By on September 13, 2018

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.

Image: 1955 Imperial CoupeFrom 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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34 Comments on “Concentrated Rides: An Imperial Collection...”


  • avatar
    tonyola

    The Imperial was the best looking car of the thankfully short-lived bustle-back fad of the early 1980s. Too bad it was mechanically a dog, not least for the early failures of the much-vaunted fuel injection system.

  • avatar
    detlump

    These are growing on me after 30 plus years. Lee should have priced it below the Cadillac and Lincoln to go after the not-me-too market.

    The Imperial also had a brief NASCAR career, actually looked pretty good as a stock car (aerodynamics be dammed).

  • avatar
    ajla

    The design of this Imperial was very nice IMO. It did an excellent job of combining contemporary 80s angularity and sharp lines with some Gastby Era luxury cues all without resorting to being unabashedly retro (like what came later on) or a gingerbread-festooned float (like what came before).

    But, two things it really needed:

    1. Suspension and drivetrain from the ’79 300 (I can’t remember if you’ve written about that one yet or not). The 195hp/280lb-ft 360-4bbl with a 3.21 rear end, dual exhaust, and breathed on suspension would have been more reliable and left the offerings from GM and Ford in the dust. I get that buyers of this class in the early 80s weren’t looking for “sport” cars but luxury cars should still be powerful and confident going down the road.

    2. 4-wheel disk brakes. That was always big Imperial marketing point back in the classic days and it should have continued on with this version.

  • avatar
    incautious

    ajla, have to agree with you. Had a 79 Magnum GT 360 4bbl the sibling of the 300 both of which were really police heavy duty vehicles. The Imperial probably would have sold better as a 4dr, was really soft riding. The FI issues did not help nor the resesion that the country was in. A little know fact about the Imperials they were factory color sanded and buffed out, paint was very nice on these when new.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Liked the exterior looks, the bustle back combined with hideaway headlights. The instrument panel and some interior fittings were however, ‘chintzy’ when compared to its competition.

    Also this is the period when the perceived prestige of American luxury cars began to decline in the minds of consumers.

    After losing their big v8’s, rear wheel drive and ‘bulk’ the D3 were having to compete on the imports’ terms.

  • avatar
    loner

    Popular car for demolition derbies. Perhaps the “why” is related to either protecting them from being turned into derby cars, or maybe the owner was a derby fan who was hoarding them for himself.

  • avatar

    This was actually an attractive car. It still looks good today.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “they could go all-out and spring for the all-blue Frank Sinatra edition.”

    It’s hard to imagine a time when a “Frank Sinatra” designated trim level would actually be a sales tool to sell a car. Perhaps a “Neil Diamond” or “Barbra Streisand” trim could move a Buick or two

  • avatar
    Dan R

    Look at that plastic add on nose!
    A last ditch attempt to remain relevant.
    People noticed and did not buy.

  • avatar
    Aqua225

    Second burnout ever, and it was unintentional. Back in the 80’s was at OBX with my family (I was maybe 10 or 11, but memory is very vague on age/dates). My Mom’s employer and his wife were at OBX that weekend as well, several miles down the beach from us. We got a call his wife had a heart attack, critical condition. Could my Mom drive his Imperial back?

    We had to pull out from his cottage into OBX traffic, and I can tell you the EFI was working great that afternoon. Mom’s foot was trained for a 1.8L Corolla station wagon. When she planted her foot into the Imperial, the tires lit and were still coming out of the hole at a impressive clip.

    One in traffic I looked behind to the cloud of tire smoke :)

    I was hooked on the idea of EFI forever after that. I think it jump-started my whole love for cars thing that I have today.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The pre-Iacocca Imperials were nice, prestigious cars, even if the late ’50s and early ’60s models were inflicted some weird styling features, like the floating headlights and taillights, and the Continental kit trunklids, that also appeared on the first Valiants.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Those Continental kit trunklids on late 50’s early 60’s Imperials and the 60-61 Valiant were softened referred to as toilet seats.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Those Virgil Exner designed Chryslers were really out there

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        When I was a kid, one of my uncles had a ’57 Imperial, which he kept for at least 15 years (and maybe 20), in tip-top shape. He was Superintendent of a large nickel mine and mill, so the mechanics there did all the maintenance for him.

        It was a car that certainly made a statement!

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I had to google a ’57 Imperial to jog my memory, you are right it certainly did make a statement

          http://kilbeysclassics.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/57-chrysler-imperial-crown-4-door-southampton08.jpg

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I think I just had an Imperialgasm.

    Where is this place?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Look at the ones in the desert, then look at the ’55, then look back at the ones in the desert. The fall was fast, steep, and devastating.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Simple explanation. He’s going to combine them all to build “one good one”.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Nothing screams luxury like those casket handle door pulls.

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    Has the auction ended on eBay? Couldn’t find it.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I don’t recall ever seeing one of these in a dark color…seems like they were all silver/light blue/light green or tan.

    I like the front, not a fan of the pseudo-bustle back. I have owned a bustleback Seville and a bustleback Continental but somehow I escaped ever owning an Imperial. Made it this far without one, don’t feel like I need one now.

    I’m astounded there are 24 of them still around, much less all in one place.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    It’s a beautiful car and deserving of the Imperial name…………it should have been a 4 door.

  • avatar
    markmeup

    Holy header panel Batman!

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

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


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