Today we reach the 22nd and final installment in the Imperial series. In our last edition, we reviewed the development and birth of the final production car to wear the Imperial name: The super-extended K-car platform known as the Y-body. Lee Iacocca was keen on the idea of a full-size luxury sedan for the elderly customer, but Chrysler had neither the resources nor the platform to do it properly. Thus the Y-body appeared, and its angular and pencil-thin shape went on sale in 1990 alongside the similarly lengthened Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue. Speaking of angles, let’s talk about that sweet money-saving clip swap action.
We find ourselves at the final two installments of the long-running Imperial series today. It’s been almost six months since the first Imperial entry, when a new model was dreamt up by Chrysler’s founder as competition for the likes of Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker. The Imperial name outlived most of the Twenties competition it was designed to beat, though along the way it drifted both nearer and further to the original mission. The concluding entrant into the Imperial lineage was definitely the weakest ever. K-car time, commence!
Here we are, the 20th installment of the Imperial series. We’ve covered the Imperial’s inception as a coach-built car for the wealthy, through its Fifties rebirth as an independent brand with hand-built quality that rivaled the best luxury car makers had to offer. From there Imperial’s tale was ups and downs (mostly downs) as Chrysler’s luxury arm continually found itself less independent, and more tied to the New Yorker.
But after its sad Seventies cancellation, it was time for an Eighties rebirth under the direction of CEO Lee Iacocca. He was determined to make the best, most exclusive American personal luxury coupe money could buy. To date we’ve learned about the angular bustle back exterior, the J-body Cordoba platform underneath, and the Cordoba-plus leather-lined interior, by Mark Cross. Today we continue with Iacocca’s close personal friend, Frank Sinatra (or ‘FS’ if you’re talking badges.)
We return to our Imperial series again today, and the third installment on the all-new personal luxury coupe Lee Iacocca launched in 1981 to resurrect the historical Imperial name. Unlike every other Imperial to date, the new one was available only in two-door coupe guise. The new car had the dual mission of bringing luxury car credibility back to Chrysler, and grabbing some high margin luxury coupe sales from GM and in particular, Lincoln and the Continental Mark VI. We’ve covered the exterior and the underpinnings, so today we slide into the interior, which is most definitely not covered in Rich Corinthian Leather.
In our most recent installment of our long-running Imperial coverage, the Eighties dawned with a resurrection of the Imperial name and the debut of an exciting new personal luxury coupe. Chrysler’s new chairman Lee Iacocca was determined to recreate the runaway success he’d had at Ford with the Lincoln Continental Mark III. But that meant a simultaneous ask that luxury coupe buyers ignore the very recent financial troubles that plagued the Detroit automaker. And while the exterior of the new Imperial coupe was all bustleback and new angles, its platform and mechanicals were not quite as exciting. Let’s talk about Mirada, Cordoba, and the reliability benefits of electronic fuel injection.
In our last Imperial entry, we found the brand’s run came to an end. In production since 1926 and an independent brand since 1955, the Imperial fizzled out to nothing after 1975. Chrysler closed its luxury Imperial division, and the once proud two- and four-door Imperials were stripped of some standard features and rebranded into the Brougham trim of the New Yorker. The Imperial name had come a long way from its beginnings as a super luxurious coach built car for the wealthy, and ended up as a slightly nicer New Yorker with more formal front and rear clips. But 1975 was not the end of the Imperial’s story, as a particular Chrysler CEO had big Imperial aspirations. To get to that point for Imperial, let’s talk about Ford.
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 return to the Imperial’s saga once again today, at a very low point for the brand. Though the Fuselage Look of 1969 had propped up Imperial’s sales and generated consumer interest, sales were in decline after the ’69s debut. Chrysler put less and less money into its flagship, as parts sharing increased while options and trims did the opposite. There was a second version of the Fuselage Look for 1972 that showed as longer, lower, and heavier than ever before. And though the new metal buoyed sales slightly, the U.S. car market as a whole saw record sales in 1972 and 1973. 1973 was the last such record year for America, and it coincided with the last Fuselage Imperial. Chrysler had a decision to make about its flagship brand.
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.
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.
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.
We return once more to Imperial today and find ourselves in 1967. The earlier portion of the Sixties was a turbulent time for Imperial, as the D-body soldiered on from 1957 through 1966 model years as the Imperial marque’s second-generation car. In 1967, Imperial’s lead designer Elwood Engel managed Imperial’s transition to a new shared platform. Say hello to C.
This 10th installment of our Imperial coverage finds us at a turning point in its styling. Virgil Exner had been fired but was allowed to stay on as a design consultant at Chrysler. Exner’s immediate replacement was Elwood Engel, who’d designed the 1961 Lincoln Continental and then jumped ship when he was not promoted at Ford. Chrysler execs wanted out of Exner’s winged, googly-eyed stylistic cave, and Engel took the aged D-body in a very different direction for 1964.
Today marks the ninth installment in our history of Imperial, as the calendar flips over to 1961. The second generation Imperial is not quite to the middle of its tenure on its own platform, the D-body. Virgil Exner imposed a wild new styling direction on Imperial for 1960 that was both outlandish visually, and heavy-handed in its execution. “More of that,” said Exner for ’61.