Curbside Classic: The Last Cool And Real Imperial – 1974 Imperial LeBaron Coupe

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic the last cool and real imperial 1974 imperial lebaron coupe

Enough with these pathetic little Briggs and Stratton powered sidewalk toys like the Rabbit and Starlet! We need us a real car to counterbalance that axis of Cozy Coupes. Hell, this Imperial weighs a half a ton more than both of them together. Its 7.2 liter engine is almost three times as big as their egg beaters combined. And its got enough torque to twist those little tin cans into shreds. This baby rocks, even if it is to a song that abruptly played out the year of its birth. Yes, this Imperial was born under a bad sign: the crescent moon. And it marks the end of the road for Chrysler’s pride and joy, save some pathetic efforts to revive it. But Chrysler’s loss is our gain today, because it isn’t every day we stumble onto one of these bitchin’ waterfall-grilled monstrosities with big twin exhausts to rumble our memories and fantasies far away to another time and place…

I’m going to call this the coolest big sled since finding the hot-rod ’50 Caddy coupe. They have a lot in common too; they’re the beginning and end of the whole crazy and uniquely-American idea: the biggest, meanest luxury coupe with the biggest, baddest motor in the house. I know; Caddy and Lincoln were still at the game with big rigs in ’74, but which of the three would you pick to put mag wheels on and hang a couple of big exhaust pipes out the ass end? I thought so. For whatever reason, and wherever your loyalties to the Big Three lay, the big Chryslers were the only ones that still could pull this sort of stunt off in 1974.

Was it the styling, or what was under the skin? The return of the waterfall grille was a bold and distinctive step, even if it was a reprise of that divine sales flop, the Airflow. The rest of Chrysler’s new look wasn’t exactly original either; it looks like a slightly warmed over ’69 Buick Electra except for that outrageous front end. The stunning and original fuselage styling of ’69-’73 was worn out, as were Chrysler’s creative juices. The crap that came out of Highland Park from here on out was nothing but the result of death rattles moving the hands of the designers. That is, until Lido showed up and taught them to fold, spindle and mutilate a simple box in more ways than had ever been…; well “imagined” is too flattering a word. That resulted in zombie Imperials that still haunt our nightmares.

Yes, the Arabs put a kibosh on this barge that Cleopatra would have been proud to float down the Nile on. And her tush would have been sitting pretty on all those acres of gen-u-ine Corinthian leather. The 440’s blubbering dual exhausts didn’t even need to be submerged under water to sound like an old Chris Craft speed boat. They don’t call these barges for nothing.

No, it wasn’t the styling alone. Chrysler’s big unibodies were always the eating-disordered unpopular sister of the big luxury three. A ’74 Lincoln had a good 600 pounds on this Le Baron (oh God, was that name ever dragged through the mud by Lido’s Kars). Does anyone still know what Le Baron once was? The builders of the finest coach-built custom bodies in the land, like this Duesenberg. All things must pass. Well, this Le Baron isn’t exactly a Duesey, but it’s a lot closer to it in spirit than what followed all to soon. Just for good measure, here’s the tracks this ’74 was following.

But the tracks ended here; well, technically the following year in ’75. If you can tell the difference between the two, you should be writing this. Less than 4k of these coupes were made in ’74; even fewer the year after. Then it was over, for Chrysler’s perpetual wild goose chase for Cadillac gold. Since breaking away from the Chrysler brand in ’55, it managed to beat Lincoln just twice, in ’59 and ’60. But the brilliant ’61 Lincoln showed its trim little taillights to the Imperial, and never looked back. Twenty-one years of true Imperials, and every single one a memorable one. That’s more than I can say for its competition. Nothing like going out in style at the top, big time.

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  • Nick Nick on Feb 01, 2010 Go here and do the appropriate search and you will see a 1975 4-dr Imperial for sale in Saskatchewan. Looks to be in v good shape. Paul?

  • Moparman426W Moparman426W on Mar 13, 2010

    I happen to own a 78 New Yorker Brougham, which is the same car. The difference was that chrysler dropped the 4 wheel disc brakes, and made some of the equipment which was standard on the Imperial optional on the new yorker. Motor trend picked this car over the lincoln and caddy in july of 75. They rated the car superior in handling, road feel, materials used in the interior as well as fit and finish, and trunk space. They also praised the car in many other areas. Road test magazine also talks of the car's superiority in handling over the lincoln and caddy in their august 75 issue. These cars go down the highway very well, especially for their size, with none of the pitch and wallowing that most cars from this era are known for. I put about 1,500 miles per year on mine going to car shows and such, these cars are very comfortable on the highway. The space inside is cavernous, and the transmission hump is smaller than in the lincolns and caddies as well. The interiors in these cars are made of great materials, and use far less plastic than any camry or accord, sorry, posters. The bottom of the instrument panel is metal. The knobs are even metal, except for the wiper and power antenna switch. The car has 118k on it, and has no squeaks or rattles whatsoever. Everything in the interior is intact, and the driver's door opens and closes perfectly with the original bushings in the hinges. Not many GM cars can make that last claim. To the poster that said these cars have crappy brakes, these cars use the exact same brakes as the fullsize 1/2 ton trucks of the 70's. To the poster that made the comment about switching to an earlier motor without lean burn.....they are the same engine. All you have to do, is replace the distributor with one from an earlier engine, as well as the carb. Or you could use an aftermarket distributor and carb. I switched mine to an earlier factory electronic unit, and used an edelbrock 750 carb for better driveability, power and mileage. I used an open element air cleaner, and advance the timing a few degrees. The car has excellent throttle response and runs very well on the highway, and with the cruise control set at 65 I manage 14 MPG easily, which is a big improvement over the factory thermoquad/lean burn system. I plan to add a gear vendors overdrive to the torqueflite, which should easily add 2-3 mpg. These cars weigh in the vicinity of 5,000 lbs. In the same ballpark as the lincoln and caddy. People that bought these cars were luxury car buyers, so I doubt that many ended up buying camrys or accords. Maybe a mercedes or something similar, but not accords or camrys. Seems like no matter what type of car is featured here people think the owners went to accords and camrys. BTW thanks for the info on the car for sale, NickR.

  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.
  • Lorenzo They may as well put a conventional key ignition in a steel box with a padlock. Anything electronic is more likely to lock out the owner than someone trying to steal the car.