By on February 28, 2009

Not long ago, apropos of I don’t remember what, I posted on this site about a 1960 Imperial and its owner, Jim Byers. Byers had been an impressario of jazz for the Kennedy Center. I met him in the mid-90s while photographing his car. Byers saw my post on TTAC and emailed me. He’d replaced the ’60 with a ’67. Coincidentally, I had fled Boston’s snows for several weeks. We arranged to meet down by the Potomac so that I could test drive the ’67.

Of the top-of-the-line luxury cars of the ’50s and ’60s, Caddy had serious bling. Lincoln Continental had a dignified grace, and served as presidential limos to JFK and LBJ. The Imperial was too baroque for Washington, DC, but its elaborate elegance would have made it the perfect chariot for the Italian renaissance. Had Venice had roads instead of canals . . .

The 1960 Imperial’s luxuries are ample, starting with soft leather seats that hug you like a long lost friend. There’s a mirror inside the glove box for your lady, which folds down when she’s not using it, and a cigarette lighter on the right-hand door console for her smoking pleasure. Should you drive a bit too enthusiastically, she can grab the little security handle carved into the far right extremity of the dash.

For the rear passengers, a button slides either front bucket seat forward, ensuring graceful egress. All passengers are surrounded by a genuine walnut trim. The Imperial’s luxury aura takes a hit from the downmarket, colorless gray gauges and radio, reminiscent of those found on my parents’ 1970 Valiant, a near-stripper.

Like many classic cars, the Imperial comes with a history. In the 1940s, a small airplane embedded itself in the Empire State Building. The ’67’s first owner: Harvey B. Moyer, proprietor of the demolition company that had extricated plane from spire. Byers, owner number three, has added some of his own color to the Imperial’s history. For several years, he ran the Straight Eights, a DC area vintage car club for gays and lesbians.

To drive the Imperial is to feel elevated. President Obama must have felt something like this the first time he was chauffeured in that fortress of a Cadillac. President Obama, as you may know, drove a 340 hp Chrysler 300C until he was outed during the campaign, after castigating the D-3 for building “bigger, faster cars.” Poor Barack then felt obliged to purchase a Ford Escape hybrid, just like Hillary, and John Edwards, and Christopher Dodd (who had owned a Mustang). Hewing to political correctness can take the fun out of driving, but I digress.

Anyway, I set off at a leisurely pace from the Jefferson Memorial, along Potomac Park East. I pushed the Imperial ever so slightly as I rounded the corner that hooks back towards the Jefferson, just enough so she leaned like a yacht in a strong wind. The road was empty, so I floored her.

The Imperial weighs close to 5,000 lb. Despite my attempt to muster the Chrysler’s alleged 480 lb·ft of torque (at 2,800 rpm), she seemed in no hurry to reach 50 mph. I jerked the wheel to check the front end. After the helm returned to the straight ahead position, the big lady performed a little wiggle-woggle.

We cruised the Mall towards Air and Space, turning left onto fourth street, so that we could roll by I. M. Pei’s East Wing, my favorite Washington building, and on down Constitution Ave. I don’t need no stinkin’ SUV to sit high in this thing. I WAS high, looking out over all the people crowding the American History and Technology side of the Mall, hoping to see some Power, or maybe just a museum.

I was expecting them to notice ME, and this grand chariot. But no one seemed to notice, and then some stupid SUV actually cut in front of me. The whole family suddenly noticed that they’d just cut off President Holzman (that’s me, the first Jew to lead the Free World). They waveand smiled.

Besides the Imperial’s wonderfully floaty, boaty feel, and the effortlessly numb steering, this land yacht’s four disc brakes feel as competent as those on any contemporary appliance. The silky V8, with 72,000 original miles, feels like it could easily do another 72,000, and who knows, maybe another 72,000 after that, although I can’t help wondering if this beast felt far more puissant during the Nixon and Ford administrations than it does now.

My strongest impression of the Imperial came after I got back into my ’99 Accord LX with the 2.4-liter engine and the five speed stick. The Honda felt the way my brother-in-law’s Audi TT had felt just days earlier when I had driven it for the first time. Major torque and steering fit to carve up Skyline Drive––even with the snows on! That effect stayed with me for the rest of the day, through another 25 miles or so. It wasn’t until the next morning that my sense of  Accord returned to normal.

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25 Comments on “Review: 1967 Chrysler Imperial...”

  • avatar

    Nice piece. I love driving those floaty-boaty cars of the ’60s. I doubt anyone today would actually favor the novacaine steering, but that once was the standard for luxury cars.

  • avatar

    Nice review… Imperial, as a brand, deserved to stick around.

  • avatar

    FYI if you’re in the area, in Manassas at the intersection of 28 and 234 there is a fast food joint (McDonalds?) that has a very cool cruise-in in the summer. In addition to some great muscle cars there is also random weirdness like the guy who stuffed an STi engine into a gray market import VW Notchback.

  • avatar

    My grandfather owned a haze green metallic 1967 Imperial sedan. It was sharper handling than the similar year Cadillac. But these were large cars and the term “land yacht” applied. My favorite features were the single idiot light that informed you that any of the full set of gauges were out of normal range. And the floor mounted button (next to the headlight dimmer button) that moved the radio to the next station. My favorite exterior feature was the wall-to-wall tail lights. As I recall there were lighters in each door next to the ashtray for your smoking pleasure.

  • avatar

    Hey, i’ve seen this car parked on 17th Street before. Great car.


    It’s next door at the Burger King

  • avatar

    tced2: My favorite exterior feature was the wall-to-wall tail lights.

    Speaking of which, why are there no photos of the rear of the car? Great review, and this is not the only article missing them. I’ve noticed this trend for a while but why are there so few photos of the back of the car? After all, the back of the car is what we see most in traffic and I know that when I picture most 80’s and 90’s cars in my mind the first image I see is the taillights. If I got behind this car on the street I wouldn’t recognize it, because I have never seen one from the rear…

  • avatar

    I had a 67 Grand Fury Sport, a three ton yacht with a “supercommando v8”. The 383 was all the big old motors were famous for, down to the 8 mpg.

    This was a luck “old man” car with 28k on it. I had i for two years of college.

    A six footer could lay out straight in the back.

    The only car I ever had stolen, and I missed it…especially when the replacement was a 73 Nova with a I-6

    You didn’t drive it, as much as you moved your living room around. the unsmogged v8 would laugh at the Transams and tape job Z28’s

  • avatar

    Nice column, but this looks more like a mid-’60s edition to me. Where are the tail fins?

  • avatar

    The shown car (1967) was the first year when the tail fins were tamed. The Imperial switched to a unibody (shared with Chrysler) over a body-on-frame of previous years. The 1966 Imperial had pretty big tail fins and the 1967 ones were very restrained.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Guy down the street owns one from the late 50s painted in one of those 50s colors that was named after a fruit, but never was found in nature. It is beautiful to see it set sail.

  • avatar

    Yeah, the headline should be “1967 Chrysler Imperial”. 1960 was an entirely different barge.

    Rear view:

  • avatar

    Meh! The last “real” Imperial was the 1966.

    Beginning with the 1967 model year the Imperial began going to hell. It started using the same unibody chassis as lesser and cheaper Chryslers and even though the sheet metal was different, it still looked like a Chrysler. A very fancy and expensive Chrysler, but still just a Chrysler. Beginning with the 1971 model year, Imperial was no longer a separate “make” and was reduced to being a model in the Chrysler line.

  • avatar

    The last finned Imperial was the 61. They were trimmed so far back for 62 -63,they couldn’t be counted as “fins” any longer. Perhaps technically, a “fin”, but not on the order of anything from 1957-1961.

    The 62 used “microphine” style suspended tail lights perched on the tops of the fenders [and called “bird strainers”] the 63 use tail lights similar to the 64 Valiant and positioned in the fenders vertically.

    64 was the re-styled Imperial that was greatly influenced by the Lincoln Continental.No fins of any kind.

    The 67 used the unit body of the Chrysler rather than the Imperial’s traditional body on frame.

    Great article. And I love the “big car ride” of the cars of the 60s.

  • avatar

    Beautiful car, and a great review. However, your descriptions of the ride and handling of this 60s land yacht sound suspiciously like my ’91 Mercury Grand Marquis (unfortunately not a convertible, but still stylin’ with a white vinyl roof). I think its technology came from the same era as the Imperial, which is probably why I constantly forget the car was built in the last decade of the 20th century.

    Long live the land yachts, especially the convertibles!

  • avatar

    I can so relate! I still own my first car, a 72 Plymouth Fury Sport. As a college kid, I upgraded every suspension part I could get, added Eagle GT’s, and wow, thought I had a well handling car. Fast forward to today: I will take the old Fury out for a blast and wonder how I drove that huge car so fast. Love that low end grunt, though. After driving the Fury, I’ll drive my Probe GT, or G35 and feel that I’m in a F1 car, the inputs seem so direct!

  • avatar

    I first saw (and photographed) Byers’ 1960 Imperial in 1992. It was the second classic car I photographed, of probably a few thousand now (see my website, for some of the cars and characters I’ve met). I saw it (and photographed it again) about a year later at the mid-October Rockville MD car show, one of the best car shows I’ve been to. (Probably half the Panhards in the US were present that year, which was four of them, I think.) I met Byers the first time in the mid-90s, after encountering his 1960 on the street again.

    In general, I love Chrysler cars from the late ’50s to the mid-60s. The former pushed the baroque generally, and fins specifically, to the limits. The ’60 Imperial, the ’60 Valiant, and the ’64 Chrysler NYer and ’64 Imperial are my favorites.

  • avatar

    Besides the Imperial’s wonderfully floaty, boaty feel, and the effortlessly numb steering, this land yacht’s four disc brakes feel as competent as those on any contemporary appliance.

    4 wheel drum, I assume you mean? Or has this been upgraded.

  • avatar

    It was discs.

  • avatar

    Nice review. Imperial was still a separate brand in 1967, so I believe the proper way to refer to this car is not as a 1967 Chrysler Imperial, but just as a 1967 Imperial. Actually, I think it’s an Imperial Crown. I only know this because my One That Got Away was a 1967 Imperial LeBaron. It had a telescoping steering wheel, dial-operated cruise control (“Auto Pilot”), and a radio with a display that flipped over when you pushed the AM or FM buttons. Sigh.

  • avatar

    It is a Crown.

  • avatar

    David, my dad was a Chrysler man, and we had a ’64 New Yorker in light blue for about nine years. The styling was so different from any other car. I remember the square steering wheel and the matching push-button automatic transmission and air conditioning buttons on either side of the steering column. Power windows too. Dad was a pilot, so he had seat belts installed on the car.

    It was shipped over to Okinawa with us when we moved there, and undercoated to keep it from rusting. My mother used to skillfully pilot that land yacht thru the narrow streets and alleys in town, scaring everyone else in the car with the inches of clearance.

    I never got to drive it, though my brother did. He preferred the ’67 Chevy Malibu with the heavy-duty 3=speed on the floor and its sweet 283 small-block V8. But we always loved floating around in the New Yorker.

  • avatar

    Many thanks to David for his review of my ’67 Imperial Crown convertible! One small clarification: yes, mine is equipped to original specs with front disc brakes, and rear drums (not unlike most American luxury cars of the late ’60’s). Thanks also to those who took time to leave kind remarks about my ride, or insightful comments about Imperials in general! Might I suggest: the real test would be to drive a similar vintage Cadillac or Lincoln after driving an Imperial(!) A non-believing vintage GM collector friend of mine did so, and now admits his luxury Mopar is his best vintage long-distance road car. Once you’ve driven a “Crown,” you won’t want to ‘step down’ ;-)

  • avatar
    Avinash Machado

    Great review and excellent car.The sheer size of these cars adds to the charm.

  • avatar

    The 1967 and 1968 Imperials were still separate from the rest of the Chrysler line; they just shared the unit-body construction principle with Chrysler. The Imperial used a separate system at the time, with a front subframe used to isolate the passenger compartment from shock and vibration. After two years of this, the Imperial and the Chrysler shared body tooling. But the Imperial was still separate in some ways; it had four-wheel disc brakes available, for example, and other features, in addition to slightly different styling. After 1975, the Imperial was dropped, and the New Yorker got its styling, to separate it from the lesser Chryslers. But the New Yorker did not retain the optional four-wheel disc brakes.

  • avatar

    I’ve had 5 or 6 Imperials, 4 or 5 Lincolns, and 2 or 3 Cadillac—all
    from the 1960s.

    Perhaps the confusion regarding brake systems was that the front(only)disc brakes were four-pistion calipers, made by Budd, and began in 1967. The Lincoln system was the same, except that their four-piston calipers (like Corvette) were made by Bendix. Though Lincoln started with this set-up in ’65, both of these makes were such low production that said systems were standard, not optional. Cadillac offered front disc brakes optionally in the late 60s; but became standard after a few years. All makers changed to double or single piston calipers a bit later for cost reasons.

    The Sixties’ heavyweights offered genuine alternatives in American
    luxury vehicles, but Lincoln was and is by far the most expensive to
    maintain. While the Imperial frequently had better design, in
    features and especially styling, their execution of design, or
    “workmanship” as it used to be called, suffered in comparison to
    the other two.

    Cadillac had earned their quality reputation from finally
    conqueroring Packard in the late 1940 through the 1950s. Cad
    continued to “ride” on this reputation for quite a while. Their
    zenith in quality was probably the 1964 models . . . the last ones
    that used real rubber gaskets for the windshield and back windows.
    [Starting with the ’65s, they started glueing them in. When the
    glue shrunk, water leaks abounded. But by then, they were so old
    that both GM and the dealers did not care . . immediately.] Yet
    advantages for the old Cadillac buyer continue to this day: parts
    availability is almost easy, and prices are reasonable.

    The Lincoln division of Ford began a very serious run at Cadillac
    with a strenuous, serious quality-control program in the late 50s,
    remembering their quality problems of the previous ten years. It
    did pay dividends—but not immediately. It wasn’t until the 80s
    Town Cars that Lincoln was a consistent, genuine competitor to
    Cadillac . . . and by then, in my opinion, passed Cadillac, who
    made some serious errors, such as the “8-6-4”, Diesels, and 4.1
    aluminum engines. Cad also swung too far into front-wheel drive,
    at least in comparison to the big FoMoCo products that became the
    latter-day true ‘standard’ of American automotive luxury.

    But the Lincolns of the 1960s remain almost frightfully expensive
    to maintain (same with Thunderbirds, made in the same single plant).
    Thus, they’ve become a “not recommended” choice for older American
    heavyweight buyers, in my view. And then, by the late 1960s,
    Lincoln shifted their focus almost entirely to two-doors via the
    Mark series. To be sure, quality was and remained second-to-none.
    Ironically, Mark 3s, 4s, etc. have some less expensive parts costs
    than regular ’61 – ’69 Continentals . . . such as power windows.

    ’67 Imperials remain an excellent choice. They are not prone to
    the water leaks at the base of the rear windows like the previous
    separate-body-and-frame ones; but they commonly have rust at the
    bottom of the rear quarters. So; get one with a good engine
    (take compression readings), check for rust/rot, and a decent
    interior . . . and your risk level is minimal. Best of all,
    they’re much less common than Cadillacs, and thus you’ll have
    a certain measure of exclusivity.

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