Concentrated Rides: An Imperial Collection

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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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.

  • 28-Cars-Later Seville - LS400Bhp 295 250Ft-tq 280 260Reliable No Yes
  • 28-Cars-Later No, and none of you should be either.
  • Arthur Dailey No.
  • Arthur Dailey My father had multiple Northstar equipped vehicles. He got one of the first Northstar equipped STS's in Canada and continually drove STS's on one year leases for nearly a decade. One of them did 'crap out' on him. It went into 'limp' mode and he drove it to the nearest GM dealer. The vehicle was about half way through its lease, and he was in cottage country (Muskoka). GM arranged to have it flatbedded back to Toronto. He rented a vehicle, drove it home and then took delivery of a new STS within about 4 days. There were no negotiations regarding repairs, etc. The vehicle was simply replaced. Overall he was pleased with the performance of these vehicles and their engines. We also found them a pleasant environment to be in, with more than enough power.
  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.