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May 03, 2009

Where the 300 Got Its Face

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Even though I traded in my Chrysler 300 a few weeks ago, I owe it and its kin one more blog post. Hope you don't mind too much.

It seems that I finally noticed what might well have been the inspiration for its grille and general front-end "face." I wouldn't be surprised that Mopar über-mavens already discovered it; if any such are readers, please use Comments to pass along links that confirm or deny my conjecture.

I wrote about Chrysler 300 styling here, among other places. I'll go over some of the same ground so that newer readers get enough background before I get to the new stuff.


Here is a photo of a 2006 bottom-of-the-line Chrysler 300 showing its face along with some side detail. I'll use this as the benchmark or reference point for commentary on this stylish and, for a few years, popular car.

The grille has strong hint of Chryslers of the late 1940s. Note that its cross-bars are not on the same plane. The vertical bars are recessed relative to the horizontal ones. The horizontal bars, because they are not interrupted, subtly dominate because (1) as noted, they overlap the vertical bars, and (2) they catch and reflect overhead lighting such as from the sun more strongly and uninterruptedly.

This is a 1947 Chrysler New Yorker coupe with the egg-crate grille theme used from 1946 through 1950. Here the mesh is much smaller than on the 2006 car and the vertical and horizontal bars are essentially on the same plane. (I'd have to examine an actual car to be sure, but this photo suggests a tiny bias towards the horizontals. But other photos I examined suggest the opposite.) At any rate, the three thick bars are definitely horizontal. The Chrysler "medal" emblem is incorporated in the badge on the front of the hood and the Chrysler wings (both brand symbols dating to the 1920s in one form or another) comprise the hood ornament. The 2006 car has the medal and wings attached to the grille opening surround.

The 300 has comparatively narrow (measured vertically) windows all around. The front and rear passenger doors are almost symmetrical. Similar features can be found in some previous Chryslers as well as late-40s models from other companies.

Here is a Chrysler Airflow from 1934, an early mass-produced exercise in streamlining. The doors are symmetrical, which helped reduce tooling costs.

The 1951 Lincoln shown here also has doors that are nearly symmetrical. And it has narrow (vertically) windows, again like the 300. Mercurys for 1949-1951 shared this body with Lincolns, and many Mercurys were transformed into kustom kars, often with a "chopped top" that resulted in even narrower windows. Chrysler styling honcho (before the company was taken over by Daimler-Benz) Tom Gale was a hot rod fan, so it's possible that his influence persisted during the styling development of the 300.

This is the extent of my analysis of Chrysler 300 styling up until a couple of days ago when I was browsing my copy of this book and noticed the grille of this car. It's a 1955 show car (actually, more than one was was built) called the Chrysler Falcon. It was designed by Maury Baldwin and Chrysler styling supremo Virgil Exner, who hoped that it would be placed in production as a rival to the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird.

Examine the grille and general "face" of these two Falcons and then scroll up and compare to the 300. The Falcons are not identical to the 300. For example, the Falcons have single, not dual, headlights. The face of the 300 slopes back whereas the Falcon face leans forward -- that's because, in pre-wind tunnel testing days, stylists felt that cars looked longer if their fronts and rears were shaped so that there was a long, strong visual line near the shoulder of the body and not along the base. (The Falcon's rear is chopped off, but many cars, 1955-75, had the complete length line.)

Now pay attention to the Falcon's grille. It's more rounded than that of the 300. But the mesh pattterns are more similar in size than was the case with the 1947 car shown above. And the tops of the openings are flattened like the 300s. Also note the split front bumper on the Falcon and compare this to the 300. The 300, like most modern cars, does not have a separate bumper; its bumper is covered by a vinyl (or some similar material) cladding, but the visual effect is that of a divided bumper.

Conclusion? In a search for Chrysler identification symbols from the past, 300 stylists might well have borrowed the spirit of the face of the Falcon, even though it's a car that few remember.



posted by Donald at May 3, 2009


Now Chrysler will be controlled by an unnatural pairing of the Useless Auto Workers and Fix It Again, Tony. God only knows what abominations they'll develop.

Posted by: Peter on May 3, 2009 11:10 PM

Chrysler was trying to cash in on retro - they did very well with the very retro looking PT Cruiser, and hoped that copying more 30s-40s styling details on other models would be equally successful. I sort of remember reading something about this 6-7 years ago...

Posted by: Julie Brook on May 4, 2009 10:40 AM

The '47 New Yorker is a monstrosity, but wow, the '34 Airflow is gorgeous.

Posted by: JV on May 4, 2009 10:57 AM

I never knew there was a Chrysler Falcon, even if not a production model. Its design strikes me as what the English call a curate's egg: "Parts of it are very good."

Actually, most is very good, elegant but not ostentatious. The headlight niches are a lovely touch. How come wrap-around windshields were abandoned after a few years? Expensive to build and replace, I suppose, but my recollection is that it was pleasing to have such a wide, unobstructed view from the driver's seat.

Anyway, the only thing I really dislike about the Falcon is that jail-door grille. (Same with the 300, and to a lesser extent with the '47 New Yorker.) Out of proportion, aggressive. Standing out from the crowd may be a good thing, but how matters.

Posted by: Rick Darby on May 5, 2009 4:41 PM

Where the 300 got its face: Kia, Kia, Kia!!

Posted by: Reg C├Žsar on May 11, 2009 1:02 AM

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