By on December 21, 2021

This 10th installment of our Imperial coverage finds us at a turning point in its styling. Virgil Exner had been fired but was allowed to stay on as a design consultant at Chrysler. Exner’s immediate replacement was Elwood Engel, who’d designed the 1961 Lincoln Continental and then jumped ship when he was not promoted at Ford. Chrysler execs wanted out of Exner’s winged, googly-eyed stylistic cave, and Engel took the aged D-body in a very different direction for 1964.

Underneath, the 1964 Imperial was still the same D-body it had been since the 1957 model year. Still, a body-on-frame holdout as the rest of the Chrysler and company lineup went unibody from 1960 onward. The renewed Engel-designed Imperial for 1964 wore the Series VY1 (M, H) designation, as there was no longer a “base model” Imperial Custom that used an L as its series indicator. The revised Imperial’s most notable styling characteristic was its resemblance to the Lincoln Continental. Given the sales slump Imperial had experienced under the last handful of Exner years, executives at Chrysler were undoubtedly on board with a Lincoln-esque look.

At the front end, the expected set of four round headlamps was still present, this time encased in a mesh chrome grille, split into two pieces and reminiscent of the Imperial from 1962. The grilles had a heavily chromed surround, but the look was more upright and horizontal than before. The bumper was slimmer and had less ornamentation, and “battering ram” detailing appeared at either corner of the front bumper for the first time. The hood of the ’64 was much flatter than before and used minimal chrome trim. Exner’s sweeping body line trim strip was replaced by a more horizontal strip carried along the almost singular body crease. Said trim now ended vertically at the front bumper instead of wrapping horizontally around the hood. Imperial script logos were still present, but were moved lower on the front fenders, and made smaller and less dramatic. LeBaron trims said LeBaron on their fenders and had an Imperial logo.

The Imperial’s rear was changed dramatically for 1964 and adopted a much simpler look than before. Chrome trim was less prevalent, and body line chrome ended vertically at the bumper, much like the front end. Imperial logos here changed from script to block lettering (like a Continental), and the integrated false continental kit bulge moved from the trunk lid to the bumper and was square instead of circular.

A large winged Imperial logo appeared in the center of the bumper and served as the fuel filler door so as not to disturb the smooth body lines. The bumper also mirrored the battering rams of the front. Tail lamps were rocket-like and pointed, now horizontal instead of vertical, and integrated into the bumper where they’d never been before. Rooflines weren’t changed a lot from the 1963 Imperial, as they were one of the changes Engel first applied. Though it looked plenty different, the 1964 imperial was the same 227.8-inch length as the prior year. Width dropped slightly from 81.7 to an even 80 inches. Height remained the same as before at 56.8 inches.

Things were simplified on the interior as well. The steering wheel was no longer a square shape, and the dash moved on from a finned appearance that saw near-vertical button pods at either side of the wheel. Instead, the dash had a uniform horizontal look, with full-width chromed grille trim in vertical slats. Buttons were simpler and arranged under the horizontal speedometer in a straight line. Gone as well as the space age electroluminescent dash lighting (a complicated, five-layer design), but that was probably more a cost-saving than a design need.

Imperial’s pricing remained steady over the years, and in 1964 a Crown four-door asked $5,581 ($50,201 adj.) while a four-door in LeBaron trim was $6,455 ($58,063 adj.). The very expensive and hand-built Crown Imperial Limousine was still in production and sold 10 examples in ’64 at a cost of $18,500 ($166,409 adj.).

On the technology and luxury front, rear window defroster vents became standard equipment. Also made standard were power windows, and steering wheels had an optional adjustment for greater driver comfort.

All hardtop Imperials offered a vinyl roof option, and trim levels were simplified this year. The base Crown (M) carried no other trim name, while the upscale version was still the LeBaron (H). Base Crowns were available as two-door and four-door hardtops, as well as the convertible. LeBaron was restricted to four-door hardtop guise. The Crown convertible came with additional standard equipment like power seats, steering, brakes, and a padded dash.

The aging D-body received no notable mechanical changes for 1964, as the generation approached its end of life. Still under the hood was the 413 cubic-inch (6.8L) Wedge style V8 that debuted in 1959, and the TorqueFlite A727 from 1962. Despite the lack of mechanical advancement, the Engel styling did the trick: Imperial sales jumped from 14,121 in 1963 to 23,295 in 1964, an increase of over 60 percent. Imagine Exner’s chagrin as he finished out his time at Chrysler, relegated to a consultant’s office.

The Imperial in its new clothes was reviewed favorably by the automotive press of the day and earned a reputation as being nice to drive; more of a driver’s car than its domestic barge competition. Given the renewed sales success and the age of its platform, the Imperial had only minimal expected changes for 1965 as it became Series AY1 (M,H). The quad headlamps were set into their own chromed bezels instead of the grille itself and had glass covers over them with an etched horizontal slat design.

The grille lost the painted split in the middle and swapped for a full-width design of vertical and horizontal chromed slats, and four distinct sections separated by a chrome crosshair. The rear end carried over from 1964. Inside, the push-button transmission was tossed for a column shifter. Interiors also benefitted from the addition of century-old Claro walnut trim (Northern California black walnut). Height increased slightly over the prior year, to 57.2 inches, making it the second tallest D-body since its debut year in 1957 (57.5″). Sales in this carryover year fell to 16,422

In 1966 it was time for a D-body hurrah, as Imperial was on its last independent platform for some time. The Series BY1 (M,H) carried the same headlamp design as before, but etched glass became plain glass with dual 24-karat gold bands around the edges. The grille used a slats design once again but looked busier overall as the slats became smaller. The grille was separated into 18 different sections instead of four. The 1967 Imperial was one of the last cars (if not the last) on the market that used a wrap-around windshield design.

The rear was adjusted slightly in ’66, as the continental bulge on the trunk lid got softer and less pronounced – a sign the feature was falling out of fashion. Imperial block lettering at the rear reverted to an Imperial cursive script, much more subdued than prior scripts. Taillights grew nearly twice as large this year, as the previously integrated reversing lamps moved down into the bumper and resided as odd squares. Luxury customers were beginning to expect more wood trim, so much more walnut appeared on Imperial’s dashboard. And in its final year, the D-body Imperial received a new engine: The Wedge 413 was replaced by a Wedge 440 (7.2L). Horsepower increased from 340 to 350, and the 440 would be the last of Chrysler’s RB series engines. Sales dropped slightly to 13,752 in this final year.

The third generation imperial was all-new for 1967, and Elwood Engel got to style Chrysler’s flagship from the ground up this time. More on that in Part XI.

[Images: Imperial]

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22 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The History of Imperial, More Than Just a Car (Part X)...”


  • avatar
    cardave5150

    The platform may have been seriously aged, but these were fantastic-looking cars. Engel was the right man at the right time to fix what Exner was doing at the end of his tenure.

  • avatar
    Vae Victis

    “Imperial sales jumped from 14,121 in 1963 to 23,295 in 1964, an increase of over 39 percent.” To say the least.

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    That Imperial convertible in dark blue over white is stunning. How I wish GM or Ford had the stones to build a no-excuses Lincoln or Cadillac convertible with big room, big power and elegant but still flashy styling. Limit production to 5-6k a year and price it at 100k or so to maintain the exclusivity. Make sure the interior is above reproach as in the Navigator with a chassis tuned for comfort. I need a dream car to aspire to again, that would be it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Great series. Interesting to see the changes for the Exner to the Engel designs.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      The Imperial driver thinks to himself: “Geez, driving this boat backwards sure is a chore. It must be half a mile long! And the payments! I got a nice watch, but I don’t have enough left over to afford nail clippers!”

  • avatar
    la834

    The dramatically lower sales for ’65 were probably because the Imperial competed with the all-new New Yorkers in the same showroom, also with Engel styling but with an all-new body (and gorgeous one at that). The fishbowl windshield and odd rear door shape made it clear the Imp was still a facelift of the ’57 body. Anyway, the ’66 model feels like the last real Imperial to me, and the best looking of the ’57-66 models, at least on the outside (the interiors were a bit too subdued lacking the flourishes of earlier models). Later models were just stretched Chryslers without a separate, wider platform.

    I’m curious how these two cars compared when driving them. Was the BOF Imperial any quieter than the unibody New Yorker?

    BTW, Mercedes-Benz was still using wraparound windshield (and tail fins too!) as late as 1969.

  • avatar

    “Headlamps were rocket-like and pointed, now horizontal instead of vertical, and integrated into the bumper where they’d never been before.”

    Corey, I’m guessing you meant ‘tail lamps’. Another interesting installment. Thanks!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    NOW we’re talking – these are my favorite Imperials by far. Stylish but not over-the-top. Solidly built. Powerful.

    And if you’re looking for a classic that won’t empty your wallet, these are NOT unreasonably expensive, particularly in comparison to a Continental of similar vintage. This one sold a few months ago on BAT:

    https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1964-chrysler-imperial-crown-coupe/

    I’d welcome that in my garage (well, it’s actually a parking spot) anytime.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    The 62′ would be aspirational to own today because of the ! WOW ! factor at car shows and the boulevard. However, this generation is a far superior automobile. Better build quality, rust protection, water drainage, driving dynamics, ergonomics in the interior and hardier switchgear. Brakes being the draw back (68′ front Discs became STD equip.). I guess if you want true fame or glory you can always make the front page of the local newspaper by winning the Demo Derby at the State Fair!

    Can’t wait ’till the fuselage era! I did not own an IMP, but a 73′ NY Brougham with all options checked. Could not tell the difference between the top of the line Chrysler and the Imp.

    Merry Christmas.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Engle really hit it out of the park twice in the early 60s with the Continental and then the ’64 Imperial. He deserves his place as a automotive design game-changer along Exner and Harley Earl. The ’64 Imperial was the best looking post-war Imperial made

    Hey, Corey, great series, An Imperial came up for sale on Bring A Trailer the other day and the conversation turned to this series as a good read on the Imperial history

    Good work!

  • avatar
    SnarkIsMyDefault

    Good to see these articles on classic American Imperialism*. Keep up the good work.

    *(I’ll just show myself the door…)

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    This might be my favorite RR series to date . Good work!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    1) Nearly all of the ‘luxury’ features on these cars have long been standard on base econoboxes. Demonstrating just how ‘far’ we have come in this regard.
    2) Wasn’t Milbrun Drysdale often shown being driven in/driving one of these?
    3) ‘Continental kits’ never go out of style. They were ‘big in the mid/late 1970’s appearing in after market form for vehicles as diverse as the Chrysler Cordoba and the VW Beetle.

  • avatar
    lakeview1002

    The 64 thru 66 Imperials we’re well built, graceful cars. And still competitive with with their contemporaries. What the article doesn’t touch upon is the severe financial issues Chrysler Corp was facing in the early 60s because of the styling misses starting with the 1961 models and disastrous downsizing of the 62 thru 64 Dodge and Plymouth standard/ full size cars. They lost serious market share. Little money was left for the low volume Imperial. The ‘64 Imperial was originally planned for ‘63, but delayed until ‘64, and a new windshield and A Pillar design was cancelled. This then led to the short 2 year run for the ‘67/‘68 Imperial.

  • avatar
    3SpeedAutomatic

    Note the influence the ’61 Continental and ’64 Imperial had on the Cadillac de Ville.

    By 1965, the tail fins on the de Ville was near horizontal. Minimal ornaments on the coke bottle sides, more angular in nature, less bulges and flairs. One of the few time that FMC and Chrysler had influence on GM.

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