The Lost Is Found
By Gil Cunningham

Reprinted from the 1982 Club News Volume VIII Number II

This 300 story began for me some 10 years ago in a windswept field in November north of Denver, Colorado. There, several of us 300 nuts were preparing a dozen(!) 300’s for an attempt to tow and drive them back east. (That is definitely another long story for another Newsletter.) One of those twelve was a certain Mesa Tan D coupe LC4 1044. A little worse for wear, it was missing its engine and some trim, but the body was great, and it was the first Mesa Tan D I had ever seen. More importantly, a check in the trunk confirmed our serial number research – the Fuel Injection pump access hole was there!

Well, much has happened since 1971 -- to me, the Club, and that D coupe. But I never stopped thinking about it and how it for left in Denver that distant November – or how it wasn’t there the next spring! So, a year or so ago when “my” D became available, I was ready – it wasn’t going to get away this time!

The D by now had made its way to Minnesota (for a car without an engine, it sure seemed to have no problem getting around) and for a price it could be mine. Agreement was reached and several Minnesota trips were planned, only to be scrubbed for one reason or another. Finally, the car’s owner, Randy Thorne, called to inform me he was going to relocate to the west coast and to let me know the D now had to leave. The deadline was set so a decision had to be made on something with which to tow the car from Minnesota, and someone as crazy as me to co-pilot. My old faithful 300 H convert would have to do for the former – George Riehl filled the bill for the latter.

We packed the H with tow bar, hydraulic jack, spare tires (never enough), extra oil (the H partakes moderately), tools, and gasoline credit cards. Heading north from Holly, Michigan at about 2 AM in early October took us through the first snows of the year (but no salt!). The H hadn’t seen snow since our Toronto Meet in 1976.

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It was still very dark when we arrived in Ludington, and we were well ahead of sailing time. Oh yes – we had decided to take the shorter water route across Lake Michigan rather than drive around it. At 12-13 miles per gallon one can buy a fair amount of boat travel! Anyway, we had breakfast and then went to look at what was supposed to get us and the H to the other side. Was that sucker BIG! It was still dark, but this huge, brooding, blacker form was discernible though the rain/salt squalls. We paid our tab and the man said, “Park it over there by those rail cars and leave the keys in it.” – words that can strike fear into the heart of a 300 enthusiast. Oh well, my H is pretty well behaved, so I just hoped the driver would know what to do with push buttons. As we parked the car it became obvious why the boat was so big – those trains were going on it too! We boarded, watched to H go on, waited for a “thump” or “bang”, and when none was heard settled down for what was billed as a 4 hour trip.

Let me tell you, there were a lot of people on that trip that must have felt like it took 40 hours. They were an odd color too – sort of a pale green. Yes, the wind was still blowing over the water, and even a ship is rocked a little with 12 foot waves. Every time an especially “good” one (you have to understand that I like roller coasters too) came along, a loud groan and bang was heard from deep within the vessel. I hoped I would still recognize the H after they un-piled the rail cars!

At long last the sun broke through, the water calmed, green people disappeared and the Wisconsin shore appeared. George, myself, and the H made it off the boat (still retaining our breakfasts) and headed for Red Wing, Minnesota. The trip across Wisconsin was without incident, aside from having to reroute a shorting spark plug wire and stopping to look at a rather sad 1961 Imperial. By nightfall we had reached our destination, where a pleasant evening of Thorne hospitality, 300 talk, and the traditional garage/parts tour was had by all. It seems we Michiganders also became addicted that evening to a special north country libationMinnesota Green Death (Heilman’s Special Export – Strong).

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The next day (Saturday) I would see my 300D! I could hardly wait – but on the other hand – what toll will 10 years have taken? We were greeted that morning by the arrival of Dave and Carolyn Schwandt and their son from Iowa. I don’t imagine they drove up especially to see the D, but I sure appreciated borrowing the two spare tires they brought. Thanks Dave!

The time had come. We all piled into the H and headed out of town to an appropriately narrow, crooked dirt road. Finally, around a corner, over a rise – there it was! It really did still exist. We were out of the car and swarming over the D. Would the rare shaded backlite still be there? (It was!) How much had the body rusted in 10 years? (Some, but not bad.) The hood was off, was it gone? (In the barn but crunched.)

The car sat very low due to the usual flat tires, but another reason presented itself when I opened the trunk. Some local cretin had put a 500 lb. boulder in it! It took a little ingenuity and a lot of muscle to get that out.

Well, up with the car, on with the spares, throw the hood in the trunk (!), hook on the tow bar, and we’ll see what towing surprises we have in store for us on the return trip. Surprisingly, it towed quite well back to the Thorne household. The afternoon was spent scrutinizing the car, getting the hood to more or less fit, hooking up the towing harness, etc.

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As mentioned, all fuel injected cars had an electric fuel pump in the gas tank. Service access was through the trunk floor (a little deformed in 1044 now because of that damn rock!!) by removing a circular cover plate. Why not have a look? All waited expectantly as Dave and I carefully tapped loose the retaining ring for whatever would be in there. Fantastic! What we pulled out was the original Bendix electric fuel pump, looking exactly like the Chrysler blueprint said it would. No, I can’t report it still worked, but you know we tried!

At last the D was ready for the final leg of its 10 year journey from Denver to Holly. With a transmission, a couple of torque converters, and two cases of Green Death for ballast, we headed out that afternoon. The 14 hour trip (around the lake this time) was uneventful, once the tow bar decided how it wanted itself attached. Finally home, the D just begged for some TLC, so George and I rubbed out and waxed the complete left side – just to see how it would look. Except for some nicks and scratches, that 23 year old Mesa Tan Enamel looked as bright and shiny as when it left the Chrysler Jefferson Assembly Plant.

My 300D is now safely stored out of winter’s harm next to the “Blue Goose” (polar blue/blue interior 300F convert) while I try to collect parts and information pertinent to its restoration. Why was it made in October of 1957, several months before “regular” F.I. production began in February of 1958, but well after the three press review F.I. D’s in mid-September? Its “dealer” code and region are the same as those of LC4 1250, the Tahitian Coral Motor Trend test car. Was mine also the subject of a road test? I have never seen or heard of one. It was picked up by the customer at Jefferson on October 24, 1957 according to Chrysler records. Lubrication stickers indicate it lived in Marion, Ohio at one time and was serviced at another time (no year or mileage) by the Fisher-Record Chrysler Dealership on Kercheval Avenue in Detroit, not too far from where it was built. Coincidentally, this was the originating dealership for Dave Schwandt’s Polar Blue (code 999) 300F hardtop, a fact he learned from paperwork in the car. Imagine our surprise to discover the same name on the D door sticker not five minutes after at Dave’s 300F special order sheet!

To me, much of the fun of owning and restoring 300’s is not only searching for rare parts, but also reconstructing their history. LC4 1044 will require much effort in both areas but promises just as much reward. I can’t wait!

2013 update: Gil writes that he still owns the car. Not only that, he still has one of those "Green Death" beer cans too!