By on August 10, 2011

With scrap steel worth so much these days, does a fairly rough ’63 Imperial have any chance of evading The Crusher? Probably not.

This one has been picked over pretty well, but still has plenty of goodies left for someone with a project Imperial.

Plenty of overlooked bits and pieces in the trunk

Speaking of the trunk, check out this huge air-conditioning unit in the back.

Chrysler Airtemp!

The ’63 Imperial came with a 340-horsepower 413 under the hood. Hmmm… this engine might be just the thing for my Dodge A100 van.

Someone who felt like restoring a 1963 Detroit luxury car would probably go for the more popular Continental or Cadillac; the big-fin Imperials of the late 1950s and the boxy monster Imperials of the later 1960s get a lot more attention than those of this era.

These cars were huge and heavy, but not quite as heavy as you might think. The ’63 Imperial Custom four-door hardtop scaled in at 4,690 pounds. How heavy is that? Just 521 pounds more than the ’11 Dodge Challenger SRT8!

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1963 Imperial Custom...”


  • avatar
    thornmark

    Imperials were banned from demolition derbies because they were so much stronger than Caddys and Lincolns, or just about any other car for that matter.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I was always under the impression that the strength came from a frame that was almost totaly “straight” when viewed from the side. Sort of like a battering ram.

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        As someone recently pointed out, (over on CC I believe) the front-end is very solid as well. The seams on the panels are filled so the front fenders and the panel in front of the hood appear to be all one piece.

      • 0 avatar
        Hank

        I grew up in TX cattle country, and recall my dad saying that these Imperials were preferred by the wealthier ranchers over Lincolns and Cadillacs because they could take the unpaved caliche roads better because they were built so sturdily. It’s a shame no one’s rescued this one yet.

    • 0 avatar

      That car is still considered the “holy grail of demo derby cars”. Some places still allow them and derby demons will “pay up” for these things. Check out wecrash.com for demo derby news, tips, tricks and classifieds. (I have no affiliation or financial interest). There is a similar Imp w/o engine/trans for sale for $1600. This car pictured should bring that much or more….much higher than scrap value.

      Tony D
      New Edge Performance

  • avatar

    thornmark: That was only for one or two years of Imperials…IIRC, it was 1973.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      I thought it was pre-67 models that were banned, when Imperials were still BOF.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe so, what I heard was from a third party…I don’t follow the destruction of cars for entertainment purposes very regularly.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It would have been the cars from before they started sharing a body with Chrysler, so basically the ones with the wrap around windshield and separate frame. What made them so dominant in demolition derbies was that they were basically two cars in one. They have a untized body sitting on top of a full frame. Either part is as strong as any other car by itself.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Huh. I never realized the pushbutton tranny selector was over by the door. That must have been confusing.

    There is a black ’62 Imperial rotting away in a lot a few miles up the road. There used to be a bunch of other dead cars in there, but they were all cleared out a few years ago except the Imp.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Hamburg, MI?

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      It was on the left for safety, so it could not be accidentally activated by a passenger.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      YUP, All Chryslers and anyone else who had push button tranny’s in the early 60′s generally had them by the driver’s door.

      My parents had the ’64 Dodge 330 wagon with the push button transmission and it was discretely placed near the driver’s door, with the park lever just to the left of the buttons so when you parked, you released the lever so it would drop down to engage the parking sprag and at the same time, it would engage the park button. Otherwise, you raised the lever and put the car into reverse or drive but the physical layout of some of the automatics, especially the torque flight was PRNDL with the park sprag lever a separate unit that you used to engage it. By 1965, the push button units were discontinued for the more common column shifter.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    Hemmings Classic Car magazine just had a huge spread on the Imperials from the 60s and 70s. Very interesting stuff, apparently it was a much smoother car than the Caddys.

  • avatar
    sportsuburbangt

    That body is really clean, and the seats look OK under those plastic covers. That Imp is not in that bad shape, I’ve seen much worse body wise up here in the Northeast. This one has some rare options, dual AC, and Autopilot (cruise control) The BOF Imps (66 and older) are banned from most derbys. At least the grill and the pod headlights were saved. Still lots of good parts left on that one.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    amazing brontosaurus. I remember these grazing on the highways and byways when i was a kid, i always stopped and looked. My fav one was the one the jetson taillights that floated above the fins, and had the swoopy piece over the door. I also liked the enclosed headlights. Lets do some speed and design a car, ok boys?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I would imagine parts aren’t easy or cheap to come by if anyone wanted to rescue this behemoth.

    I’m not sure if I can get excited over this car except for the rarity of all things Imperial – perhaps that’s why someone should rescue it before it is turned into the next IPhone.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    This generation of Imperials (1957-1966) pioneered the use of curved side glass – which was unremarkable by the late 1960s in American cars but which Chrysler deserved a lot of credit for pioneering. Today, beltlines are often so high that side windows might as well be made of flat glass once again, unfortunately.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Notably in this case, we are seeing a car manufactured unlike anything else on the road that year, or since.

    Chrysler made a huge investment in Imperial in 1957. They spent a fortune to become a major player in the Big Three luxury car market. By the mid-1950s, a number of US independant makes were out of business or barely surviving and the Big Three were raking in the dough. Seeing the disappearance of Packard and Hudson, while eyeing the new Continentals and Cadillacs from Ford and GM made Chrysler believe there was enough room in the luxury car market for them. The 1957 Imperial was their luxury dreadnought, their battleship, to take on and seize the opportunities they saw. Chrysler spared no expense since they had the money, the faith and the balls to go all out.

    What they didn’t predict was the 1958 recession. While their Imperial had a successful launch and sold remarkably well, Chrysler saw it’s other brands take huge hits in 1958. DeSoto was going down, along with Ford’s new brand – Edsel. Buick was on the ropes, Packard, Hudson and Nash were gone and the entire near luxury market was decimated. This shook up more than one Detroit Big Three board. Chrysler had to repair it’s damaged quality image during the first major Post WWII recession when consumers were deciding to buy 180 degrees away from new near-luxury cars and buy small simple compacts. Chrysler anticipated this with the new Valiant division of compact cars. Instead of expanding into an Imperial market, Chrysler had to spend their dwindling dollars into an expanding, less profitable, Valiant market.

    So there was no money for Imperial. Their 1957 car continued with annual body changes until 1964.

    What we see here is the best 1957 construction in the field, with 1963 styling designs. From it’s launch until 1963, Chrysler slowly stripped away the 1957 design touches and replaced each succeeding year’s Imperial elements with evolutionary changes chasing the Lincoln Continetal and Cadillac’s newer stylings.

    By 1963, Chrysler was an entirely different company from the one that launched this car in 1957. Their Board was rocked by scandals and death, their replacement management proved incompetent and poor forecasters, their designer proved to be from Mars and couldn’t design a bar of soap without screwing up, the DeSoto had to be killed off, their profits were gone, and the Imperial was the last thing on Chrysler’s mind. So the car inched along without real change. Good grief, an A/C unit behind the rear seat in 1963? In 1963, you could buy a new car from GM or Ford, not an old car from Chrysler.

    This is a rock solid battleship of a car. It had electric push button transmission. It had body on frame construction. It had electroluminescent lighting. It had everything a Detroit rocket ship was supposed to have. In 1962 it lost it’s rocket fins. In 1963, it lost it’s rocket tail lights. It was the widest car on the road. It represents what the Big Three thought was where the US Market was headed before the economic bottom fell out. It represents a time when Chrysler fiddled with it’s own demise, one of many times to come. When this car was planned and executed for the first time, it looked like a major contender. By 1963, it looked like a sure loser.

    Yesterday, you showed us a disposable car – the Datsun B-210. It was designed to be thrown away and manufactured with the poorest materials ever put into anything on the road since the Crosley. This car was manufactured to never be thrown away. For those of us interested in environmentalism, you have to wonder if it is better to build an Imperial, or a Datsun. To think that Japanese cars would end up being seen as somehow good for our environment shows how times have changed.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Good summary.

      Problem is also that theguy who used to buy a Chrysler to show-off, now buys a Gulfstream or a Jet Ranger. Not much money to be made, or prestige to be found, sitting in a traffic jam…

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      For those of us interested in environmentalism, you have to wonder if it is better to build an Imperial, or a Datsun. To think that Japanese cars would end up being seen as somehow good for our environment shows how times have changed.

      Yeah, it showed that a Plymouth Neon or Chrysler Cirrus became the disposable car while an Accord would easily last for two hundred thousand miles without any drama. We stopped making Imperials, and Cadillac and Lincoln are shadows of their former selves, too.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      When this car was manufactured, Chrysler followed the practice of making annual model changes, just as GM and Ford did. Granted, on the Imperial, given its low volume, the changes weren’t as drastic as on the higher-volume standard Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler, but, if you compare each model year, you can tell that Chrysler made annual changes to this basic body shell.

      Chrysler’s goal in touting expensive construction techniques and quality touches was not to encourage its original buyer to keep the car forever. The goal was to boost the resale value, so trading for a new one would be much less painless. Cadillac had the best resale value of any domestic car in those days (and virtually all imports, too), and this important fact encouraged owners to trade every 1-2 years on a brand-new Cadillac.

      Cadillac had the best of both worlds – buyers of new cars wanted to be seen in the “latest and greatest” from Cadillac, while buyers of used Cadillacs wanted a good car that was less expensive than a brand-new one. This was Chrysler’s goal for the Imperial, but given the funky styling and quality problems plaguing its cars during this period, it never was able to pull this off to the extent that GM did.

      The manufacturer that ran into trouble with encouraging people to keep cars for too long was…Lincoln. After its new 1961 models, it found that owners were so satisfied with their cars, and the annual changes were so slight, that most simply had no desire to trade for a new one.

    • 0 avatar
      racebeer

      Pretty good narrative, but it needs a couple of corrections:

      The A/C behind the rear seat is the rear air unit for the back seat passengers. Those cars had both front and rear evaporators, fans and ducts.

      The pushbutton transmission was purely mechanical. The buttons were not electrical in nature, with the exception of the internal lights.

      As for the crazy styling, I guess that all depends on whether you are a fan of Virgil Exner or not. His designs in the 50′s were spot on and the 57′s sold like hotcakes. Unfortunately, the cars themselves were not assembled well at all, most of them rusting way too quickly. The word of this spread, and the cars stopped selling (the recession in the late 50′s didn’t help either). Although it didn’t affect the Imperial lineup, when the whole B-body group was due for the 62 redesign, the work was already complete when MOPAR management caught wind of a GM and Ford downsizing (which didn’t happen). They made Exner modify the designs he had already completed for the new B’s so they would fit the smaller footprint. Because of this, the new rooflines, windshield cowl area and curved side glass were all dumped which made the ’62, ’63 and ’64 models look strange, to say the least. They were actually 3 inches shorter and 8 inches more narrow that the original design!!! Exner was fired by Chrysler in ’62 as a scapegoat …. after all, he did what they wanted … which included no major redesign of the Imperial.

      BTW, I own one of the crazy ’63 Dodges …..

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Exner!

        Hey, 1957 was pretty good.

        But by 1964, regardless of his 1962 excuses, Chrysler suffered a serious styling hangover. Exner’s designs were stripped from the entire line.

        Whether he liked him or not, Exner’s old Boss Raymond Loewy, knew what looked good in 1953, as well as 1962, (Avanti), and Virgil Exner did not.

  • avatar
    obbop

    The brutish behemoth is awe-inspiring and tells a tale of USA past glories that have been shoved aside by inner and external changes propelling the USA down unknown paths but obviously to never return to the era that created the Imperial…for good or bad.

    Super nifty article and some exquisite commentary that adds to the original article in many ways.

    I sit in rapt delight within the shanty reading every word placed upon this Web page… and reveling in the posted pics.

    I am sated.

    Delighted.

    Temporarily.

    Hungering for more.

    Lusting.

    Still want a 318-powered Plymouth Duster or Dodge Dart but the odds of winning the Lottery for the funds are so remote.

    Sniff.

  • avatar
    windswords

    If you want to see what this looked like in it’s prime, Wiki has a nice picture.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/1963_Imperial.jpg

  • avatar

    I hope this car gets rescued, at least for parts. It should not go to waste. I love Imperials of that era. They are so wonderfully baroque, among other things.

  • avatar
    pb35

    When I was a kid in the 70s my mom had a 62 coupe. Turquoise with turquoise interior. I remember riding to the mall listening to Cousin Brucie and sitting on the front fender in our driveway. I remember the horn ring coming off in my dad’s hand one day.

    That thing was a beast.

  • avatar

    I had a ’65 Imperial for a while. Even though it was a total beater by the time I got it (I think it was 300 bucks), it was still a very comfortable and powerful car to drive. It also got about 8 MPG on the highway.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Why were push button transmission shifters discontinued? Reliability? Safety?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      If I recall correctly, they were discontinued for two reasons.

      One, fleet purchasers, particularly rental car companies, were reluctant to purchase Chrysler products, as they feared drivers of other makes would not be familiar with the pushbutton transmissions.

      Two, a survey commissioned by Chrysler supposedly showed that many owners of GM and Ford cars refused to consider Chrysler products on the basis of the pushbutton transmission alone. Given that Chrysler sales were at a low point in the early 1960s – market share was less than 10 percent in 1962 – the company had to conquest sales from GM and Ford in order to increase its sales.

      If you look at Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler sales brochures for the 1965 model year, in several places it specifically notes that the automatic transmission selector is on the steering column.

      The popular myth is that the federal government was planning to ban the pushbuttons, but, as the excellent site ateupwithmotor.com has noted, there is no proof of this.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        But FoMoCo put push buttons on the Edsel. Of course, maybe that answers my question…

        It just seems like a push button selector is an elegant approach to the way most people use an automatic transmission, and it seems especially appropriate for the era. I’m surprised that it was simply unwanted by the buying public.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        In the 1980s, my family had a 1963 Dodge Dart with pushbuttons as a third car. It was simply a pain to get used to the pushbuttons after using selectors mounted either on the steering column or between the seats.

        Perhaps if we were starting from scrath, the pushbuttons would be the ultimate choice, but even by the early 1960s, most people were used to the column-mounted selector, with a few opting for a console-mounted selector on the “sportier” cars. Remember that, during this era, GM alone had around 45 percent of the market, and Ford controlled about 25 percent (and still had around 20 percent, even if we subtract Edsel and Mercury sales, both of which did use pushbuttons in the late 1950s).

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    It is amazing how the fin-ectomy changed the whole look of the car. Compare this car to the 1961 model (first and last pictures on the link below).

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/nostalgia/cc-outtakes-a-trip-to-the-mechanic/

  • avatar
    beefmalone

    I NEEEEEED that radiator for my ’61 LeBaron!!!

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I thought that the trunk looked a little bare! Was the tire outline just a bolt-on or an option that this one didn’t have?

  • avatar
    Acd

    Some people rescue cats, some rescue dogs, if I had the money and the storage space I’d rescue cars and this would be one of the first I’d go after even though I’ve never had the least bit of interest in a ’63 Imperial. There is enough here that it would be an absolute shame if this car and all of those hard to obtain parts disappeared for a few hundred bucks worth of scrap metal.

    • 0 avatar
      Sandy B.

      I am new hwere. This item got me “in”. so…. I am MALE and in my early 60s.
      In 1957, my Dad bought a new 1957 CADILLAC HARDTOP COUPE. From week # 2 of ownership, the car began giving trouble. The dealer was very good to us…the car was not. We took Mom’s 1952 Chevy on long trips, as the Caddy could not be trusted. In 1960, Dad had enough and traded the Caddy in – on a new 1960 Continential, in pink ! The power windows were temperial, according to weather conditions the, the car was clunsy, fat and boring. Dad tried in vain to stand by his choice. HE FINALLY CAVED IN, and sold the boat to a tennis player friend. He bought a 1965 Imperial LeBaron. We had it 5 years !! In the 5 years, the driver’s side power window morot quit. End of list of problems! Warrantee covered it ! Following that was a 1970 Imperial, a 1973 Imperial, a 1975 Imperial and finally a 1978 Imperal (called a N.Y. Brougham)
      Nobody can tell our family that Lincolns and / or Caddy are better !
      Our cousins bought only Imperials all through the 1960s too.
      Sadly both Mom & Dad & the Imperial brand are all gone.
      I drive a 2003 Lincoln Town Car, the Spring “Feature” car called “THE <IMITED" of which 1,311 were made. In 8 years, one shock absorber busted, otherwise she is "lke an Imperial" !!

  • avatar
    dm2012

    Wow! I’ve owned one of these for the past 11 years & use it at least once a week. It’s like driving a luxurious JFK-era living room on wheels. The handling & braking aren’t at all modern, but not as bad as you’d expect. On the highway, it gets around 13 MPG; on surface streets, not so good.

    A few years ago, I had to re-solder a wire inside one of the electric window motors. I swear that motor was the size of an early Honda Accord starter.


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