This was the last of the Gangsters…..
If you saw the 1973 Imperial LeBaron, you knew that there was someone inside with accomplishment under their belt. It was the longest luxury sedan produced that year, keeping in step with the Cadillac Fleetwood and the Lincoln Continental. The formidable Imperial LeBaron was the last of the Gangsters. This car was HUGE sporting the evolution of Chrysler’s “fuselage design.” In black, the LeBaron was priceless! Sweeping good looks from its hidden quad headlamps following the long fenders back to the end of its elegant rear end styling made the Imperial LeBaron an imposing stature at any gathering of fine automobiles.
The Imperial by Chrysler was the flagship of the company. It branched out on its own make in 1955 competing with the Cadillac Fleetwood and the Lincoln Continental. Imperial always had an identity issue. It always looked as though it was trying to mock GM and Chrysler, then their rendition of the two. The styling was coined by Chrysler as “the fuselage look” for their architecture. Imperials were always such beautiful creations. From the fabulous fifties with the daring Virgil Exner designs to the modern sixties work of Elwood Engel, the Imperial was an impressive dignified flagship luxury sedan.
The 1973 Imperial LeBaron had styling carried over from the previous year’s redesign. It was a refined version of the evolutionary fuselage design body. The 1973 had flowing uninterrupted lines devoid of chrome and gaudy trim. With the industry mandate of five mph impact bumpers, the Imperial’s overall length was increased by 5.8” which made it the longest production non-limousine made that year in America at 235.3” long! This was the hallmark of the spirited seventies luxury-length sedans, a long wheelbase on a very long car.
If one had never driven such a capacious vehicle, it was quite intimidating. First, when you got into the sheer space that rivaled that of your living room and was appointed as such, overwhelmed you a bit. Ok, now one has managed to get past the size of the interior, one cranked up that powerful 440 CID V8 which was silent and virtually imperceptible in operation (another hallmark of an American luxury car from that Genre), one placed the gear shift lever to drive….then looked through the windshield…and freaked out. Remember, you are used to a much smaller car…the hood spanned a head of you which looked like the length of a football field. The view was excellent too….those extra long front fenders were high enough that made parking and depth perception easy, unlike today’s luxury saloons with fall-away front fenders that one doesn’t notice until the sickening crunch of metal….oops.
Now that you have gotten used to the luxury length, you can focus on the luxury that the car offered. This 1973 Imperial LeBaron was a big ole’ rollin’ Barco lounger. Its long wheelbase of 127” smoothed out the worst roads, with the longer wheelbase and heavy weight distribution the ride mocked a sense of “floating”….the car was unflappable at high speeds…..took potholes in stride, was unaffected by hilly terrain, and simply loved the open road. I drove one on a nice long, leafy trek and let me tell you, I arrived at my destination four hours later just as fresh as when I began the journey.
That LeBaron held the road like a magnate, the steering was light and responsive and as I said before, it was like floating at high speeds, you really couldn’t tell that you were going that fast until you saw the red lights in your rear view mirror of the vehicle that could barely keep up with your 440’s pace with that ticket! I hated the trip ended to be honest with you; I enjoyed that great big car, it was like driving my living room around with me. This is why I always have driven large cars.
The 1973 Imperial LeBaron was powered by the Mopar 7.2 litre 440 CID cast iron Wedgehead V8 engine. It was mated to a 3-speed TorqueFlite A727 automatic transmission. It rode on Unibody construction with Chrysler’s patented “torsion quiet ride.” It was quite a car.
This sadly was the climaxing end for the Imperial series. It lost all of its exclusivity starting with the end of its exclusive assembly plant in 1962. The unique platform was axed in 1967. The 1969 re-style lost an exclusively unique to the brand bodyshell. And, the absolute embarrassment was the fact that the very last car designed and built under the exclusive “Imperial” brand and named “Imperial” was badge engineered as “New Yorker Brougham” from 1976-1978. The 1973 oil embargo slammed Chrysler fiercely.
The Chrysler Corporation at the time was “production-oriented” building automobiles and placing them into inventory. This really brought Chrysler to its knees because when that embargo spiked the cost of petroleum, they had banks and banks of Imperials, New Yorkers, New Ports, and Cordoba’s that weren’t selling. It took Lee Iacocca and those horrid “K” cars to save their proverbial butts from the end.
The Imperial was a distinguished brand, Chrysler’s flagship line as a separate make from 1955-1975 to compete with the Cadillac Fleetwood and Lincoln Continental. It failed to create its own image as a singular brand. It’s a shame that such an illustrious brand was reduced to a hodge-podge of Chrysler parts. The formidable Imperial graced the 1950s and 1960s with flair and a dash of panache. It was the choice of Celebrities, and the aristocrat who demanded a different type of dignified luxury.
To drive a luxury car from the sixties and seventies is a real treat, but to drive a 1970s land-yacht was priceless all the way. The American luxury length automobile reached its longest in the seventies. Then, they went from being too long to being too short. The tinny, hollow luxury sedans of today couldn’t hold a candle to the 1973 Imperial LeBaron. I have driven humongous automobiles all of my driving life. My parents drove luxury cars and that’s how I learned to drive. I got my license driving the traditional Sedan de Ville. That is what spoiled me. I was used to the intimidating stature of the Imperial LeBaron, didn’t scare me, I miss them.
The 1973 Imperial LeBaron sedan