Concentrated Rides: An Imperial Collection

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
concentrated rides an imperial collection

Certain extraordinary circumstances can move a vehicle from the standard Rare Rides classification and into Concentrated Rides. Take today, for instance, where a concerned collector has gathered together 24 Chrysler Imperials in a California desert.

The why here is unclear.

From its inception, the Imperial was the pinnacle of Chrysler’s product offerings. Though the model originated in 1926, Imperial separated and became an independent luxury brand in 1955 (’55 above). Chrysler realized that if it wanted to compete with the likes of Lincoln and Cadillac, it needed a dedicated marque. After a fifth and final Imperial generation was sold for 1974 and ’75 model years, the brand went dormant. But it was not forgotten.

In the early 1980s, as Lee Iacocca became the top man at Chrysler, he desired a rebirth of the Imperial brand. More specifically, a new entrant in the hot personal luxury coupe segment. Chrysler was not in the best financial shape, but Iacocca had a plan. Calling upon his experience at Ford in the creation of the Continental Mark cars, he believed a new luxury coupe would show consumers that Chrysler was going places.

Aiming as high as possible, the luxury coupe would take top billing — above the Corinthian leather-lined Chrysler Cordoba. It was aimed directly at Lincoln’s brand new Continental Mark VI. The Imperial shared the rear-drive J platform that debuted for 1980 underneath the Cordoba and its pleb sibling, the Dodge Mirada. This new luxury car was ready for the 1981 model year.

The new Imperial was not available in any format other than a two-door coupe. The design was angular, distinctive, and made use of the bustle-back design cue found on the Cadillac Seville (and later ’82 Lincoln Continental). Unlike other luxury offerings of the day, badging was minimal. The previous Imperial avian logo was in use by the LeBaron since 1977, so Iacocca chose to use a Pentastar hood ornament instead. It was made of Cartier crystal, naturally.

Inside, the Imperial featured the latest in technology and convenience features. Power everything, climate control, electronic vacuum fluorescent dash, and even an integrated garage door opener. Even more Cartier crystals were found in the steering wheel and the opera lamps. Customers selected between cloth or a Mark Cross leather interior, or they could go all-out and spring for the all-blue Frank Sinatra edition.

The focus on technology continued under the hood, where all Imperials kept a 318 (5.2-liter) V8. New for the model was an electronic throttle-body fuel injection system that proved more problematic than not. The transmission was a three-speed TorqueFlite, which saw use in many cars of the era. You’ve heard about it in several previous non-Chrysler editions of Rare Rides.

Sales of the Imperial never lived up to expectations. Imperial’s brand prestige was questionable against the iconic Cadillac and Lincoln names. The styling, though unique, did not tie the Imperial well to other Chrysler models, and the lack of external badging meant the customer lacked product recognition. Reliability issues were not constrained to the new EFI system; the vacuum dash also had issues. And finally, the Imperial was priced above the Cadillac Eldorado. All of these factors added up to a short-lived luxury experiment for the Imperial. 1983 was its last year on the market, and the model name would only return (vaguely) in 1990 as a super-extended K-car.

Today’s Concentrated Rides appear in various states of decay, as they’ve sat uncovered in desert weather. Scanning the photos, it doesn’t look like there’s a Frank Sinatra among the illustrious collection. Currently listed on eBay, interested parties can buy one or more of Chrysler’s last luxury coupe, should they desire.

H/t to Sajeev Mehta for pointing this premium collezione to me.

[Images: seller, Chrysler, Corey Lewis/TTAC]

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2 of 34 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Sep 17, 2018

    I was playing with my 3y/o son in my in-laws basement and he emptied a small can of Matchbox cars which had to have been 40 years old onto the floor and I found a Mirada, which had to have been based on this platform. As a child of the 80s I immediately got a warm feeling, I haven't seen one of these in over 20 years . Even here in Midwest,a fetching shape for sure.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Oct 02, 2018

    These looks like the illicit offspring of an Olds Toronado and a Lincoln Mk VI.

  • MrIcky I like the 78 concept. I like the safari type top on the purple one but I don't like that color, I want to like the warth...scrambler concept but it doesn't quite do it for me. I'd like to try the magneto.
  • Tassos GM, especially under the sorry reign of socially promoted nobody Mary Barra (who would not have a chance in hell being appointed the CEO if she was a MALE) has done far dumber and sillier things than that, wasting BILLIONS on 'cruise' and expecting it to make it $50 billion, remember? THey do not mention the name much these days, the clowns at GM, do they?
  • MaintenanceCosts I notice that the pictures don't show the dash or the door cards, two places where you'd be most likely to notice interior disintegration on a VW of this vintage.Looks nice on the outside but I wouldn't touch it.
  • SilverHawk At least in the short term, this is simply going to cause more anxiety among the more technology shy consumers looking to buy a new vehicle. Especially when this is not being done for the benefit of the vehicle owner, but for the convenience of GM's marketing department. Personal data security is an extremely important issue in today's world.
  • Ajla I don't think I'd be able to part with something I kept for 23 years. Especially as the only owner.