By on January 13, 2022

As we make our way into the 12th installment of Rare Rides Icon’s Imperial coverage, the third generation 1967 Imperial became the shortest-lived in the nameplate’s history. After the decade-long reign of the D-body, Imperial switched to the unibody C platform to cut costs, and move on from dated body-on-frame underpinnings. But it was an odd time to introduce a new car, as the C-body was no spring chicken when the Imperial debuted. More importantly, Chrysler was on the cusp of an entirely new styling direction: The Fuselage Look.

It was 1969, and square, conservative shoulders were a thing of the past at Chrysler. Compared to the year before, the ’69 Imperials looked longer, lower, wider, heavier, and smoother. Elwood Engel was at the helm of Imperial’s design once more, as he got to design his first clean break Imperials. Gone were the quad exposed headlamps inset into a horizontally slatted grille, and in their place was a full-width grille of many small rectangles, like so many household floor vents.

Said rectangles were stacked and arranged in two distinct sections separated by chrome bars. Grilles extended over concealed headlamps, hidden away behind electrically operated doors. Front bumpers now came to a point and were smooth and more flush than they’d been the prior generation. Corner markers were still there and still wore a similar detail to the grille. Also carried over were the battering rams at either corner of the front end. Triple segment cornering lamps were a new feature on the lower fender. Finally, the Imperial eagle vacated the grille; it was now located on the hood.

The Imperial’s side profile was rounded, and body metal drew inward at the bottom and became narrower. It was a design detail commonly found on ships and airliners called tumblehome. The look was very imposing, and more slab-sided than its predecessor even though it was more round overall. Shapely flanks meant there was curved side glass, which increased interior shoulder room for passengers without altering the exterior width of the car.

Shoulder pads enjoyed 62.7 inches of space front and rear, up from 59.4 inches the year prior. Lower side chrome trim detailing of 1968 disappeared for 1969, as a chrome spear returned slightly below the sharp hood line. It ran Imperial’s full length, and ended abruptly at a rear clip that was an updated and modernized version of 1968’s design.

Chrome vertical detailing was still present on either side of the rear bumper, but the bumper was blended in with the fenders instead of as a separate entity. Full-width tail lamps went away, replaced by two large horizontal lenses that had almost no detailing and no grille design covering them. The Imperial eagle vacated the lamp assembly area and moved upward onto the trunk lid. The bumper had less detailing than the prior year. It appeared as a sleek horizontal bar and looked more integrated.

New Fuselage Look Imperials were on the same C-body as they were in 1968, but all Chrysler’s largest offerings received full redesigns this year to fit the new corporate appearance. Other C-body cars remained the same familiar names as before, like 300, Town & Country, and New Yorker. And speaking of New Yorker, there was further cost-cutting in 1969 as Imperial shared some body panels with its lesser cousin. It was the first time such sharing occurred since the badge and trim job Imperials of 1956. All Imperial glass and roofs were shared with the lowly Chrysler Newport. Disgusting!

The Imperial was naturally the largest of the lot, as Chrysler took the brand further into enormous car territory in 1969. At an overall length of 229.7 inches, Imperial was more than five inches longer than the prior year. Width decreased slightly with Fuselage, from 79.6″ to 79.1 for 1969. The new design was notably lower than before, as the height dropped from 57 inches to 55.7. Overall weight was around the same as before: Between 4,900 to 5,200 pounds dependent upon body style. Imperials had three inches of length on any Chrysler, which was down to a stretched wheelbase of 127 inches.

Imperial’s interior design was reworked notably with its new generation. In front of the driver was a much more modern-looking four-spoke steering wheel with a lower chrome rim. Upscale LeBaron models had a full chrome ring and read LeBaron on a more sculpted horn pad. On the door panel, switches moved to a horizontal placement and were no longer angled toward the driver for a cockpit feel.

Elsewhere, gauges remained largely horizontal in nature but spread out more in 1969 than they had before. Said gauges were now black and backed by faux wood. The subtly concealed radio compartment was replaced by an exposed radio unit that was closer to the driver. The sweeping and uncluttered horizontal dash angled away from the driver was replaced by a binnacle that contained all instrumentation. That part of the dash was still angled away from the driver, but a near-vertical glovebox lid was angled slightly toward the passenger. That glove box area previewed the styling direction Chrysler would take later with many of its dashboards, through about 1989.

Most engineering was carried over from the third-gen Imperials. Customers were already familiar with the 440 (7.2L) Wedge V8 and three-speed A727 TorqueFlite. Chrysler’s unique torsion bar suspension was also a carryover. Assembly of all Imperials occurred at the traditional Jefferson Avenue Assembly location, as a second production line at Belvedere was no longer necessary.

Body styles were one fewer than they were in 1968, as 1969’s lineup lacked the pricy and unpopular Imperial convertible. Left were the two-door hardtop, basic four-door sedan, and most upscale four-door hardtop sedan. The new series numbers broke with tradition this year, as DY1 (M, H) became EY (L, M). Based on Imperial’s past history, this nomenclature would indicate Chrysler decided there were base and mid-level Imperials, but no range-topping version. There were only two trim levels in 1969, Crown (L) and LeBaron (M).

Crowns were available as two- and four-door hardtops, as well as the pillared sedan. The LeBaron trim was offered in hardtop guise only, two- and four-doors. At Crown specification, the asking price was $5,753 ($45,054 adj.) for sedan or hardtop, a change from prior generations. The two-door Crown was $5,575 ($43,660 adj.).

LeBaron with two doors was $5,881 ($46,057 adj.), or $6,114 ($47,881 adj.) with four. The asking prices were a decent jump over New Yorker, which topped out at $4,598 ($36,009 adj.) for a four-door hardtop. Prices were reduced from the prior year, perhaps as similarities to Chryslers increased and the LeBaron name declined in prestige. Recall a LeBaron from 1968 asked $6,939 ($56,559 adj.).

Tops was still the custom-order LeBaron by Stageway limousine, which held eight passengers and was priced between $12,000 ($93,978 adj.) and $15,000 ($117,472 adj.). New lower pricing and the Fuselage Look increased sales in 1969, which jumped from 15,367 to 22,083. Six of those were the limousine.

The less expensive Imperials were a success from a sales perspective, even if the quality and parts sharing were not what a Fifties Imperial shopper expected. Chrysler tinkered with the C-body Imperial in the years to come, as the brand headed downhill toward the end. More on that next time.

[Images: Chrysler]

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


  • avatar
    Jeff_M

    I remember the first time I saw a ’69 Imperial…it was a turquoise color. I didn’t care for the fuselage styling at the time, and I still don’t. It just didn’t have the real luxury car look of the previous models.

  • avatar
    Heino

    I am always amazed that these things weighed as much as a Chevy Suburban.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      They were built like tanks, and handled like them too. You could fit mutiple bodies in that trunk! But they were not very space efficient.

      After a mechanic totaled my ’74 Fury in a fire, my next car was a ’84 Plymouth Reliant wagon. We were amazed at how little space I was giving up going to such a smaller car. You could still seat three across, and the hatch area made up for the huge trunk space.

      The sheet metal felt light and flimsy compared to the C body Chryslers, but they handled like go carts by comparison, accelerated acceptably well, and got way better mileage than the 9 MPG the Fury got. I had a much better factory radio as well.

      Dad was so impressed, he ended up buying three of them for us kids.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I saw a 74 Plymouth Fury at our neighborhood McDonalds back in 2007. As I was showing it to my boys and telling them “that was Dad’s first car!”, all I could think was “how can he afford the gas for this thing?” I never saw it again, one of the last C body Chryslers of any kind I saw.

      With its V-8 and torsion bar suspension all around, my 2007 Durango reminds me of the C body Chryslers; but is far better refined, better handling, and better mileage, even with that tall SUV body.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Jeff_M, I agree. The fuselage cars didn’t have the presence that the prior models did. But I did really like what will be coming in the next installment (can’t wait, Corey!).

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Really enjoying this series Corey. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I like a functional dash but it’s very blah compared to the ’61 – ’63 dash.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Not only is it blah, it’s almost exactly the same dash that they put in the cheaper Chryslers.

      • 0 avatar

        The plastics do not look… good.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          No plastics don’t look good but GM and Ford during the late 60s went from using real wood and real fabrics on the Cadillac and Lincoln to simulated wood and synthetic carpet and fabrics. Not giving Imperial a pass but that is what the competition did as well. My mother’s 72 Cadillac Sedan Deville was full of simulated wood and plastic. My preference would be for the prior generation of Imperial but then that would hold true for Cadillac and Lincoln as well. Even today you still see the cheapening of interiors with paper thin carpet and lots of hard plastics.

        • 0 avatar
          Roberto Esponja

          And that was the biggest shame, that the 1967-68 dash materials were of so much higher quality

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Not bad looking, I suppose, but if you cover up the front grill, you have your basic Chrysler sedan. Same is true of the interior. And that was the emerging problem with “luxury” cars of this era – were rapidly becoming barely-disguised versions of Impalas, Galaxies or Newports. Meanwhile, those more prosaic sedans were all becoming available with many of the same power and convenience gadgets that the “luxury brand” versions had.

    All the D3 knew was that people kept buying them, which convinced them that their customers were too dumb to know the difference. And for a while, they were, but once consumers figured out what was going on, the stage was set for Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, et al to swoop in and destroy these brands, and I don’t think they’ve ever recovered.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    By the way – great series, Corey!

    May I suggest the 300 next?

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I love the ad photos with the seats sitting in a field. I know some guys out in the sticks who do that at their still site, but I’m pretty sure they’re not using Imperial seats.

  • avatar
    bg

    Here’s the opening music:
    https://www.dewolfemusic.com/search.php?id=22671970&code=UQdpfl
    “Halfway to San Francisco” by the deceptively talented Reg Tilsley, who composed a wide variety of music for the DeWolfe production music library.

  • avatar
    Argistat

    I really like the exterior look on this big boat of the late 60’s era, same for the Cadillacs of that era. To me, 67-70 was the peak styling era for most American cars. Also the hideaway headlights make it look sleek.

    Back in that time, I saw lots of Cadillacs, but very few of these Imperials. I was too young to drive, but I was very into cars, and really admired the huge luxury cars.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Corey some of the suggestions for the next series are good but as you noted they have very long histories.

    Why not the Lincoln Marks? They would provide excellent examples of the shifting design principles in domestic autos over the years.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    I was always partial to the fuselage bodied Chryslers and could have purchase one new back then (not the Imperial but a Plymouth or Dodge). I thought and still think that these were beautiful cars. I never went beyond looking at them because I still remembered listening to my uncle’s new ’57 Plymouth rusting on a quiet Ohio night as it sat down to the left on its snapped torsion bar with Uncle Dave cursing in the background.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      The fuselage body Chryslers were good looking, but visibility, especially with no right view mirror, was terrible.

      I had a fuselage bodied 1974 Plymouth Fury II, and I noticed not just mine, but most of them had at least one, usually more dents along the tumblehome at the bottom where the driver was using the Helen Keller method of parking and one or more times made contact with the corner of someone’s bumper. A good set of left AND right rear view mirrors with the built in convex mirror would have been a big help.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Throughout much of the 1970s’ the Toronto Police relied on Plymouth Furys for the majority of their cruisers/scout cars. The issue with these is that the Fury had amber parking/running lights mounted in the bumper area. This was a distinctive feature and allowed those who noticed this feature to recognize a police patrol car long before the police could get near them.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Not just Toronto, but a most police departments at the time used Plymouth Furys or Dodge Diplomates.

          Warner Bros. Pictures bought an entire police department’s recently retired Dodges, and proceeded to smash them all when filming “The Blues Brothers.”

          Mine was an ex-company car, complete with rubber plugs where the antennas were, but no cop shocks or cop motor, just the 360 2blb. I was tall and skinny, my friend was short and stocky, so this was “our” movie until he passed away from cancer a few years later.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    stellantis should redo the 300 as a fuselage style charger

  • avatar
    Pianoboy57

    One evening in 1971 my family cruised a couple of lots looking at family sedans. The Chrysler Plymouth dealer had two 4dr hardtops in the showroom. One was lime green and the other was pink. Both had white tops and interiors. I favored a yellow car with white top and interior back then. They bought a beige and brown Pontiac. ugh!

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I am not sure 2021 TTAC has a firm grasp on the concept of tumblehome as generally applied in the rest of the automotive world outside 2021 TTAC.

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