By on February 16, 2022

We return to the Imperial story once more today, at a worst-ever moment. The year is 1974, and the future is bleak for the large prestige car. The economy is down, fuel prices are up due to a recent oil crisis, and the market’s trend is toward front-drive vehicles and sedans of a smaller size. What was Chrysler to do with its flagship Imperial in that sort of environment? Kill it off, that’s what.

We covered the new, more traditional styling of the fifth-generation Imperial in our last installment. For the first time in the brand’s history, the Imperial wore the same sheet metal as Chrysler’s lesser New Yorker. Unique styling on the Imperial included the front clip and the trunk lid. Underneath, the sameness continued. In previous versions of the Imperial, the flagship used a longer wheelbase and came with additional length, for “No Chrysler is this long!” marketing reasons.

That changed in 1974 when the Imperial shared the same 124-inch wheelbase as the New Yorker. Said wheelbase was three inches shorter than the 1973 Imperial. Exterior dimensions shrunk too, after the super long 235.3 inches of 1973, 1974 stretched just 231.1 inches. Width increased a hair, from 79.6 to 79.7 inches. Imperial was notably lower too: 54.7 inches over 56.2 inches in 1973.

With this new generation, Chrysler dusted off a historical name in Imperial’s portfolio: Crown. The brand’s top model was no longer the LeBaron hardtop sedan, but rather the pillared Crown Coupe. You may recall Crown was historically the model’s top trim, but was subordinated to LeBaron in the Sixties and disappeared after 1970. The Crown Coupe was a direct attempt by Chrysler to compete with PLC entries like the much more popular Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

The pillared sedan was gone once again, as Chrysler played on-then-off with its lowest-priced Imperial. 1973’s body styles were three: The aforementioned two-door coupe, a hardtop two-door coupe, and a four-door hardtop. An interesting detail: The luxurious pillared coupe started out in life as a hardtop, and then was edited from a LeBaron into a Crown at ASC’s assembly line.

Although a new top trim returned, internally the Imperials were identified as 4Y (M), which meant all examples were of a “medium” trim. The coupe as flagship pricing strategy was a new approach for 1974, as the prior year the four-door was $228 ($1,504 adj.) more than the coupe. Even though trim differences were small, Imperial was a smaller vehicle than before, and it lacked the unique body of all prior Imperials, Chrysler raised the prices in 1974.

Every trim was between five and seven percent more expensive, in an economy that was down considerably. The bottom of the range was the LeBaron four-door, at $7,230 ($43,620 adj.), while the hardtop coupe was also a LeBaron trim, and asked $7,793 ($47,016 adj.). The top-spec Imperial Crown Coupe asked $7,856 ($47,396 adj.).

For comparison, the Cadillac Eldorado asked $7,656 ($46,190 adj.) at introduction, but GM jacked its price considerably, to $9,110 ($54,962 adj.) midway through the model year. Neither car could touch the most desirable Continental Mark IV, which asked $10,194 ($61,502 adj.) all year long. Though it wanted more money for the Imperial, Chrysler spent less than ever advertising its prestige brand. There were very few print advertisements, and this generation Imperial was not advertised on television.

Power train changes were naught with the new Imperial in 1974, as Chrysler stuck with its tried and true 440 Wedge V8 (7.2 liters). It was still paired to the same three-speed A727 TorqueFlite, too. By this time the Imperial’s engine was smaller than the competition, as the Mark used a 460 (7.5L) and Eldorado had a full fat 500 cubic inches (8.2L). Though engines stayed the same, there were some electronic differences in the new Imperial. A new starter lock system added protection from would-be thieves, and warning lights were now backed by LEDs instead of traditional bulbs.

With its new body shape and unique waterfall grille, the Imperial had a stylistic advantage over its competition, as they were not new in 1974. At the end of the year, Imperial sold 10,576 LeBaron four-doors, 3,793 LeBaron two-doors, and only 57 Crown Coupes. The brand’s 14,426 total sales were down from 16,729 the prior year but were enough to satisfy the brass at Chrysler. However, those numbers paled in comparison to the competition, where Cadillac sold 40,412 copies just of the Eldorado, and Lincoln sold 57,316 Mark IV coupes.

Chrysler gave Imperial one more shot in 1975 when slight changes turned the 4Y (M) into the 5Y (M). To denote the 1975 model, the front end received an altered waterfall grille that was a bit chunkier looking than before. The vertical slats were a bit thicker, and no longer grouped into sections. The bumper was revised, with two cutouts that functioned as an extension of the grille to aid with cooling.

Grille inserts resided behind the cutouts to make the look more cohesive. As a result of the extra space needed for the lower grilles, Imperial’s overall length grew slightly for its final year in 1975, up to 232.7 inches from 231.1. Fiberglass bumper fillers were extended to accommodate the grilles, and given a ribbed texture.

There were some technological advancements for Imperial’s last year, as spark plugs received platinum tips. The revised plugs were intended to offer a 50,000-mile service life. The battery was sturdier as well and was 500 amperes instead of 440. The government said a catalytic converter was required in 1975, so Chrysler complied across its lineup. The ’75 was a bit more fuel-efficient on unleaded, courtesy of a new rear axle ratio (2.71:1). Standard this year was Automatic Height Control, a load-leveling feature for the rear end of the car. For the first time (and later than the competition), the Imperial also used an electric rear defroster instead of a blower, which was an optional extra.

Another addition in 1975 was the Fuel Pacer System. From the driver’s viewpoint in the pillowed cabin, fender-mounted lamps would flash under two circumstances: When the turn signal was on, or when the driver was driving in such a way to cause poor efficiency. Imagine the fun of being nagged by the car’s warning lights each time a right foot got too deep into the carpet.

Even less emphasis was placed on Imperial advertisements in 1975, as the brand’s fate was already sealed. When the Imperial did appear in an odd magazine or two, it was alongside the Cordoba and the New Yorker. When Imperial appeared on its own, Chrysler often mentioned its other luxury cars in the ad’s text. It was a faux pas Chrysler had repeated for some time, as it failed to get dealers and the public to treat Imperial as a separate entity.

Though the ’75 Imperial was more efficient and had electric rear defrost, the economy was stomping on the large luxury car market. Add in the Imperial’s distant third place in the domestic luxury field, and the outcome of 1975 was not surprising: Chrysler managed just 8,830 Imperial sales in 1975. Not helping matters, prices in ’75 were notably higher than before, at $8,844 ($47,725 adj.) for the four-door Lebaron, $8,698 ($46,937 adj.) for the two-door Lebaron, and $9,277 ($50,061 adj.) for the ASC-made Crown Coupe.

The Crown Coupe had much better sales in its final year, as customers wrote checks for 1,641. There were 1,087 LeBaron two-doors sold and 6,102 sedans. Part of the sales slump was down to the discontinuation of the brand, which leaked in the third quarter of the year. The leak was prior to any planned announcement by Chrysler.

On June 11th, 1975 Chrysler invited auto journalists to Detroit to check out the 1976 Chrysler lineup. And there were no Imperials present. Journalists casually but accidentally told various persons about the Imperial’s death, and by the next day, it was published as a New York Times exclusive. The NYT cited that even in July, Imperial’s sales were already abysmal: 2,808 total, or 55 percent lower than the same time in 1974.

The final independent Imperial rolled off the line on June 12th, 1975, the very day the NYT piece was published. The last one ever made was a black-over-black hardtop sedan. It was a sad day, sort of: Chrysler had a plan in place for 1976. That year the rest of the C-bodies continued under their various Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth names, but there was an addition to the New Yorker lineup.

It was a new prestigious top trim: Brougham. The Brougham used the front and rear of the discontinued Imperial, and was essentially the same car. Differences included the replacement of Imperial badges with Chrysler ones and the removal of all Imperial eagle logos. There were a few standard Imperial features moved over to optional extras on the New Yorker Brougham, to made the base price more appealable.

New Yorker was about $2,000 ($10,113 adj.) less expensive than an equivalent and nearly identical Imperial from the year prior. The Brougham had an expensive option available in the $598 ($3,023 adj.) St. Regis package. Exclusive to the coupe, the St. Regis added a thick padded vinyl roof, and the ever-impressive and formal opera window. It was essentially what the Crown Coupe was a year prior.

The rest of the C-bodies continued on through 1978, as the Imperial name was erased from the memory of most everyone. But a few years later there was one man who fondly remembered Imperial, and thought it should return once more as an exclusive luxury car. The man’s name was Lee Iacocca, and he was the new CEO of Chrysler. More on that in our next installment.

[Images: Chrysler]

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


  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Corey, I know that if someone else doesn’t call out the minor error, @Arthur Dailey certainly will: you referenced the Lincoln PLC in 1974 as a Mark V. That should be a Mark IV!

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    that one pic is giving me prince andrew vibes

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    Mt dad had a ’76 New Yorker Brougham sedan, white on white with green dash and carpets. It was a godawful car and a poor replacement for the Lincoln’s and Cadillac’s dad drove prior to his brief defection to Chrysler. It was gone in less than a year, replaced by a new MB 280 SE in ’77. Dad never looked back and it was a steady diet of European sedans until defecting to Lexus in the ’90s. He finally returned to Cadillac in 2016, his last car was a XTS sedan, which hardly mattered as by then dad was mostly being driven. The American manufacturers really dumped on their loyal clientele in the late 70’s and 80’s, once Dad got a taste of the Mercedes/BMW workmanship and then Lexus reliability it was almost impossible for his to go back.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I wonder if our dads knew each other? Mine had two Caddys in the ’70s – a ’72 and a ’75. The ’75 was hot garbage – it had a bent frame that caused it to wander the Interstate like a lost whale. Turns out the dealer knew about it and sold him the car anyway, and when dad called them on it, they told him to sit and spin. Eventually he contacted Cadillac corporate, which told him to do the same thing. After that, aside from one brief Cadillac comeback in 1980 – a black-over-tan Eldo coupe that was also hot garbage – he never bought from Cadillac again, and aside from a late-’90s Riv that he didn’t keep long, he avoided American cars as well.

      The most striking thing about all this for me was that Cadillac didn’t even pretend to care – the Eldo ended up stranding my dad and I on I-70 somewhere outside Terre Haute, Indiana on a blazing hot summer day, and the dealer’s attitude was “oh well.” Maybe that works on some slob with 400 credit who was lucky to finance a Chevette, but this is a guy with the money to buy whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and they told him to take a hike – repeatedly. And as a result, they screwed themselves out of a great customer who bought every couple of years, and probably ended up spending a good half-mil on cars by the time he passed away in the late 2000s.

      Chrysler was no better – my grandparents and aunt had top-of-the-line Chrysler sedans in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and they were utter crap, particularly the “downsized” GM B-body knockoffs. The dealer wouldn’t do anything about those crap heaps either, despite the fact that my step-grandpa was good friends with the guy who owned the store.

      These companies literally kissed off hundreds of thousands of well-heeled paying customers that never came back. Dumb beyond belief.

  • avatar

    It is interesting to watch that ad. It is like another planet. The country is very different today.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Fender skirts should have been a big tip-off that a Federal bailout would be needed soon.

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    Was Imperial one of the first cars to have LED indicator lights. This was at a time when calculators that had LED displays were very expensive.

    There is no mention of the Torsion quiet glide for a smooth New Yorker ride. I guess the “torsion bar suspension” wasn’t so much hype by then. Was it any better than what the other car companies had?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    19 [nineteen] exterior color choices is Way Too Many. (Cars are so much better these days)

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      tool>>>

      10: TEN shades of frigging brown. BROWN !!
      TEN !

      Late 80 s Honda Accord had what – 4 colors?
      Their ad tag line used to be Simplify ! ( later Delphi stole it ).
      Honda made products with few trim levels, options, colors. This Made car builds much simpler. Lowered cost.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        There were more color choices in the 70s for most manufacturers versus today. Does save more money to limit color choices especially to white, black, and various shades of gray and to limit interior choice to mainly black but I miss the interior choices that were other than black and gray. Chrysler at this point didn’t have the resources to design an all new Imperial. The Cordoba would have made a good Imperial for a PLC. If Chrysler would have done an Imperial similar to the Seville it would have done well. Thanks again to Corey for a great series on the forgotten but interesting history of the Imperial. At one time the Imperial was such an important and known name that Jackson & Perkins named one the their hybrid roses “Chrysler Imperial”.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      But not enough grays and silvers! Everyone knows people want gray and silver! /sarc

      The one silver seems to be called “Silver Cloud.” That was the same color name as was used on our ’64 Buick Riviera.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    The seat color on that very last photo makes me want a pastrami sandwich.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    These may have inferior to Cadillac and Lincoln, but, man, do I still love these things. Friggin’ boats…..

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    At this point, The Chrysler Corporation was like the owner of a decrepit, suffering dog who refuses to put the dog down because he remembers what the dog once was.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Well, between the air quality rules and the oil crisis, Chrysler was stuck. They finally downsized their full-sized cars in 1979, just in time for the SECOND oil crisis.

      That was their short-lived R-body, a too-big stretched B-body. They had the right idea, with the last of the B-bodies being the Cordoba, but had the crazy idea there was still a market for a car 18-1/2 feet long. The Impala was a foot shorter and more sculpted, and seemed lighter.

      Ultimately, they had the right platform, the RWD M-body that served them well in the 1980s, but they hsd to learn a GM-like lesson about bringing a model to market too soon, before the bugs were worked out, with the Aspen/Volare.

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    Gawd how nice it would be to remove that front seat (assuming one could LIFT it), add a base and a 12v battery, and use it as a power futon bed…

  • avatar
    redgolf

    My father in law owned a 68, it was beautiful, kept it in the garage, back in 1979 I told him if he ever wanted to sell it to let me know, I would get him what the car was worth at that time thinking $2500 – $3000, well he fell sick and was heavily medicated when a neighbor came over to visit him, he asked my in law if he wanted to sell it, my father in law told him that he would for $600! The man ran to the bank and brought back the money, when I found out I went over to talk to the new owner telling him my in law was not in his right state of mind and would he reconsider giving the car back, he scolded me out so I left! ;-(

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Definitely looking forward to the Cordoba-perial.

    One of the items I found most interesting here was the price difference between a Mark IV and an Eldo. I wonder why?

    Great series, Corey…

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      What I should have said is the Cordoba in 1975 would have made a good Imperial without the problematic fuel injection that came later. It could have been made similar to the Lincoln Marks and could have been priced just below Lincoln and Cadillac. What did the later Imperial in was the problems with the fuel injection and the typical quality issues with Chryslers and a price tag that was just too high. Chrysler could have used the Cordoba platform to make a 4 door version of the Imperial as a competitor to the Seville. By 1975 Chrysler had used up valuable resources and was well on the way to bankruptcy. The Chrysler brand today has been fading and will eventually become an orphaned brand. The Chrysler 300 is on its last legs and the Pacifica could be rebadged as another brand if the Chrysler brand dies.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    OK this is right in my wheelhouse.

    And Corey did as usual an excellent job.

    Lincoln moved from an ‘also ran’ with the introduction of the Mark IV in 1972. The Town Car was slightly revised the same year and then fully ‘broughamed’ for 1975.

    Most Cadillac customers seemed to retain their brand loyalty. Although the Coupe and Sedan de Villes of the early/mid 1970s were not up to the Lincoln standard regarding ‘brougham’ luxury and NVH.

    Those moving up to prestige/luxury marques seemed to prefer Lincoln.

    And I believe what happened to Chrysler is that they lost sales not only of new/upgrading customers but also many previously loyal Chrysler drivers/owners moved to Lincoln.

    Lincoln caught lightning in a bottle with their exterior and interior styling defining ‘luxury’ in that period. Opera windows, coach lights, a RR style front grille and the continental trunk treatment (which you could get on the Town Car and Town Coupe). Total quiet and isolation from the road. One finger steering. All of these were considered ‘desirable’ then. You could even get a Mark IV with dual exhaust and a rudimentary ABS system.

    And Lincoln also learned from another smart marketing move, the more you charge for your product, the more people believe that it is prestigious.

    So when you watch movies, TV shows from that era or set in that era, what you will notice is a great many Lincoln products. And that is for a reason.

    As for the Cordoba, it sold well originally because it had the Chrysler name and the original was for the time a good looking vehicle. Wrecked when they went to the dual stacked rectangular headlights. But in reality it was comparable to a Gran Torino Elite, Cougar, Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, Cutlass Supreme and Regal and not with the ‘big’ Thunderbird, Riviera or Toronado.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      “So when you watch movies, TV shows from that era or set in that era, what you will notice is a great many Lincoln products. And that is for a reason.”

      In the case of Charlie’s Angels, the reason they all drove Fords was a big check that Ford wrote to the production company. Don’t recall if the show featured many Lincolns, but I’d bet yes. But regardless, 70’s Lincolns did have a certain something.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        True. But notice when a movie/TV series is set in the 1950s or 1960s Cadillacs predominate. Then those set in the 1970s’ switch to Lincolns. Naturally some marketing was involved. Cannon, MacMillan & Wife, Starsky & Hutch, The French Connection. De Niro of course famously drove a Cadillac in Casino, but a Town Car in The Irishman. Both based on the actual vehicles driven by the people he portrayed in the movie.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @Arthur–You can thank Lee Iacocca for bringing back the Mark name and he is the one responsible for putting the Rolls grill on the Mark and using the Thunderbird platform. Lee just had that touch and he knew what the customer wanted-Mustang and Chrysler Minivan to name a few. Lee tried to bring that magic to Chrysler with the new Imperial coupe but the fuel injection and overall Chrysler quality were too much to overcome otherwise he would have had a hit. The styling was good but having dissatisfied customers does not help.

  • avatar
    MitchConner

    Funny how Chrysler offered that Dijon mustard yellowy brown crap color on virtually every product around that time. Throw in that discount dog kibble brown for the vinyl roof and interior and, voila, instant garbage.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Yes that was Chrysler but the competition had some ugly color combinations as well and the ugliness was not just limited to cars but clothing and homes. Leisure suits, gold chains on hairy chests, shag carpets, appliances in avocado, burnt orange, and harvest gold, lava lamps, men’s platform shoes, and a few other things.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        STOP! STOP! You’re giving me flashbacks!

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          During that era Chrysler vehicles seemed to sell extremely well in different hues of green.

          Ford in the same era seemed to specialize in brown vehicles. particularly the LTD and Country Squire.

          Remember in the 1970s that appliances were popular in green (avocado) and yellow (harvest gold). Even toilets/bathtubs came in ‘far out’ colours. Our home built circa 1971 had the original ‘dusty rose\'(pink) and ‘avocado’ (green) bathroom fittings when we bought it.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            I had a townhouse with avocado formica kitchen counters, green linoleum in the kitchen patterned like tile, green patterned wallpaper in the kitchen and thick gold shag carpet throughout the house (gold gold carpet not beige) built in 1975. Living with green and gold for that long was enough to cure me of those colors. I remember about 10 years ago shag carpet made a comeback although not as shagging as mine–once was enough. I also got tired of dark brown and tan vehicles. At least the toilets and bathtubs were white.

  • avatar
    Nick

    I must say I love the Imperials from 1964 all the way through 1975. I don’t know what the prices are like now but up until a few years ago the prices were pretty reasonable. I was sorely tempted on several occasions. For better or worse, I didn’t bite. But I still wish I had one for long, highway drives.

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