authors of the merger hoped.
The Charger and the 300 changed the definition of the American sedan with an influence as profound as that of the original Ford Taurus in the mid-1980s or the cab-forward Chrysler LH cars — the Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid— that helped to save the company in the ’90s.
One of the ideas behind the union was to join German taste and restraint with the sort of American exuberance and design vitality demonstrated by Tom Gale, vice president for design at Chrysler from 1985 to 2000, in creating the Prowler, Viper, PT Cruiser and LH sedans.
But beyond the styling, the 300 offered true performance. “The great American sedan reborn — with a little help from Mercedes-Benz” was Motor Trend‘s headline when the publication reviewed the 2005 Chrysler 300C, discussing the vehicle’s Mercedes-Benz underpinnings, stating:
There’s plenty of Benz, mostly of the E-Class variety, in these large machines. The aluminum five-link rear suspension on all 300s is based on the E-Class design, but the 300 has a wider track and bigger wheels and tires, with a steel cradle in place of the E’s aluminum one. The 300’s 120-inch wheelbase is two inches longer than the E-Class’s and just one inch shy of the Mercedes S-Class’s. Its seating position is 2.5 inches higher than the 2004 300M’s, and its generous interior has lots of rear-seat legroom and headroom for six-footers.
Motor Trend was a fan of the 300’s handling, writing:
The car rides more firmly than a Mercedes E-Class (including the air-suspension-equipped models in the softer of its dual settings). Carving up mountain roads tends to be limited more by the perceived size of the car than by its dynamics. There’s moderate roll at turn-in, but the C remains poised as you push it, with mild understeer. The 300’s steering is a bit too light, but it’s also direct and precise. And the big brakes, aided by the optional ABS and brake assist but without the Merc’s electronic brake transfer nanny, are powerful, lending Germanic effectiveness without the electro-artificial feel. Chrysler has thoroughly tackled the noise problem prevalent on the old 300M and Concorde (you couldn’t hold a conversation with back-seat passengers) with a stout chassis and lots of sound deadening. Frame rails are composed of octagonal sections, and there’s liberal use of polyurethane foam throughout. The result is a sedan that feels exceedingly solid and runs quietly until you stomp the throttle to the floor. This car is perfect for an old-fashioned cross-country family trip, but it won’t get soft and unappealing when you get to twisty mountain or canyon roads.
And in its long-term test verdict, Motor Trend praised that big engine:
Nobody ever-ever-complained about the powertrain. The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 (it should be called a semi-Hemi, if we take the purist’s view about combustion-chamber shape, but who cares) always delivered: powerful, torquey, smooth, and with a subdued but purposeful rumble out of its dual exhausts. Wrote one editor: “The Hemi V-8 is always on tap, ready to run, pass, and blow past the rest of the freeway bog.
Naturally, I was excited to see how an 18 year-old 300C would hold up, both figuratively and literally. And what I learned, as you can see in the video above, is that it holds up unbelievably well metaphorically, and hilariously poorly literally.
A Heap With A Heart Of Gold
The traded-in Chrysler 300 that I drove was a heap: There’s no other way to put it. The silver paint was faded, the front bumper looked like it was a different color than the hood, and the driver’s side fender was black, almost certainly having been replaced after a fender-bender.
The inside looked OK from a distance, but the center stack looked like it was being birthed from the dashboard, with the soft plastic dash having swollen, leaving huge gaps around the radio and HVAC controls:
The seats were also torn:
Here you can see the vent to the left of the gauge cluster coming apart:
Honestly, though, the cabin could have been worse. Interior materials coming out of the DaimlerChrysler era were known for being horrendous, so the fact that I wasn’t sitting on bare foam, holding onto a thin metal steering wheel ,and staring at a big aluminum IP beam was good enough for me.
The worst part, really, was the top of the dash, where it meets the windshield: Check out the warping:
Firing up the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 under the hood yielded a nice baritone, accompanied by a rhythmic “tick” that was almost certainly an exhaust leak in the passenger’s side exhaust manifold:
Otherwise, the motor, which had about 150,000 miles on it, sounded quite smooth. That was, until I put the car into gear.
Once driving, nothing was smooth. There was a loud banging coming from under the car, and there was something happening under the hood. I pulled over right in front of the parking lot exit. What I found was that not only were some lug nuts missing (I’d seen one lug nut missing from a few wheels, but one gone is usually not a huge deal for a short drive), but that the nuts that weren’t missing weren’t actually doing their jobs:
It turns out, the nuts were the wrong size — one size too large! So while they covered the wheel studs, they definitely didn’t build any tension into the threads, meaning there was basically zero clamping force helping hold that wheel on beyond the maybe one or two lug nuts that were actually the right size.
This left me with no choice but to Get In The Zone and buy some new lug nuts for the absurd price of $17 for four nuts:
I drove back to the 300C trade-in, only to realize that I had made the same mistake as the previous lugnut-installer: I’d purchased one size too large.
Eventually, I bought the right size lug nuts, and then found a note in the car that would have been rather helpful a bit earlier:
“Please do not drive. Replace lug nuts on back right tire before driving,” it read.
Now, to be fair, my producer had shown me a picture of a note, and had mentioned that the lug nuts were missing; I didn’t realize that the problem was not that nuts were missing, but that they were the wrong size. When I looked at the wheel, I thought “Ah, someone must have replaced the bad nuts.” Nope, they were still the wrong ones!
Anyway, no harm, no foul.
When I finally got on the road, the horrible clunking sound was gone, but there were still a few noises. For one, the front struts appeared to be shot, as hitting bumps led to some pretty violent crashing. But worse than that was the obvious engine mount problem. Hitting the gas and letting off led that big V8 to hammer itself around the engine bay in a way that was impossible to ignore.
And yet, I couldn’t help but utter the following sentence while driving the old 300C: “How can I love a car this ugly?”
Hitting the gas pedal downshifted the excellent Mercedes-sourced A580 five-speed transmission, letting that lovely 340 horsepower V8 sing. It sounds incredible, and feels legitimately quick, even in 2024 (zero to 60 sprints were measured at around 5.5 seconds when this machine first came out). Couple that fiery motor bolted to a happy-to-please transmission with a cushy ride (other than the strut issue) and buttery smooth steering, and you have a machine with compelling demeanor — it’s stately and humble most of the time, but aggressive and violent when you want it to be.
But it’s still a bit of a heap. And there’s no escaping that. And while I can’t say that applies to all 300s, it does apply to this trade-in, with an interior that’s falling apart, exterior paint that looks flaking off like dry skin off a foot, and plastic and chrome trim that’s given up on life years ago — this machine, which is so much fun, is just wrapped in mediocrity. It’s a beautifully-engineered powertrain and chassis enveloped in a Fisher-Price body.
But the truth is, does this guy doing a burnout look like he gives a damn about any of that?:
No, not at all. Whatever foibles the 300C has, it makes up for it tenfold with a legitimately incredible engine and transmission combo. It’s stout and fun and impossible not to love:
Of course, even when I was having fun, I was always reminded that this was a traded-in, nearly 20-year old DaimlerChrysler heap:
Yeah, that didn’t go so great:
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So, in what will surely stand as a Trade-In-Tuesday record until the end of time, I had to head to Autozone for a third time that day to grab some pliers and antifreeze. Luckily, all I had to do was reinstall the radiator hose with its spring clamp and pour some coolant into the cooling system. No harm, no foul.
Top image: Carlo