By: Scott Vandekerckhove – Lead Contributor
When Ralph Gilles designed the Chrysler 300 back in the early 2000’s, I’m not sure if he or anyone else in the company truly knew what they were creating. Sure, it was the triumphant return of Chrysler’s full size, rear drive American sedan; but it has since evolved into something much greater.
Over the course of the last seven years, the 300 has become the vehicular canvas for thousands of owners aiming to express themselves. Be it more power, larger wheels, custom paint, or even Lambo doors, the 300 knows no limits in the aftermarket world. Creativity, ingenuity, and custom fabrication run wild in this community of LX cars and it’s only getting more intense. (LX cars include not just the 300, but also the Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Magnum – all sharing the same platform).
But perhaps the most well known influencer of the 300 movement is none other than John Fortuno of Huntington Beach, CA.
If you’re not familiar with Fortuno, he just happens to be founder of the Spring Festival of LXs held every year in Irvine, CA. It is the single largest one-day gathering of LX vehicles in the world. This past March, the 6th annual festival amassed over 830 customer-owned cars in one spot with the eyes of top Chrysler brass watching closely on site. There’s not a better opportunity for the Corporation to see what’s hot in the market and how to harness certain cues for future production cars.
But Fortuno is not just an event organizer. He’s also an active member of the community, now owning two Chrysler 300s.
His first car, nicknamed “Fatchance”, grew to become a very popular car amongst enthusiasts. Fatchance (a 2005 model now with over 100,000 miles) went through multiple facelifts during its life including different interior trims, body kits, and wheels. It’s changed appearance on several occasions.
Chrysler took notice of Fortuno’s influence and years of dedication to the car, having since partnered with him to help launch the all new 2011 Chrysler 300. The joint venture is appropriately called “Fatchance 2.0” and has become a social media sensation. Followers have been given a chance to watch the new car take shape since Fortuno received it back in March.
“This is really a three step journey,” he stated. “First, it was just getting the car ready for the reveal at Spring Fest last March. […] We only had six days with it and got the new suspension, wheels, and door handles installed. The second step is performance, and Mopar just helped out in a big way with that. The third and final step will be the ramp up to SEMA where everyone will get to see dramatic changes to both the body and interior. It’s really exciting for all of us!”
Fortuno passed along a special invite to Modern Mopar Magazine this week for an event up at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum hosted by LX Forums (arguably the most popular forum for LX owners on the net). Fatchance 2.0 was on full display amongst 70 other LX vehicles that owners brought out on Tuesday night; an incredible turn out during the work week.
With buzz of the Woodward Dream Cruise all around Metro Detroit, Fortuno thought this would be perfect timing to reveal a major upgrade to his ride.
The stock 5.7L HEMI V8 has been yanked out of the engine box and replaced with, get this, an all aluminum 7.0L 426 HEMI straight out of the Mopar war chest.
“We haven’t dynoed the car yet, but we’re guessing it’ll make right around 560 horsepower and 540 lb/ft of torque at the wheels,” he told me. “Mopar also provided a new 3.91 rear end that should really help with acceleration.”
I asked Fortuno what kind of times he expected the car to turn at the track. “I’m thinking the car could run sub-4 seconds to 60mph and hopefully rock the 1/4 mile in the high 11’s. But if it were to run low to mid 12’s, I ‘d be more than satisfied,” he exclaimed.
Fortuno also mentioned that, in all likelihood, Mopar will install a 6 speed automatic transmission to handle the increased power. There’s even talks of the upcoming 8 speed making its way behind the big 426.
“We have truly set out to create the ultimate gentleman’s hot rod,” Fortuno emphasized. “And now, with the increased power, we are more than motivated to go up against the best from Mercedes AMG, BMW, and Audi. We’re gonna show ‘em how we do it….American style.”
I also asked Fortuno what fans of his car should expect for SEMA come November. “We’re going full tilt once the car wraps up at Woodward this weekend. I know there’s very high expectations for this car and we’re gonna exceed every one of them. […] We’re looking at doing a two-tone custom interior with really fancy wood accents. But one thing’s for sure; that 8.4 inch touch screen radio from the factory is staying put,” he insisted. “It totally makes the car and there’s no other unit that I would replace it with.”
He continued, “The body kit was finished just this week and it’s gonna look sick once we get it on the car!”
Fortuno also gushed about the huge improvements made to the new 300 over the last generation. “I love my old car, but this new one is like a night and day difference. The comfort, the features, the technology; it’s all way better.” Outside of the 8.4 inch touchscreen radio, Fortuno fancies the view out of his panoramic sunroof and the added safety from Blind Spot Monitoring; a feature that can warn you of other vehicles traveling at your side. Fortuno smiled and said, “That blind spot detection is the shit, dude!”
Near the end of the night, Fortuno fired up the big 426 HEMI which gave way to a fairly reserved sounding Mopar exhaust. “That’s the way I wanted it,” he said. “I want the car to kind of tip toe between being elegant and sinister all at the same time. It has to be enjoyable on the street.”
Modern Mopar readers are encouraged to follow Fortuno and Fatchance 2.0 on the Chrysler Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Chrysler (look for the Fatchance 2.0 tab).
You can also follow John on Twitter at @1fatchance.
On a personal note, Fortuno and I have a long running feud over who makes America’s best hamburger. Of course, being from the West Coast, he sides with In-N-Out Burger. Whereas I have a penchant for Five Guys. Perhaps followers of Modern Mopar Magazine can get on our Facebook page to let Mr. Fortuno know how sorely mistaken he truly is.