Rare Rides Icons: The History of Imperial, More Than Just a Car (Part XIII)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides icons the history of imperial more than just a car part xiii

We entered the Fuselage Look era of the Imperial in our last installment, as Chrysler shook off the conservative and upright styling its flagship brand wore prior to 1969. Prices were notably slashed and quality suffered as Imperial shared body panels with its Chrysler siblings, incidents that in previous decades would’ve been out of the question. We pick up in 1970, for the second year of the C-body Fuselage Imperials.

After its debut Fuselage year, the Imperial began a process of streamlining and general decontenting. The update to the new appearance improved sales and proved that Imperial customers were willing to accept body panel and parts sharing if it meant the car was cheaper to purchase. The bespoke LeBaron and Ghia bodied days of Imperial grew more alien to the modern Seventies domestic car buyer with each passing year.

For 1970 Series EY (L, M) changed to FY (L, M). Visual changes were minor, the most notable of which was a new grille. The 1970 grille had larger egg-crate-style segments than the prior year and a more uniform look across the visage. Gone were the two distinct rows to the grille, as a unified block took its place wearing lessened chrome. While the front bumper was unchanged, the front corner markers within lost their grille detailing. Marker lenses grew larger and took up the vacant real estate.

Along the lower front fender, the prior three-slot parking lamp design was replaced by a rectangular unit. That meant a singular hole in each fender corner instead of three. The body crease along the fender that ran through the end of the rear door was now exposed, as the chrome spear which rested right below it was deleted. Instead, a slimmer chrome strip appeared in line with the corner marker and ran the full lower length of the body. Imperial script on the fenders kept with the times and was replaced with an Imperial eagle logo. On the rear pillar, Imperial script appeared where there was an eagle the year prior.

New wheel covers were simpler than before, of a smooth dog dish design instead of turbines. Said wheel covers were now more visible, as for a single year fender skirts disappeared. At the rear, more subtle changes occurred and included a revised segmented tail lamp design, more decorated than the simple lines of the prior year. There were electrical changes at the rear as well, as 1969 was the only Fuselage Imperial with sequential turn indicators. Corner reflectors migrated from the rear fender and into the vertical spear of the rear bumper. Imperial block lettering migrated up to the top of the bumper, which made space in the center of the tail lamp assembly for a larger reversing lamp.

There were fewer Imperial body styles than before in the lineup, as the lower-priced four-door sedan vanished. The two- and four-door hardtops remained, available in base Crown (L) and LeBaron (M) trim. There were no engineering changes this year, and the general trim fiddling drew in many fewer new customers. Total sales for 1970 were 11,822, down nearly half from the introductory ’69’s figure of 22,083. Noticing the lower sales figures, Chrysler responded appropriately: The Imperial experienced noticeable cuts for the 1971 model year.

For 1971, Series FY (L, M) turned into Series GY (M), one of the first indicators of Imperial’s trajectory. A single trim level remained, as the longtime Crown trim disappeared. Remaining was the top-tier LeBaron, which Chrysler viewed as “M” for middling. The same two body styles remained as before, a hardtop sedan and coupe. There were some engineering changes this year, one of which was a notable safety advancement.

That year, Imperial became the first production car in America to offer four-wheel computer-controlled Bendix ABS as optional equipment. Though Chrysler cornered the market this year with the exclusive option, it was an expensive one and seldom selected. Overall, Imperial prices decreased for 1971 if inflation is factored in. A four-door hardtop asked $6,276 ($43,963 adj.) and the two-door was slightly more affordable at $6,044 ($42,388 adj.). Worth noting, though all other dimensions remained the same in 1971, the overall height increased slightly: The low 55.7-inch height of 1969 and 1970 grew to 56.1 inches in 1971.

The integrated look of the 1970 Imperial grille was changed this year, as small Imperial eagle logos and satin plastic rectangular trim pieces were applied to the Imperial’s headlamp doors, replacing the Imperial script logo that was on the driver’s side since 1969. The Imperial eagle ornament on the hood was no more, as block Imperial lettering stretched far across the metal expanse instead. Corner markers and the lower fender indicator remained the same as the year before, as did the chrome strip detailing. Wheel covers were the same design too, though fender skirts made a triumphant return to the fold. Absent from fenders was an Imperial eagle logo.

Tail lamp arrangements and reverse indicator lights remained the same this year, as did the trunk-mounted Imperial eagle logo. The block Imperial lettering on the bumper changed position, as it migrated onto either side of the rear fender. Newly placed large lettering was located above the chrome trim strip. One significant change at the rear of all Imperials appeared in 1971: A little badge on the trunk lid that said: “IMPERIAL, by Chrysler.” The company started to fold Imperial back into its standard brand portfolio, as the marque faded from its Fifties reputation for quality and luxury. An indication of the future, the 1970 Imperial sales materials were the last time the brand was presented independently. In 1971 the Imperial detail was a part of the standard Chrysler brochure. The two Chrysler Imperials were advertised right next to the very similar New Yorker. Gasp!

But it wasn’t all negatives, as a festive new feature was added to dress up Imperial’s standard vinyl roof in 1971. Paisley patterned vinyl was offered in a singular burgundy color and was only available on cars painted in burgundy. The paisley was a slow seller, which turned out fortunate for Chrysler: As Imperials sat outside in the elements, the burgundy vinyl faded to a purple color. Though not a recall, dealers at the time were willing to replace faded roofs with standard white or black vinyl. Perhaps the rarest 1971 Imperial then would be one with the paisley roof still in original colorful condition.

1971 was another slow year for Imperial, as sales slid slightly to 11,569 total cars. Of those 10,116 were the four-door, and the unpopular two-door moved 1,442. After a three-year run, the fourth-generation Imperial was ready for all-new metal. It was a considerable change for what might’ve been deemed a mid-cycle update for 1972. We’ll finish out our fourth-gen coverage next time, and head into the fifth and final independent Imperial of the Seventies.

[Images: Chrysler]

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6 of 46 comments
  • Wolfwagen Wolfwagen on Jan 21, 2022

    Uh is anyone else creeped out by the small picture in the right-hand corner of the first image and its Caption? The picture looks like the girl is there against her will the guy has a creepy half-smile and the caption, "A man is understandably proud of the things that please him the most." It would be fine if it was a picture of the guy and the car, but it's just him and the girl.

    • See 3 previous
    • Jeff S Jeff S on Jan 23, 2022

      @28-Cars-Later Agree about the definition of "pleasing" and I would add the word "gay" had a different meaning as well instead of being same sex it meant happy and joyful. There was a Pontiac dealership in the 70s where I lived named Gay Pontiac which was a family name and today if they still existed they would have changed their name but then maybe not. You never here the word gay used except for same sex.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jan 21, 2022

    Agree a hybrid gussied up Navigator and Escalade with a hybrid turbo V6 would go over with celebrities add a large grill with LED lights and LED lighted emblems.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.