By on February 1, 2022

In our last installment of the Imperial saga, we worked through the earliest years of Chrysler’s Fuselage Look era. The Imperial wore its hefty new styling well, even though it shared more parts and even body panels with Chrysler’s lesser New Yorker. Although the new looks were a sales hit in 1969, customers who wanted a Fuselage Imperial bought one immediately. By 1971 things were much grimmer. Imperial was relegated for the first time to a singular trim: LeBaron. A sign of the times, the brand was no longer advertised separately in marketing materials, but alongside Chrysler’s other offerings as “Imperial by Chrysler.” However, for 1972 it was time for a big update, as Chrysler tried to bump up the Imperial’s seriously sagging sales.

The top brass at Chrysler thought the original 1969 iteration of the Fuselage Look didn’t quite say long, low, and heavy properly, so for 1972 Elwood Engel reworked the Imperial entirely. With all-new metal, the ’72 was meant to look larger and more substantial than before, as the flagship evolved into Fuselage 2.0. That year, the series changed from GY (M) to HY (M), as a singular trim remained the only offering.

Visually the Imperial wore a striking resemblance to its predecessor, as intended. At the front end, creases down either side of the fenders became much more pronounced, and the car grew fins at the front. New chrome strips appeared along the fender, much like the ’64 Imperial. While the upper part of the grille still came to a point and was largely unchanged, the lower section was slimmer and had body-colored metal underneath it instead of the full chrome covering of 1971.

At either corner, front battering rams were more pronounced than ever, and included heavier-looking chrome bumper inserts as part of the front clip. Cornering lamps moved upward in the fender, aligned with the top of the tire. The simple rectangular shape of the lamp grew wider and separated into two thinner bars with an angled edge that followed the wheel well.

Front parking lamps were now much larger, dagger-shaped, and pointed forward. The egg-crate grille remained with minor alterations, as horizontally-oriented rectangles shrunk, and became vertically oriented. Once again headlamp doors were integrated into the grille for a smoother look, as the prior year’s opaque plastic adornments vanished. The block Imperial script along the hood of the ’71 was reverted once more into an imperial eagle logo for 1972. Block lettering appeared on the driver’s side corner of the grille, though the lettering was smaller than one might’ve reasonably expected.

Along the side profile, the new edge of the fenders absorbed other sheet metal detailing from the year before: The subtle character line that ran along the fender and under the door handles vanished. Imperial’s side profile was as smooth and boaty as possible. Chrome bodyside trim remained relatively unchanged and was in an almost identical position to before.

At the rear, the full-height chrome spears at the corners present since 1967 disappeared, and in their place, a more conventional-looking bumper appeared. Tail lamps switched positions from their prior horizontal segmented bar and became separate vertical units where the spears used to be. The look was sort of like a slightly shorter take on the Cadillac lamp. The bumper had its own upswept style, with chrome that arced in the middle and flowed back down at either side. The center contained two slim reflectors.

Imperial block lettering remained on the rear fender but moved further forward to make room for a red marker lamp that contained the Imperial eagle logo. A bare trunk lock was now visible, as the Imperial logo migrated lower between the bumper and the lower edge of the body metal. The eagle logo at the rear was surrounded by a sort of crest, made of rather ugly chain detailing.

Though Imperial wore styling intended to make it look heavier and longer, it was in fact a bit shorter than before. The 1972 spanned 229.5 inches, slightly less than the 229.7 of 1971. Width increased as Imperial headed toward a Wide-Trac look, from 79.1 inches to 79.6″ in 1972. Overall height changed very slightly, down to 56 inches even from 56.1 in 1971. Engineering changes did not accompany the restyling, and the same familiar 440 cubic-inch (7.2L) Wedge V8 was shifted along by the A727 TorqueFlite three-speed.

Body styles remained the same in 1972, as the Imperial LeBaron was sold only as two- or four-door hardtop. The four-door asked $6,762 ($45,870 adj.), and the coupe was a bit cheaper at $6,534 ($44,323 adj.). With inflation included, the Imperial’s price increased by about 4 percent in 1972. Absent from marketing materials was the Limousine, as Chrysler no longer contracted with Stageway to build the exclusive eight-passenger. It was a logical business decision, as the 1971 Stageway sold exactly one example. Two limousines were still made in 1972, as the Secret Service ordered a couple for the Nixon Administration.

For their official duties, two black-on-black Imperial sedans were thoroughly reworked by coachbuilder Hess and Eisenhardt (now part of Centigon Security Group). H&E turned the sedans into armored limos for the traveling duties of President Nixon. Both cars remained in state use for some time and were notably selected for Reagan’s swearing-in ceremony in 1981. Aside from the Secret Service, customers also noticed the more serious-looking ’72 Imperial. Sales increased notably to 15,976, from 11,569 in 1971. The distribution of four- to two-door sales remained about the same, as 13,472 sedans were sold, and only 2,322 coupes.

The following year was the last for the independent Imperial’s fourth-generation (the 10th Imperial overall). The most notable change this year was the government hammer that came down in the form of federal bumper regulation. Five miles per hour was the term on everyone’s lips, as cars gained giant bumpers almost nobody wanted.

Like almost all other manufacturers, Chrysler’s new bumpers were compliant with regulation but caused as few changes to sheet metal as possible. The Imperial was getting on in years after all, with its debut back in 1969. Its final year marked the arrival of a new grille, with much smaller segmentation for a mesh look.  Other notable visual changes were absent, aside from two rubber bump stops at the front and rear. They served to ruin the smooth chrome look from the prior year. The bumpers had the unintended impact (ha) of increasing Imperial’s overall length, as for only the ’73 model year it was 235.3 inches long, nearly six more than before. Imperial became the longest non-limousine production car since World War II, a record it still holds today.

Series naming changed format this year, as the HY (M) became the 3Y (M). It was the first time an Imperial series started with a number, ending a tradition that dated back to the model’s inception in 1926. Though the new bumpers impressed few outside government offices, sales increased slightly, to 16,729 examples. 1973 was a record year for car sales in the US, 11.4 million in total. That sales peak fell off immediately the following year to 8.8 million, and the US auto market would not match ’73 sales again until 1986.

Falling off was le mot juste at Imperial too, as low-ish sales were predicted to stay that way for some time. Nevertheless Imperial had to continue as the flagship, and there was time for one more C-body. More next time.

[Images: Chrysler]

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

  • avatar

    How much did the1971s and 1972s weigh? I have to say the coupes are visually stunning. I didn’t realize EE was the designer of these cars, didn’t know he was still at Chrysler in the 1970s.

    • 0 avatar

      “How much did the1971s and 1972s weigh?”

      It depends on fluid levels.

      • 0 avatar

        According to the 1972 press kit (a couple of the images here came from that), the 1972 models came with “synthetic lubricant, which provides an anti-scuff protection during engine break-in”. Wow.

        Press Kit (and did some intern create the funky purple and yellow graphic?):

        Imperial comparison with Cadillac and Continental (Imperial offered features not available from the competition):

    • 0 avatar

      The 1971 hardtop sedan had a curb weight of 4,976 lbs., and the 1972 model curb weight was 5,084 lbs.

      By contrast the 1965 Imperial sedan weighed 5,214 lbs. and the 1959 Imperial LeBaron sedan was 5050 lbs.

  • avatar

    The Imperial was a pretty impressive-looking automobile. However, even though Mopar cars are some of the most commonly preserved and shown at local car shows, I have never seen many examples of the Imperial. I don’t know if that is due to its price, or its less visceral character, or some other factor.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Really good series. Thanks Corey.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    This is my favorite generation of the Imperial. Even though it had lost some exclusivity, it was still a better car than a comparable Lincoln or Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Respectfully disagree. This is when Lincoln emerged from an also ran to become the premier domestic luxury marque. Compare the brougham styling of the Town Car to the Chrysler. Compare the instrument panel. Even the velour upholstery of the Lincoln is more ‘luxurious’. The Chrysler is the last gasp of 1960s style domestic luxury. The Lincoln ushered in and epitomized the 1970’s brougham/disco style.

      And I believe that sales figures support that. Chrysler began its sharp decline into domestic luxury irrelevance. Cadillac began seriously ‘decontenting’ to increase sales. A Sedan or Coupe de Ville of the early to mid 70’s readily demonstrating this.

      • 0 avatar

        In terms of styling, you could be right (that’s subjective). In terms of ride and mechanicals, Lincolns were still wallow-mobiles. Cadillacs were serene in a straight line only.

        For such a big car, that Imperial was surprisingly nimble – by comparison, not in absolute terms (I’ve driven one). The drivetrain 440/A727 was about the best Chrysler ever produced, at about 10-12 MPG.

        Interesting note: Nixon’s motorcade was attacked on a goodwill visit to Caracas, Venezuela in 1958. The protesters did a number on the Cadillac he and Pat Nixon were riding in, smashing the windows and trying to pull him out of the car, and Nixon wouldn’t get into another Cadillac.

        • 0 avatar

          I guess the Venezuelans weren’t buying Nixon’s goodwill, which was wise, if you ask me.

          • 0 avatar

            Well, it wasn’t Nixon’s goodwill, he was only Vice President. The Venezuelans were upset with Eisenower’s oil policy, and police did nothing to restrain the mob attacking the convoy.

            Nixon wasn’t the only President less than happy with Cadillac. When Truman improbably beat Dewey in 1948, none of the Cadillac dealers would loan or lease cars for the inauguration.

            One of Henry Ford II’s people heard about it, told Henry II, and Lincoln dealers loaned enough Cosmoplitans to outfit the entire parade. After the inauguration, Truman replaced all the Cadillacs in the White House fleet with Lincolns.

  • avatar

    I don’t think it would have been on my shopping list in the early 70s but I think it’s a good looking car.

  • avatar

    That sport coat looks like something Mayor Vaughn would have worn in “Jaws” (although he was a Cadillac man).

  • avatar

    I had a 72 Imperial, when it was about 5 years old.

    It was probably the worst car I ever owned, even beating out the Vega and the Citroens. I bought it because it had 4 wheel anti-lock brakes, discs all around. Too bad they didn’t work until I did the development work on them that Chrysler forgot about.

    That didn’t fix the poor quality body work, mismatched body panels, leaks, wind noise, door latch failures that required removing the front seat to get the doors open, and a plastic carburetor that sprayed gasoline on the distributer cap at times.

    I had a friend with a 72 coupe, minus the anti-lock brakes, and his car suffered many of the same problems.

    I had a 64 and a 63 Imperials, and they were both far better built than the 72. I had a 57 Imperial that was better designed, but suffered from severe rust problems.

    If I had to have an Imperial, I’d get another 64.

  • avatar

    Man at window, looking at the Imperial: “Look at what the sales manager is making me sell now!”
    Woman: “I don’t think I can sleep with you any more.”

  • avatar

    One small detail that got lost between the last entry and this one: The last year of the Crown line was indeed 1970, but the last year of the Crown pillared sedan was 1969. That is, 1969 was the only model year of the fuselage-body Imperial that a pillared sedan was offered.

    • 0 avatar

      Not lost, is here:

      “There were fewer Imperial body styles than before in the lineup, as the lower-priced four-door sedan vanished.”

      • 0 avatar

        Somehow I missed that entire entry. My goof.

        Many 1972-73 Imperial 4-doors (generally driven by bad guys) — or more likely the same one or two cars used repeatedly — appear in the last several seasons of Mannix, which MeTV has shown five times a week for years (2 a.m. EST).

  • avatar

    I have to say I love these installment stories. It’s almost like reading the Charles Dickens stories he sold to newspapers in installments. Just don’t kill off Little Nelle!

  • avatar

    * Dude in the window has “I’m about to cheat on my wife” written all over him.

    * Caption that photo contest now open. Write a caption for the dude in the window photo.

    * My entry: I’m not a gynecologist but she doesn’t know that.

    * Too bad Chrysler didn’t make an articulated Imperial sedan. Works for busses. And those whales are in the ballpark size-wise.

    * 440 V8 standard. With the new emissions controls they didn’t get miles per gallon. They got gallons per mile. Meanwhile, OPEC was about to pull the rug out from under everybody.

    * Chrysler had some decent looking cars around 70-71. Challenger, Charger, Barracuda/Cuda, Road Runner/GTX/Satellite. By 1973 they were all tweaked with grille, headlight, taillight and bumper changes or redesigns that pretty much wrecked all of them — with the 72 to 73 Satellite redesign being the worst. Throw in crappy gas mileage and massive horsepower reductions — and, voila, instant garbage fresh off the assembly line for years.

  • avatar

    Most likely due to the cost of a restoration. It basically cost the same to restore a Challenger and an Imperial, but the Challenger can be worth much more restored. Key is to find a well maintained one sitting in a garage in good shape do a easy clean up and fluid change.

  • avatar

    The big fuselage Mopars all look too much alike, inside and out. I can’t remember which grille or rear clip is from which brand, and what’s in between looks nearly identical. If it looks stretched a bit, it must be an Imperial. Same goes for the interiors, which are not luxurious enough for Imperials or Chrysler NYers for that matter. The early ’70s Lincoln Continental is much nicer inside. An exception to all this is the attractive and unique front styling of the ’72 model.

    That window shot from the brochure bears a striking resemblance to the cover of Led Zeppelin IV, as well as the cover of Tim Hardin 2.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agree. Spent considerable time in a Newport and the differences between it and the more expensive Chryslers were negligible to the non-petrol heads and most of our female friends.

  • avatar

    I think the fuselage look is my favorite >200 inches car design language. Just edging out the ’77 GM cars.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I had family members who owned full-sized fuselage Mopars. An uncle had a 69 Fury III coupe in dark green with a vinyl roof and my grandfather owned a 72 Fury III four door hardtop in copper brown. Both were well made with excellent fit and finish. My favorite thing about the 69 Fury was the vertical cast metal radio thumb knobs, also on my dads 68 Valiant. They exuded quality and solidity.
    The 74 full size redesign, later to become famous in the Blues brothers films cut corners in quality plus the untested Lean burn system led to a drop in sales. Like other new Detroit iron at the time that was on the drawing board pre 73 oil crisis they were the wrong products at the wrong time.

  • avatar


    Is it my imagination, or does that blue coupe in the last picture have a different roofline than the others?

    Regardless, gotta say…it’s a damned good looking car from that angle.

  • avatar

    5th picture: Would you say that’s more of a brocade or a damask? (Jacquards confuse me)

  • avatar

    Chrysler did an amazing job of meeting the 1973 Federal bumper standard (FMVSS 215, 5mph at the front, 2.5mph at the rear). The standard was increased to 5mph front / 5mph rear for 1974. If you look at some of Chrysler’s 1973 and 1974 models, there was a definite tacked-on approach. I’m thinking of the 1973-’74 Challengers, where they retained the slim pre-standard bumpers, reinforced and extended them from the body, and added battering ram bumper guards.

    The 1974 standard in particular forced some some significant design and engineering changes on cars like the Corvette.

    Doing a quick Web search, I found a NHTSA technical report (“Evaluation Of The Bumper Standard”, DOT HS-805 866), released in April, 1981 (a PDF doc, 260 pages!) on bumper standards and how effective they’d been in reducing collision damage and incidence of repairs, also taking into consideration the addition of weight to the cars and increases in fuel used over the life of the vehicles.

    The study found that the front bumper standard had some positive impact (pardon the pun), but not the rear bumper standard.

  • avatar

    CaddyDaddy did not own an Imperial, but I did own a 73′ New Yorker Brougham. Purchased from the wife of a deceased professor at CSU in Fort Collins. Anyway, not much different from the IMP except for some front grill and fender treatment. From the Pics above, I even had the same golden tone fabric and dual power split bench as the IMP, including power recline on the passenger side.

    The Bad: Carter Thermo Quad that never ran right and barfed fuel all over the manifold where the plastic / pot metal surfaces met I finally did get a new non-plastic carb (don’t remember the brand) and it ran excellent.

    The Chry.Co. vacuum, coolant, electronic, mechanical brain box for the HVAC system. What a coolant vomiting, vacuum leaking POS. Mercedes used these for many years due to WWII restrictions that prohibited Das Deutschlanders from designing and manufacturing complex devices for ah hem… other uses. I bypassed and got the heat/defrost and A/C to work.

    In reality, it was 1000’s of parts loosely assembled that would roll down the road. The quality just was not there. I did put on some HD shocks and it would carve the curves with respect.

    The Good: The power vent windows and the cruise worked.
    It would run with ease with the Cruise set well past the century mark (I did have speed rated H tires on the car) in Wyoming and Rural Colorado. Also added Duals, The RB sounded great.

    After about 4 years of ownership and moving up to a 63′ Series 62 Convertible it was sold. I did see it for many years parked next to other “treasurers” on a ranch on US 285 between Buena Vista and Salida. …. and then one day along with the other treasurers, It was just gone.

  • avatar

    I looks to me like Chrysler tried to emulate the classic “Woodlite” headlights from the 30’s with the front marker lights.

    Anyone else see that resemblance?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I miss the days of cars that actually had individual styling instead of blobs on stilts.

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