The 1964-1966 Imperials were among America’s finest cars……..
The notorious Chrysler Imperial was the absolute superlative in a luxury automobile. It is times like this that I miss cars from that genre. I grew up driving full-sized cars that included Cadillac Fleetwoods, Lincoln MK IVs, Lincoln Continentals with the TownCar option, Oldsmobile Ninety-Eights, Buick Electra Limiteds…. anything a city block long and half a city block wide, I was at the wheel…..the Imperial reigned as snobwagen supreme. AND, if you saw an Imperial “LeBaron” that was class…..you’d wonder who was inside and what he did to get to that point in life. The Chrysler Imperial, Cadillac Fleetwood Series Sixty-special, and the Lincoln Continental were the top three from the top three…..
The 1964-1966 Imperials were really an evolution. It was the end to the illustrious Virgil Exner era with Chrysler and the fabulous 1950s and the start of a new collaboration with Elwood Engel, a talented designer that worked for Ford Motor Car Company. Chrysler execs enticed Elwood to join their team. The 1964 Imperial re-design was his first project on the Chrysler team. Engel designed the Lincoln Continental for Ford in the early 1960s, and the guy was brilliant.
Chrysler Corporation had dispensed with the look and attributes of the 1950s, and was in progress of refining their image through market planning and vast expansion. Engel made the Imperial a stunning example of a departure from the past and an exciting glimpse into the future. The Imperial was at one time, a single exclusive make on its own assembly line. Again…an Imperial was the absolute epitome of luxury & supremacy in an American Motorcar.
The 1964 Imperial was completely redesigned by Engel. Subtle curves and parallelogram angles gave the Imperial a distinctive look….a look all its own. Engel did away with Exner’s chrome & tailfins to acquire clean knife-blade fenders crowned with chrome moldings that swept the entire length of its architecture. The Imperial Custom model platform was deleted from the line-up that now included; the Imperial Crown coupe and hardtop sedan, an Imperial Crown luxury convertible, and the LeBaron hardtop sedan which augmented the line-up.
Power windows, heater & defroster were now standard features. Both body styles could be ordered with a vinyl roof. A padded dash, power seats, power brakes and head rests were also standard. The power came from a 413 CID V8 engine with 4bbl carburetion which produced 340 bhp, mated to a three-speed automatic transmission. This car rode on a 129” wheelbase….as they say in Europe “A Long-wheelbase saloon”, yes, America had them first, who do you think taught “them?” The 1964 Imperial model year had tremendous sales topping 23,295 units.
The Imperial weighed in at 4,950+ pounds! Try taking that for petrol today! It used full-frame construction. The front of the suspension consisted of upper and lower control arms with longitudinal torsion bars. The rear suspension was the live-axle type with leaf springs. Drum brakes all around, remember, this is the mid-sixties where there was NO ABS. Chrysler’s “Torsion-quiet” ride caught on and became a science and an advertising campaign in the seventies. It was cars like the Imperial that set the standards for American luxury cars……..which I wish they still made.
The 1965 Imperial was only freshened mildly in the front styling and interior trim. The old push button transmission gear selector was replaced with the conventional column-shift. 100 Year old Claro wood trim was added. The 1965 model year produced 18,409 Imperials.
In 1966, the Imperial was refined further. The rear was squared-off at the deck lid removing the trace of the spare tire design from previous models making it look more contemporary. This was the final year for the platform which had been used since 1957. This was the last Imperial with a separate frame and body design. The engine was swapped for Chrysler’s new 440 CID V8 that produced 350 bhp.
No matter how hard Chrysler tried, the Imperial couldn’t establish itself as a separate make. Sales had started to drop and a mere 14,000 1966 Imperials were made. It was posh and extremely elegant. With its timeless beauty, this luxury behemoth deserves its place in automotive history. This powerful MOPAR had kid-glove road manners. The Imperial rode like “a big-ole’ rolling Barco lounger!” Here’s another car so big and swift that it could pass everything….except a gas station.
…..can you tell that I like cars?