BORN TOO LATE – The Story of a Next Generation Letter Car Devotee and 300G ‘123084
by Andy Mikonis

Reprinted from the Chrysler 300 Club News Spring 1995 Volume XXI Number III

In the April 17, 1961 issue of Sports Illustrated there appears a one-page advertisement entitled “One-man Brand” for the 300G. After saying the G might be a “handful” to some, those clever ad execs qualified the remark by saying that after some time behind the wheel “… you’ll know who’s the boss. And which is the devoted servant.” I know what they meant then, but as far as today, I’m not so sure if it’s the same.

As I sit down to write this, I have literally just stepped out of my G after a 200-mile run. I don’t think there are any better ways to truly appreciate a letter car then experiencing the way it can run at a relaxed 80 MPH, quiet but with an obvious engine presence. Eight years ago, I bought my G as a running car and it has been pretty dependable. Once I finally figured out how to tune it, I pull a consistent 15 MPG at a steady 70-80 MPH cruising speed, up from 10 MPG for the first couple of years. Anyway, here’s the story of how I acquired my G.

When I was 15, I suddenly decided it would be fun to buy an old car and bought a ’61 Windsor coupe for $175. It was rough, but not rusty and it ran great. I had wanted to fix it up and drive it to school. It was pure fluke that I bought that particular car, but the styling really grew on me and as I began to research the history of the car, I discovered the 300G. Wow I thought, the same design, but two four barrels and a leather interior. Needless to say, I had to have one.

Shortly thereafter, I drove the Windsor to a car show in St. Pete, Florida, where I was living, and there across the street from the park where the show was being held I beheld my first real 300G. It was a black coupe, owned by a friendly couple from Alabama. They pleasantly indulged my relentless questioning for the rest of the day. I was helplessly hooked. Now I just needed to find a car.

I think it was the summer of ’85 when the white G that was eventually to be mine rolled into St. Pete. A friend of mine, who knew about my fixation with the 300G, found it first. He described the owner as in his late 40s and “kind of a bum” and said there were beer cans on the floor of the car. The guy claimed that he had bought it from the original owner in California and had just driven it into town. When I first saw the G myself, it was on the other side of a divided highway. It had the black California plates. I never met the man however, because for some reason which eludes me to this day, I never followed up on the phone number that my friend had coaxed out of him.

Anyway, after a couple more sightings, I finally found the G standing still, in front of a transmission shop, in the winter of ’85. It showed 52,000 on the odometer, which I thought was possible considering the good original condition of the car. The shop wouldn’t tell me who owned the car, so I left the owner an unanswered note, tactfully saying I had some parts, (which was true).

I eventually traced it to a used car lot in the spring of ’86. The owner, Mike claimed it was not really for sale, but he would sell it. Around that time, I went to work for a friend of mine, Bob in auto parts. Mike came into the shop at least once a week, driving the G. We went back and forth, each time and he would say “Make me an offer.”, so I would. He’d refuse and I would say “Give me a price.” And then he’d say “Give me an offer” and so on. Meanwhile, I watched him give the G a shoddy cosmetic restoration. When he told me, he was going to replace the leather because one seat had a couple of cracks, I begged him to sell me the car before he spent the money, but to no avail.

At one point, I hadn’t seen Mike for a while and another car salesman told me Mike’s wife left him for another man and absconded with their life savings. Not one to miss an opportunity, I thought that if I relieved him of the G, at this time he could use the extra cash. I made the move, but the car was sold.

I was crushed. The next day at work, Bob told me that he had done some detective work. He recognized a ’57 Ford that had just appeared on Mike’s used car lot and when he drove by the house where he had remembered seeing it, there was the G. Still shellshocked over the whole thing, I sat there in awe and listened to Bob as he called Mike to try and coax the new owner’s name and number out of him. He then called the new owner, Dick and said to him “I realize that you just bought the car; but when you want to sell the car, whenever that is, please call us.”

Sometime after that, Bob more or less fired me under questionable circumstances, so I was surprised when I received a message in February of ’87, that he wanted to see me. When I did, he excitedly told me that Dick had called him and the G was for sale! Of course, Bob had given him the business phone number when he talked to him less than a year before. The bad news? I was out of work for a month due to an operation connected with an earlier motor car accident and I was penniless. Still, I wasn’t going to let it slip away this time. Armed with my fledgling 300G literature collection, I went to meet Dick. He proposed a fair market price for the car. I didn’t argue. He saw my genuine interest in the car and agreed to give me some time to get the money together. I hit up all of my relatives and sold a record collection and somehow managed to secure a loan from my credit union. Nearly a month later, I arrived at Dick’s with a cashier’s check. His wife promptly walked me over to the kitchen table, picked up an envelope, addressed to Hemming’ and threw it into the trash. It was an ad for the G, ready to go if they didn’t here from me. Almost in tears, I thanked Dick for giving me the extra time. He knew from the day that he met me that I was the one for the car and didn’t mind waiting; not to mention the fact he knew how serious I was, since I had called him the day after he bought the car.

There I was, a letter car owner at age eighteen. He gave me the keys and I started the G for the first time. I had never even test driven it. Of course, I had stood in front of it drooling, numerous times and had photographed it from every angle and had faith that lurking under that refrigerator white paint job, there lurked a fairly intact 300G. I was lucky, because at the time I knew enough to check the VIN, but the engine could have been any big block for all I knew. As it turned out, the engine is correct, as are the carbs. The rams are intact. I drove the G every day for months and even to Chicago and back that first summer. I eventually sold the ’61 Windsor when both cars needed brakes and I only had money to buy parts for one.

My G was a new discovery for the club, when I finally joined in 1988. Gill’s microfilm interpretation showed few factory options and the car had some dealer accessories such as mirrors, power antenna and air. He confirmed that the car was from a defunct dealer in southern California and eventually found out that it was sold from Tower Motors in San Diego. I visited San Diego on a recent trip out west and tracked down the location of the former Tower Motors. The building, apparently still owned by the same people, now houses a Volvo dealership. The proprietor agreed to pass a note along to them, asking if they might still have records on my car; but I never heard back from them. I should really try again. I also inquired to California DMV for information on previous owners, but to no avail. Incidentally regarding the black plates that I saw on the G: Dick, the guy I bought it from said he never received them and Mike, the used car guy, said he gave them to Dick. So, the G’s past remains somewhat mysterious.

I’ve logged over 20,000 miles on the G so far. How much more, I’m not sure. The speedo cable self destructed and I didn’t get another for a couple of years. Not only that, when I bought the car it was showing 36,000 miles (remember when I first saw it was showing 52,000 miles). I then remembered that Mike’s “specialized in low mileage cars” and there was a speedometer shop right across the street from his lot! I asked Dick about it and being an experienced old car buff, he said that he just assumed the mileage was wrong. Then he remembered that Mike, was trying to fence his old ’57 Ford off as a 60,000-mile car, which it wasn’t. In other words, the total mileage on my G will always remain a mystery.

Despite the “restoration” it went through and the heinous crime of replacing the not-so-bad leather seat covers perpetrated on it, I like to think that the G still has a lot of its original integrity. That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it’s true. My guess is that the car has been functional the majority of its life and has between 80,000 and 100,000 miles on it and never experienced excessive exposure to the elements. Some cars are survivors, some are not. Some cars consistently fight to break down and others most always get you home. My G is one of the survivors. Hence, aside from gradually “correcting” it, I have been following a philosophy of doing as little as possible. In other words, making repairs as needed in order to preserve as much of the original feel of the car as I can. This is also a fancy way of saying that, as a perennial student, I haven’t exactly been rolling in cash.

Anyway, the car is fairly solid with the only major rust in the rockers and the trunk lip and trunk floor (nothing like a couple of design flaws to keep things interesting). If I had concentrated my efforts solely on the G all these years, instead of the other cars that have come and gone, it might look a little better because, as it is, deterioration is occurring a little faster than my minimalist restoration philosophy can keep up with.

Never fear, I have been making some serious improvements lately including a club cam and a George Riehl transmission rebuild. Both of these are really making it feel like a G should. You don’t notice things disintegrating as much when it happens gradually over a period of years. I hope to get into the bottom end of the engine this summer. I really need to get onto the body work soon too. Then, aside from the dozens of smaller projects, I anxiously await a leather interior from the club. I actually wouldn’t mind finding a decent used set of seat covers since I drive my car so much and have never had it judged, anyway. If I did get a new leather interior, I would probably have to clean the coffee stains off the console to make it look proper.

Since I moved back to Chicago in 1991. I have been attending club meets regularly with the G. I have become much more involved with the club then I had ever imagined. If you haven’t picked up the impression already, I like to drive my G and what better excuse then to take it on a trip, not to mention the invaluable friendships that I have made. I have also been judging at the concours meets for the last four years in order to learn more about all the letter cars.

I also started a collection of promotional and technical literature on the 300G and other ’61 Chrysler models before I even had the G. The collection has become quite extensive and I even had the opportunity to display it to the public last summer in a Chicago bar that features different art exhibits and other curiosities every month.

For the future, I would eventually like to get into another letter car, but I am so heavily into the Gs that the idea of another year, (except maybe an F or H), is a little frightening. I naturally would like a G convertible someday to complete the set. I also fantasize about a G with special order paint or interior. I guess even though I am fortunate to own a rare and extremely desirable car, I have met so many people in the club now that have them (especially white ones), that they are becoming commonplace in my life.

It’s strange, I occasionally get chastised for driving the G around the way I do. One story that comes to mind is having my G in a multi-make car show about five years ago and being approached by a fellow that hauled cars around in an enclosed trailer. He said he knew that letter cars were becoming more and more expensive and I should consider using his service. I told him that I liked to drive my car and he proceeded to tell me some horror stories he had ready just for such an answer. I heard about blowouts that caused fender damage and all sorts of horrible accidents” On the way to a show”. I happened to be driving my G daily during the next couple of weeks, since I was swapping the engine in my pickup. I was working part-time in a small machine shop and when my co-worker’s brand X broke down one day, I roped towed him home with the G. (I don’t normally do things like this with the G, but I couldn’t leave my friend stranded!), who do you think pulled up next to me at the light? The car hauler guy, in his company truck. I couldn’t see his expression, through the tinted windows, but I can imagine it. It took him a few seconds to notice when the light turned green!

Around the same time, a guy who had a little hot rod shop across the way told me that one of his customers saw my car parked at work and said, “Everybody in the world is looking for one of these cars and this guy’s got one sitting out in the rain!” (Don’t worry, I have always kept the G garaged, when not in motion.)

Because I am a relatively young guy, I’ve had some people automatically think I’m going to wreck the car. I’ve found that really offensive, but now that I have had the G for eight years, people generally don’t think that way about me anymore. As a matter of fact, I drive like an old lady, much of the time. But then, there was that time, at the St. Louis meet when my G and a certain yellow F saw 105 on the interstate around town…

I’ve always been accused that my interest can not be equal to someone who remembers the 300s when they were new, (Heck, I wasn’t even born yet!) On the contrary, I think that is why I like them so much. When I’m in the G and listening to the Golden Tone radio, when I’m not fawning over the car itself, I get lost imagining what it would have been like back then. It seems that things were much simpler back then, unparalleled prosperity, lots of gasoline, no terrorism or AIDS. In 1960, whoever was looking through the tinted Solex glass of the new white 300G coupe must have seen a really bright future because somehow 1995 always looks a little better to me through that same blue green tinge.

Thanks to Bill Elder (Wild Man of the North) and Don Warnaar for preparing this article