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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Imperial Dreams: Why Chrysler's forgotten luxury brand couldn't make it with the Sinatra set

It feels like the domestic luxury pantheon has been set in stone since nearly the end of World War II. Ford has Lincoln. GM has Cadillac. And Chrysler has ... Chrysler, right? Not quite.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/imperial-dreams-why-chryslers-forgotten-luxury-bran...
69 REPLIES 69
hyperv6
Racer

Imperials was an impressive car in the 50's and 60's but it just had lost all the image of the old Chryslers of the past.
It was the first to show how hard it is to earn back that got to have it image all three makes have lost.
Today all three are just cars based on some lesser model with nothing that really separates them from the rest of the other cooperate brands in a major way.



MrJ
New Driver

this article is weak... Chrysler and Imperial was one too many luxury brands for Chrysler... and they became the "same" thing... so that was the death of Imperial... just like it was the death of Pontiac... Of Oldsmobile... Desoto, Mercury... and Buick should be dead or next to go... I think China saved Buick.
senator70
Pit Crew

Chrysler management direction for the Imperial brand and nameplate came from the company headquarters in Highland Park, Michigan up through the last K-based models. Auburn Hills was not yet the headquarters location.
Tsaxman
Advanced Driver

Author didn't do much research if he didn't know that Chrysler's headquarters official move to Auburn Hills wasn't until the early 1990s and the Virgil Exner never set foot there as he passed in 1973
RokemRonnie
Instructor

"Elwood Engle, who had penned the revolutionary 1961 Continental. "

Elwood Engel was in charge of design at Ford, but the original clay model for a proposed Thunderbird, which Ford president Robert McNamara (later to be U.S. Secretary of State) suggested be turned into the next Continental, was styled by Howard Payne and John Orfe.
BenjaminHunting
Intermediate Driver

As I understand it, Joe Oros and Elwood Engel both submitted competing designs for the '58 Thunderbird. McNamara chose the Oros design, but asked Engel to add another set of doors to what he had presented, and that became the '61 Continental.
OldCarMan
Instructor

When YOU are in charge of design, it is YOU who was responsible for the design, never mind the board people who labored under your direction. Ir has always been thus! Recall Harley Earl for starters, or Raymond Loewy?
Doug42
Intermediate Driver

I believe he was Secretary of Defense if my memory is correct.
Pegleg01
Detailer

And one of the prime movers in the "colonization' that became the disasterous
U.S. involvement in South Vietnam.
audiobycarmine
Technician

"Sinatra-schminatra"... Michael Corleone had a late-50's one.

TV's The Green Hornet had a customized '66 that Bruce Lee drove. I know a guy who actually owned this car in the 1990's. I sold him some Bruce Lee memorabilia.
DC
Detailer

Imperial vs
Cadillac......hahaha
phog
Intermediate Driver

Indeed, the Cadillac had more style, the Chrysler better engineering. Apples n' oranges.
Oldroad1
Technician

Those 1950s BIG Chryslers blew the doors off those Cadillacs.
1982Imperial
New Driver

Completely inaccurate article especially regarding the 81-83 Imperials. Based on the writing I assume this is a Gen Z writing this? “Cordobas in cosplay” which the 81-83 wasn’t at all.
Bostwick9
Advanced Driver

From Allpar:
"Chrysler took the second generation J body coupe platform (Dodge Mirada/Chrysler Cordoba) and developed it into a full luxury coupe, to compete with the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental coupes. It was a beautiful design, except perhaps for an awkward rear deck profile. Every effort was made to ensure assembly quality and to separate the car from its J - body origins."
JK
Intermediate Driver

What became the Imperial was an alternative proposal for the Cordoba that never died. The clay sat off to the side while the Cordoba and Mirada were finished - the designers wanted that lay to be broken down but management wouldn't let it happen.

The hump back was a known design idea that Bill Mitchell had wanted for the 1976 Seville - photos published in Car Styling and other places. Ultimately used by the next generation Seville, Linoln Versailles and this Imperial.
OldCarMan
Instructor

REALLY!!
Rider79
Technician

Was not that era's Imperial based upon the Cordoba/Mirada platform? I thought that it was. If not, what platform was it based upon?
1959Imperial
Intermediate Driver

I have owned several several Imperials from the '50's, '60's and '80's. My 1959 Imperial I have owned for 33 years. In my opinion one thing not mentioned was Mopars dedication to "engineering" that was a selling point of the 1950's to the mid 1960's. Engineering money spent equals durability and quality that people liked and purchased those cars. I agree the Imperial brand needed to be seperated from the dealer who sold all Mopars. They needed to do more than title the cars as "Imperials" but as time went on, lesser models appeared to look close and not justify the extra cost. For decades the Imperial not only stood out in style but in engineering a premium built car when compared to their competitors. That was lost by managements decisions.
Patrician
Detailer

I worked on those old Imperials of late 50's , 60's and 70's.. Other than engines, transmissions, charging systems and ignition systems they had no interchangeable parts with other Chryslers. Completely different front end parts. Switches, exhaust etc etc was all different. Just like most Lincoln parts up to 1969 ONLY fit Lincoln the same was true with Imperial. The big difference was Lincoln had replacement parts for the car they sold. We could rarely get parts for Imperials that were more than 7 years old. Tie rod ends, pitman arms and idler arms were non-existent. Body parts were don't even try. If you didn't have a pipe bender don't even attempt to do an exhaust job. They had some crazy heater control valve in the 70's that I believe only fit Imperial and everyone leaked. They were truly a problem to service. Besides a Lincoln didn't look like any other Ford. Alot Imperials in certain years just looked like bloated New Yorkers..
Zephyr
Instructor

Unavailablity of parts for models more than a few years old was a common problem with Chrysler/Plymouth products in the 70's and early 80's, particularly with upholstery and trim parts. Some of you may remember a short-lived fad of cars having side moldings that had a vinyl center panel that was 2 or 3 inches wide and color coordinated (not matched, coordinated) with the exterior paint or possibly the interior (it was a long time ago). Matching replacements for some colors were only available for 3 years or so; after that you had to buy a black one and try to paint it to match.
Bostwick9
Advanced Driver

"Suddenly It's 1960" was the ad copy for the 1957 Plymouth, not Chrysler.
But yeah: That glorified PT Cruiser Imperial show car put the nail in the coffin. Looked like an International Harvester suburban type vehicle.
And pursuing a nameplate that had just one outstanding sales year....?
Still Chrysler created a mystique. And sullied it over the years.
First it was offering them to drive to the captains of medicine and the legal industry. Extra testing. Photography of them in exclusive environs....
Then Sinatra "types". A cliche on a cliche.
Shame. It's a fantastic name for a car.
schnelica
Pit Crew

Someone oughta rehang that passenger side door....
pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

Tom McHail from Mechanix Illustrated magazine would have a VERY different opinion on Imperials…. His continuing favorite of the D3 luxury ”jobs”….
Studenorton
Instructor

McCahill was the grumpy Dutch uncle of the car reviewers' trade. I just loved him.

pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

Buy yourself a stack of M.I.’s on eBay and relive those days…
joet
Pit Crew

In spite of having a rather magnificent drivetrain, the Imperial had to suffer through 6 consecutive years of absolutely hideous "styling" (if you could even call it that), 1958-1963, on top of Chrysler being the "also ran" of the domestic automakers, and on top of that---no showroom exclusivity.

Can you imagine the fate of Cadillac, had it stayed the same from 1959 through 1963, and was marketed at Chevrolet dealers sitting next to Corvairs?

While Lincoln Continental suffered similar regrettable styling 1958-1960, at least they starting an upward trend in sales in 1961, even with an inferior drivetrain and marginal build quality. Imperial didn't stop staggering until 1964 or so, and by then had virtual lost any individuality it might have had.

DavidHolzman
Advanced Driver

I didn't know that the styling was the same from '58-'63, but I thought the '59 was a wonderful piece of styling, the sort of car you could imagine coming from hypothetical stylists of the Italian renaissance.
pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

It wasn’t…. 60 and 61 were oddballs, but the ‘62 was completely restyled with split grille, floating headlights and flashlight taillights.

OldCarMan
Instructor

FIRST of all, how did the writer NOT know that Chrysler moved from Highland Park, to Auburn Hills in 1991? Really??
Also, missing in action, was comparable pricing, actual marketing money, never mind storefronts. Public does NOT care about store fronts, just what's inside!
Chrysler Imperials started out with the best coachbuilder- Lebaron. Way more exciting than the other Big Two. Have you forgotten the baby Cadillac Chevy? Or Lincoln Mark series that became very dated?
Some imperials are very undervalued. Blame that on scarcity, auction stupidity, and lack of PR.
Rider79
Technician

I think you may be wrong about the public not caring about storefronts. The author mentions Genesis, and that brand's issue has also been raised in mainstream "new car" automotive media. Many buyers of upscale brands do not want to be associated with the brands bought by the hoi polloi, it seems.
DavidHolzman
Advanced Driver

Jim Byers, who brought jazz to the Kennedy Center, had a beautiful '59, and then later, a '67.
https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/02/capsule-review-196-chrysler-imperial/
tommykat1
Intermediate Driver

Here's how bad the Imperial was. As a Baby Boomer glued to 1950s and 1960s media, I knew Caddy vs. Continental. My grandparents, who could afford either, preferred the latter because they felt it was a more subtle and understated ride than the Cadillac. More charming and equally capable, but a lesser statement of wretched excess.

However, there was never any input in my prepubescent intellect of another car by another American manufacturer trying to compete with either of the two market leaders. I never heard of a Chrysler Imperial. Even today the name is foggy.

And, of course, Mercedes, Rolls Royce and Bentley were in an entirely different game. But there was no Imperial in that crowd, either.
Rider79
Technician

Funny - I was born in 1955, and the Imperial was well known in my family, even though my dad always drove Buicks. They seemed to be a half-step above the Caddy and Lincoln to this future car enthusiast, back in the 1960's. Even today, to me, they have a classiness that escapes the Lincoln of that era, if maybe not the Cadillac.
autowriter
Detailer

As a MkII Continental owner told me at a show two weekends ago, it is Not a Lincoln Continental. It is a Continental -- a separate marque altogether. That didn't make any difference. The Market treated it as just a higher-end Lincoln, and not really worth all the extra money save to be a showoff. Same thing with the Imperial as a separate marque. It was never just an Imperial to the world -- it was pretty much always referred to as a Chrysler Imperial, a higher-cost Chrysler not offering all that much more for a whole lot more money. And given the mid-50's recession, the Market in its wisdom was lukewarm to each.
MadMac
Intermediate Driver

Devoted Chrysler product enthusiasts, my Dad decided to upgrade
from our four-door 1956 Firedome DeSoto
and bought a used swoopy, two-door 1957 Imperial.
Yellow it was, with gunsight tail light rings and faux spare tire cover trunk lid.

He was very proud of it until there were transmission problems.
Still a Chrysler devotee, he replaced it
with a sensible four-door 1961 Chrysler Newport.

Later, he would again scratch that personal luxury car itch
with a used, swoopy two-door 1960 Chrysler New Yorker,
again with a faux spare tire cover trunk lid.

The long fins made it look like it could fly,
and with the 413 sucking premium through a four-barrel
and letting spent gasses out through dual exhausts,
it was indeed a low flying object.
RickB
Intermediate Driver

In the late 1970's I owned a 1968 Imperial Crown Coupe and only wish I had the foresight to keep it.
It was luxurious, power everything, and practically drove itself. In those days style was the top order of the day, and it was a looker; (white with a black interior and black vinyl top). Like most "Mopars" it will continue to be a stepchild of high-end luxury cars; if indeed there are still any made in this country. Today's Cadillac, Genesis, and like plastic laden cars need a big nameplate on the trunk to let followers know what it is ahead of them. yep, welcome to the cookie cutter car world of today. Those that do consider elegance in design have put most of us out of the price range.
DougC
Pit Crew

I just bought a 62 two door hardtop, one of only 850 produced that year. Everytime you folks write an article like this, the value jumps on the subject car. So...thanks!
CliffCherry
Pit Crew

Hah this article would seem to be an exception to that rule :rolleyes:
SilentBoy741
Instructor

I always wanted one of those '83 Imperials. I love cars that are unique, and those knife-edge fenders paired with the hidden headlamps are like nothing else out there!
MrKnowItAll
Advanced Driver

A mishmash article of inaccuracies, Monday morning quarterback analysis, and lack of deep historical perspective.
In my opinion.
CliffCherry
Pit Crew

Plus the apparent prerequisite that the author hate the subject matter.

Other than that, great article!
Maestro1
Technician

Ben, thank you.
I am an enthusiast of mid Sixties Chryslers, including Imperials, and have had several. Among other things. I call that period Chrysler's Outlaw or Monster Period; the cars all had big inches under the hood, big brakes to match, flat in the curves, the whole business. I have driven a '67 Imperial in the Desert east of Palm Springs over the Century mark indicated and the car was rock solid. And absolutely calm in traffic. I can't speak to the parts issue because it's been too long ago for me but I remember clearly that Imperials were not that much trouble.
And, yes, there were design issues, and yes, the car should never have been present with
its lower priced comrades. When running a business one takes the whole gamble on the
product, not just most of it. Chrysler either could not afford to make the whole effort on behalf of the car, was afraid, or didn't know how. Similar to Toronados: Olds dealers didn't know how to sell that car, either. And did not know how to treat the customer.
sclin10
Advanced Driver

So that was YOU that passed us in a '67 going 100 mph on the road to Phoenix? LOL
SAG
Technician

it was sad to watch the 'Big 3' loosing the battle in the late '70s
all that oil embargo nonsense. Oklahoma has more oil under it than Saudi.
_ use up the middle east first, & sell it to them when their depleted _ ha
Quality 'tanked' for what ever reason?
VW/Audi had their game on then.
FIAT - had a bad joke about them _ "Fix It Again Tony" &was remembered by most people.
_and look at us doing a about-face now.
Nothing like 'cruiseing' around in a "Land Yacht" though!
pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

Much Imperial bashing going on here..  Has anyone seen the movie “Point Blank”?  1967 Lee Marvin is a bad dude who takes an enemy for a ride in a ‘67 Imperial conv. and proceeds to crash it front and back into overpass columns. It was still ready for more when his passenger had enough bouncing around.  

Imperials are not allowed in demolition derbies…. Hmmmmmmmmm

RG440
Instructor

I owned a 1973 Imperial LeBaron, Burnt Orange, White Top, White Leather Interior with the only addition to it from my garage was a factory six-pack and chrome tips off a 69 GTX. Talk about a ride that floated on air!, Until the three twos were open. Factory resonators made the old lion (er Imperial) purr. It was one of the only cars I owned that both front and rear of the vehicle were equally as attractive!, coming and going!!!, Along with my 68 Convertible Coronet 440. The hood of the LeBaron was a whopping six foot five inches long. The carbs needed a modified air cleaner as clearance was tight to the factory hood. Ahhhh, I miss that car 🙂
RG440
Instructor

Found this comment online about how I always felt about driving my Luxury Imperial LeBaron…..Now that you have gotten used to the luxury length, you can focus on the luxury that the car offered. This 1973 Imperial LeBaron was a big ole’ rollin’ Barco lounger. Its long wheelbase of 127” smoothed out the worst roads, with the longer wheelbase and heavy weight distribution the ride mocked a sense of “floating”….the car was unflappable at high speeds…..took potholes in stride, was unaffected by hilly terrain, and simply loved the open road. I drove one on a nice long, leafy trek and let me tell you, I arrived at my destination four hours later just as fresh as when I began the journey.

That LeBaron held the road like a magnate, the steering was light and responsive and as I said before, it was like floating at high speeds, you really couldn’t tell that you were going that fast until you saw the red lights in your rear view mirror of the vehicle that could barely keep up with your 440’s pace with that ticket! I hated the trip ended to be honest with you; I enjoyed that great big car, it was like driving my living room around with me.

Eaglefox1
Pit Crew

I don’t know what I like more, the article or the comments. Thank you all for commenting on these articles written by children who never went through the confusion of trying to figure out if the car they were looking at was cool, or a future embarrassment. Reliable or junk. Oh, wait for next year when they fix the ______.
Keep posting!
Yes, I loved my 1962 dodge dart.