By on January 20, 2022

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


  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    That purple interior is to die for.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    I wonder if the height difference between ’70 and ’71 was simply a change to ride height??

    I had no idea that a paisley vinyl roof option was available in ’71. Must be similar in concept to the Mod Top cars available in ’69.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I am curious as to how the tumblehome revisions affected the stamping cost of the B-pillar.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    By this time, Imperials and Chryslers were really no more than Plymouth Furies on steroids. The “luxury” was trowelled on over top of cheap bones with tinselly glitz that fitted poorly. The vehicles exhibited zero design finesse inside, a joke really in any absolute sense.

    The biggest hoot was the ridiculous seats, designed for looks and certainly not for comfort. I speak from experience. It was mind-out-of-gear “design”, as in Ergonomics, what’s that? If you got stuck as a passenger in the front bench seat of these mastodons with a short driver, you got crammed up against the dash with about zero knee and leg room. Ask me how I know, and I’ll say ’77 New Porker owned by a stocking agent of the engineering company I worked for. The single most uncomfortable car it’s been my misfortune to have to ride in. Sure, the ’77s looked different from these things, but were much the same underneath so proceeding with no room, in a vast car that creaked alarmingly over every bump in cold weather, and the four door hardtop windows working against each other to add to the sound of the various flexures, used to remind me of a bad joke. And he drove everywhere at 25 mph or less, prolonging my misery. The owner, naturally, having had no experience of real design as a Detroit man for decades (His previous car was an equally awful ’73 Buick Wildcat) thought it was great. When you got to your destination, maneuvering the aircraft carrier into a tight yard or on the street into a parking spot required heroic ten point turns. Twirling the wheel with fingertips to edge into spots I’d just drive straight into with my car, my agent regarded his ability in such matters as a personal sporting triumph with that Chrysler, and enjoyed every minute. God, I used to hate those trips, and do anything to put them off. The man simply refused to be driven by me in my Audi which structurally, in seat design, and genuinely comfortable ride, was about two generations in advance of his car. To him, it was merely small, and that was all that mattered — it had to be inferior. Wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “If you got stuck as a passenger in the front bench seat of these mastodons with a short driver, you got crammed up against the dash with about zero knee and leg room.”

      The Imperial had standard individually-adjustable seats in ’71 and ’72. The ’77 New Yorker also had individually-adjustable seats standard. Are you sure the fellow you knew didn’t have a Newport?

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “an equally awful ’73 Buick Wildcat”

        There also was no Buick Wildcat in 1973. That model line ended in 1970.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          That’s what I thought that the Imperial and most Chryslers at that time had a split bench seat with the front passenger being able to adjust his individual seat. As for the Buick there was no 73 Wildcat. The full sized American cars were designed for highway driving not canyon carving. Comparing full size American cars of the 70s to Audis are like comparing an F150 to a Ford Maverick with the only similarity being the Imperial and Audi are cars and the F150 and Maverick being trucks or trucklike. Most people who bought smaller European cars would not likely be caught driving full size American cars and the reverse was also true.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            “Most people who bought smaller European cars would not likely be caught driving full size American cars and the reverse was also true.”

            Depends on the buyer. The old folks would never “go European,” but younger buyers sure did. My dad was a perfect example – he had three Caddies and an Olds Toronado in the ’70s. The first Caddy and the Olds were OK, but the other two Caddies were trash. By the early ’80s he had switched to Mercedes and BMW, and later to Infiniti and Lexus. Aside from a late-’90s Riv that he didn’t keep long (to be charitable, it was less-than-stellar), he never bought another American luxury car.

            The quality issues alone were enough to drive him and a ton of other buyers away from the American brands permanently.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            True but that was Mercedes and when Mercedes went downhill your father purchased a Lexus–smart man. Most Euro car buyers would not have been interested in big American cars.

            Arthur that is true Audi was just a glorified VW and the quality was not up to BMW or Mercedes standards at that time.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          The Buick Centurion replaced the Wildcat in 71 as their sport model just above the LeSabre.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Yeah, but maybe Centurions aspired to be Wildcats all along.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Audi in North America in the 1970’s was not considered to be a premium marque. They were merely small cars, with small engines and few of the ‘luxury features’ expected by domestic consumers. More or less a ‘dressed up VW’. Audi would be considered in the same market at the time as Saab and a notch below Volvo.

  • avatar
    MitchConner

    Chrysler really steered Imperial into the toilet during this time. To me that’s just a rebadged Fury. Cadillac and Lincoln weren’t far behind.

    Keep in mind these crappy products came out before the oil shock of 73 — when the price of gas doubled and massive amounts of market share went to the Japanese as Detroit had nothing but a fleet of poorly built, foul handling, indifferent, gas sucking retreads to sell.

    This was when the damage the American business school bean counters and their MBAs came home to roost. The finance guys would come in and say “there’s more profit in big cars than small ones” along with “if we share body panels and instrument panels we can lower the cost of these premium brands and build volume.” Stupid stuff that only makes sense if you’re some spreadsheet jockey with no style, no passion for automobiles, or any common sense.

    Of course this was just the equivalent of the sea pulling back before a gigantic tsunami of stupid swept in — eventually resulting in the Germans cleaning up as Boomers wouldn’t be caught dead in the tufted pillow crap heaps their parents were buying.

    Pretty amazing how these companies, all supposedly with highly paid, cream of the crop executives with their Ivy League educations, could take their premium brands and completely ruin them with one dumb data driven decision after another. And they’re still doing it.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Mitch
      Spot on.

      I went to one of the premium schools. I have a MS and MBA. I was at GM for 10 years. I was driven insane every day. I had to leave. I couldnt take it

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Even in the 70s the MBAs and bean counters were cheapening products. They didn’t care if their companies went to the crapper as long as they got their bonuses and promotions. CEOs and top management encouraged the cost cutting and most would either be retired, off to their next promotion, or working for another company before their companies paid the price for their actions. This is a contributing factor in how the Japanese auto companies got a foothold in the US market and continued to thrive as the American companies lost market share and suffered one financial crises after another.

      • 0 avatar
        MitchConner

        @ Jeff. Yep. Saw it all the time. Some knucklehead would come in, screw stuff up, goose the numbers for a quarter or two through cost cutting or some other lunkheaded scheme that only looked good on paper and, boom, either get shuffled off somewhere else to screw that up or quit for a job someplace else — often with a bigger title and more responsibility when they couldn’t find their butt even when given a map and a flashlight.

        None of those idiots could ever stay in the same place long enough to ever get exposed as the complete morons they were.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @Mitch:

      In fairness, the oil shocks of the early ’70s caught the CIA by surprise, so I think it’s fair to say the car companies didn’t see that coming.

      But you’re spot on about everything else.

  • avatar
    Kruser

    My grandmother had an early ’70s Imperial coupe. From my perspective, it had “nicer” (in that ’70s overstuffed velour sense) seats and electric locks/windows, but it was otherwise pretty much like any other land yacht of the era. I remember my uncle had an El Dorado and she was annoyed that we didn’t view her car as being on the same tier as the Caddy.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    “There ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.” Just heard the news of Meat Loafs death while staring to read this and felt that was somewhat fitting. A big voiced, larger than life American rock star from the last years of big American domestic luxury.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Hopefully he has found Paradise By The Dashboard Light. RIP.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Riding in a luxo barge with the Bat out of hell album on was de rigueur in 1977 when it was released. I was in high school but no great fan of it and considered it to be bloated and overwrought. My musical tastes at the time were the stuff that has still held up well from that era like Dylan, the Band, Frampton, the Steve Miller band and of course the burgeoning new wave and punk scene from Elvis Costello to the Clash.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The only correct place to play Meat Loaf was in a Trans Am with the T-tops off, on your way to a 0-60 run that could be bested today with a Corolla (or my ’75 Olds wagon, which had a 455 with all the smog gear removed, and would routinely walk all the “muscle” made back then).

        Ah, the malaise era…

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @FreedMike – my ’68 Galaxie desite tall gearing made short work of the T- top T A’s of the era. It was fun because they were typically gifts from wealthy parents to poster boy “Ken” with “Barbie” in the passenger seat.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          “The only correct place to play Meat Loaf was in a Trans Am with the T-tops off, on your way to a 0-60 run that could be bested today with a Corolla”

          1st – Aerosmith sounded the best in a TA

          2nd – Not the Corolla I rode in last night.

          Didn’t take much to wake those late 70’s TA’s up. My 79 was one of the few with the 400 Pontiac motor mated to 4/sp. A cam, headers, and dual exhaust w/cat removed woke that car up nicely. People were always trying to screw with the me because that thought that TA was “easy meat”.

          If you have never driven one with the RTS(Radial tuned Suspension) and WS6 Handling package you have no idea how well those cars drove and handled compared to anything else built at the time. Still good by today’s standards.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I don`t believe that too many would agree that Frampton`s popular music of that era holds up. Nor Steve Miller`s although I was a fan of Miller and still enjoy that music. As for Dylan, I did get to meet and speak with him. The old saying about `never meeting your heroes” certainly applied.

        And yes, rock ‘operas’ and ‘them albums’ like this are one reason for the emergency of the punk movement. A reaction to the ‘overblown spectacles’ that rock became. I can speak from experience after sitting through Yes and Rick Wakeman concerts.

        As for where to listen to Bat out of Hell. Sorry not in a Trans Am. You need a big domestic car with a bench or a 60/40 split bench seat. ;-)

  • avatar
    someoldfool

    The talk about decontenting and cheapening reminded me of Packard’s downfall. The market just didn’t’ care about high quality any more. There weren’t enough customers willing to pay for it. So many things in the late 60s and 70s were cheapened. Lowest price seemed to be main purchase criterion. This may not apply to Chevies and Fords, but it does to Cadillacs and Imperials. The content gap between Buick (heck, Olds 98 too) and Cadillac shrank every year. And the luxury boats were outgrowing garage space, a friend’s father had to the trim the 2z4s in the front of the garage so the new Lincoln would fit.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “The market just didn’t’ care about high quality any more.”

      Couldn’t disagree more about this. Quality was the key reason why the American brands got hammered by the Japanese brands in the ’70s and ’80s. And I’d say that was doubly true of the luxury market. As I was saying above, my family had three Cadillacs in the ’70s, and two were absolute trash. My dad never bought another, but did buy several Mercedes, a BMW, an Audi, a Lexus and an Infiniti. Same was true of pretty much every family I knew of similar means.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      True not only in cars but in other products. I remember certain products like Gant shirts and Hush Puppy shoes which were popular in the late 50s thru the mid 60s that were excellent quality and when the 70s arrived both products had been bought out by major corporations and were cheapened to the point where they lost any of their appeal. Same thing with RCA TVs they became an inferior product. My mother’s 72 Cadillac Sedan deVille had plastic wood trim and door panels where power window switches popped out and door straps that would come loose. Cadillacs before 1970 had real wood and much better door panels that did not have loose door strips and window switches that popped out of door panels. Her Cadillac was much longer and wider but the materials were cheaper with less quality.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I still have a pair of Hush Puppies that were hand sewn in Italy. Just take them to my local ‘cobbler’ to get them resoled as required. Was your mother’s Caddy new or used? Coupe and Sedan de Villes of that era tended to also have an offset steering wheel/column. I could never get used to that.

        The early to mid 1970s saw the rise of Lincoln from an afterthought to the actual ‘top of the heap’ in regards to domestic luxury vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          Virtually new about 8 months old. Nice car and rode nice but compared to a 69 and earlier you could see the cost cutting. Knew someone with a 66 Fleetwood with real wood and solid door panels and switches. Yes and the offset steering wheel. Oh and I forgot to add that in the 70s I wore Bostonian brogue wingtips that lasted and lasted being resoled and rehealed several times. I bought some in recent years and the leather veneer (not even real leather just a veneer glued on) peeled off and the soles came apart after a few wearings. Replace those Bostonians with Allen Edmonds which are still quality shoes and made in the US more expensive but worth it.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Read an article a few weeks ago by a guy who tried to go 12 months not buying anything manufactured in China. It seems that it is impossible regarding some products such as light bulbs. Personally I have tried throughout my life to not purchase any food not manufactured in a ‘first world nation’. A few years ago, decided to expand that to no products from China if there is an option and whenever possible products produced locally/nationally. The pandemic has actually assisted, as I have discovered that I can ‘go without’ many things.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            Good points Arthur hard to buy anything not made in China. With my newer Bostonian shoes it was less about the shoes being made in China and more about the company decontenting the shoes by using less real leather to save money. The Chinese are capable of making good products but the corporations are not only looking to just save on labor but actual decontenting materials to where product quality is compromised. I saved money as well during the past 2 years of COVID-19 because my wife and I didn’t go out as much and I wore flannel shirts and sweatpants in the Winter and Fall and t-shirts and shorts in the Spring and Summer.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Having lived through this period, been in the ‘domestic luxury’ market in the mid 1970s’ and having driven or spent considerable passenger seat time in all of the domestic luxury products of that era, I do have some opinions.

    The Cordoba was a sales success largely because the Chrysler name/marque still had cachet at that time. A Chrysler the size of and close in price to the mainstream PLCs sold as Fords (other than the T-Bird which was still larger) and or as a Chev/Pontiac/Buick/Olds (again except for the Toronado and Riviera) equaled big sales success, initially.

    The D3 lost out when the OPEC crisis took them unaware and also from 1972 on, when pollution controls took hold. The vehicles they built in the late 1960’s may have had ancient underpinnings, but generally the drivelines were solid, and were usually easy and/or cheap to repair/replace. And a car that was 6 years old had entered into ‘beater’ status in regards to image/perception. Prior to the ‘crisis’ MPG only mattered to a minority of consumers. Traffic was far less congested in most of North America. Luxury was judged by size (engine and body). This market still exists. They have just moved to fullsized domestic pick-ups which are the ‘luxo barges’ of this generation.

    The Japanese and Germans to a degree just got lucky. They built small, rust prone cars because that is what sold in their home markets. However they did put a greater emphasis on engineering and production quality. Because they ‘had to’. For decades after WWII when something was cheap or broke easily it was usually referred to as “probably being made in Japan”.

    The D3 only viewed each other as competition. So if you were competitive with the other domestic manufacturers, you were ‘good to go’.

    With the OPEC crisis and pollution controls rather than spending time/money on engineering, they ‘broughamed’ their vehicles. Which worked ‘short term’.

    When the domestics downsized their luxury models they gave up the very features that their customers valued. It forced the domestics to try to compete on terms/grounds set out by the imports. And the domestics failed.

    It is my belief that if a domestic manufacturer created a large, opulent, over the top, luxury barge, powered by a hybrid powertrain and charged ‘big dollars’ that first the celebrities and then the ‘want to be’ types, and finally the trendy types would purchase it in numbers large enough to make it profitable.

  • avatar
    wolfwagen

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think the implication of the picture is that is the man’s daughter and its a subtle mind play between the two pictures, the left one featuring the same man and daughter with the car. So, his car will please him as much as his daughter can/does… have to get our heads out of the gutter with the choice of words as the context of “pleasing” was not the same in 1970 as it may be today.

      • 0 avatar

        Noticed that picture and the text. Such a clear indicator of how the lexicon evolves rather quickly.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        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.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Are the two dozen sheep in the background of the larger picture there against their will?

      https://www.peta.org/features/infographic-wool-climate-change-pollution-cruelty/

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.

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