The Incomparable 1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton

The superlative in exclusivity & supremacy…

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The incomparable 1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton by Chrysler was created especially for a distinct clientele. It was built to move with tremendous verve and élan. An Imperial is a driver’s luxury sedan. No…it isn’t a Chrysler…the Imperial was built as a separate make and retained the status of Flagship for the brand. Any stories about Chrysler cannot be complete without mention of Virgil Exner. It is his flamboyant “Forward Look” which molded Chrysler automobiles into beautiful works of art.

Virgil Exner’s expertise gave the 1961 Imperial an elegance all its own. He captured the basic Imperial concept with classic simplicity, dignity, and a style that set the car brilliantly apart from its competition. The Imperial LeBaron is the mother lode of eloquence…the absolute last word in elegance…the epitome of luxury…and the pinnacle of the utmost dignity. No other luxury automobile possessed the poised affluence of the formidable Imperial LeBaron Southampton –

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In a world where the difference between promise and product is often considerable…the Imperial LeBaron delivers exactly what one would expect. Uncompromising room with exemplary comfort and convenience features all within an exceptionally quiet, smooth, and substantial ride. Its presence on American roads is dignified. It has more room inside than any other traditional passenger production luxury sedan in the entire world. Only genuine commitment to product integrity could yield such an automobile as the 1961 Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton. The Imperial commitment is more than a mere promise…

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The 1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton exhibited the exemplification of Virgil Exner’s expertise in the evolution of this highly distinguished brand. The LeBaron was built at a highly restricted pace to retain its exclusivity and supremacy among luxury motorcars. LeBaron is also the name of an eminent coachbuilder from the 1920s and 1930s who mastered coachwork of distinction for high-end luxury cars up until 1953.

LeBaron

LeBaron Incorporated was a prominent coachbuilder and design studio aka LeBaron Carrossiers. They were in business from 1920 until 1953 supplying wealthy clientele with bespoke bodywork at a substantial price. They did work for Rolls Royce, Hispano Suiza, Duesenberg, and Packard. LeBaron designed a fleet of Rolls Royces for the Maharajah of Baroda, the ruler of one of India’s largest and wealthiest states. One of LeBaron’s earlier clients William Cooper Procter, CEO of Procter & Gamble had his Rolls Royce bodied by LeBaron.

Edsel Ford took fancy to LeBaron Coachbuilders giving them contractual production rights to build bodies for the Lincoln brand in the 1920s. For many years LeBaron built town car and limousine bodies for Packard. In the 1930s, LeBaron built Pierce-Arrow and Packard bodies on consignment. The auto manufacturers would provide LeBaron with a chassis for a series of body styles, LeBaron was paid as each individual car was sold.

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LeBaron went through a series of buyouts and reorganization plans throughout its tenure. WWII led to production cut-backs and a general slow down to the industry. The Chrysler Corporation purchased LeBaron and its complete operation on December 29, 1953 for $35 Million USD. The LeBaron name is used to designate high-end, limited edition Imperials from 1958 until 1973. LeBaron became a model in the Chrysler line up starting in 1977. By this time the LeBaron name no longer held the formidable esteem in the luxury car segment. As for “K” car association…we won’t go there –

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Virgil Exner’s Forward Look for the 1961 Imperial included innovative styling protocol. He had a fancy for the tail fin. This is the final year the Imperial sported its shark fins. Exner’s love for the “floating” head and taillamp treatment is evident in the 1961 Imperial. Another of Exner’s fancy detailing is the optional “FliteSweep Decklid.” This is the Mopar version the ersatz spare tire design. Virgil Exner’s Forward Look led the brand through a graciously elegant era in luxury motoring.

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The Southampton body style is a Chrysler exclusive. It is typified by a sweeping pillarless hardtop design. The distinctive style is augmented by a unique Landau Roof treatment with brushed stainless-steel accents, the LeBaron gets the full luxury experience. The town car window – a closed in limousine style backglass exclusive to the LeBaron – provides more rear seat privacy. The Southampton body style was available for both two and four-door Imperial models. The 1961 Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton is the grandest among all luxury sedans.

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Beginning in 1957, Imperials were available in three trim levels: the entry-level Imperial Custom, the luxurious Imperial Crown, and the formidable Imperial LeBaron. Virgil Exner’s “ahead of the competition” styling trend of the late 1950s and early 1960s began the elegant evolution of some of the most beautiful automotive designs in the world. The 1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton is proof – only 1,026 of these eminent luxury sedans were built.

The 1961 Imperial LeBaron is by all means the most exclusive automobile built by the Chrysler Corporation. Body style code #934 1961 Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton had a base price of $6,428. They are the pinnacle of highly bespoke automotive excellence. The LeBaron Southampton is the most formidable of all luxury sedans. These automotive masterpieces were built at a highly restricted pace to retain exclusivity. It was advertised as “The finest of America’s carefully built automobiles.” It’s an Imperial, no it isn’t a Chrysler –

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Without conjecture…an Imperial LeBaron Southampton is the quintessential luxury sedan. It’s almost like a rolling guest room at the Ritz Carlton. The interiors are hand crafted and fitted with the finest broad cloths and leathers in carefully color-keyed selections. Folding center armrests for both front and rear are standard. The side windows, including the vent windows, are power operated.

The LeBaron creates an atmosphere of exclusivity. An interesting option for the day is the swivel-out front seats that are manually activated by a handle when either front door is opened. These automobiles are luxurious enough to qualify as limousines. Four-door, six-passenger comfort makes each journey a memorable one indeed. The 1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton is the consummate American luxury sedan.

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The swivel-out passenger seat in operation

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Push-button controls for the transmission

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The driver’s seat had a higher profile for comfort

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The Imperial LeBaron for 1961 was the most exclusive automobile made in the USA. Imperials were so exclusive they had their own dedicated assembly facility. Nothing was hurried. The focus was on the manner of their assembly. One in every ten employees was an inspector who monitored each Imperial while in theatre.

An Imperial was a high-visibility vehicle. They commanded respect and admiration wherever they were driven, this is why the fit and finish were so important. Per Chrysler “It is the ultimate excellence in America’s largest…finest…quietest…and most distinguished luxury automobile.” They ride upon long 129” wheelbases. The Imperial LeBaron for 1961 has the luxury length of 227.3”.

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An interesting fact regarding the 1961-1963 Imperial is that they hold the record for being the widest American passenger production cars ever built. The exterior width reached 81.7” which is wider than the Cadillac and Lincoln. It had the most massive width in the industry…when the other luxury cars were at 80”. It is the widest American automobile not built as a limousine.

Imperials from this genre are built like tanks. Their crash worthiness is due in no small part to their rugged separate full perimeter frame with a sturdy “X” crossmember. The rest of the Chryslers were built as unibody construction. Imperials were built on frames through the 1966 model year. The incomparable Imperial LeBaron Southampton is luxury on the grand scale, and built to reflect this distinction.

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The secret to the impressive Imperial ride is the independent front wheel suspension with torsion bar springs and tapered leaf outbound rear springs with interliners and rear axle strut. Oriflow shock absorbers were fitted all the way around. The effortless Constant Control Power Steering is exactly that: effortless. The size and weight of this luxury behemoth added more bang for the buck as well. This is another American luxury sedan that rides along like a big ole’ rollin’ Barco lounger.

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The 1961 Imperials move with aplomb. They are powered by the Chrysler RB-Series 6.8 litre 16-valve 413 CID “Wedge-head” V8 engine. It is equipped with wedge-type combustion chambers, overhead in-line valve arrangement, three rings per piston, full pressure lubrication, water-proof ignition, silicon chromium steel intake and exhaust valves, and a dual exhaust system with two mufflers and two resonators.

The engine’s fuel system uses a Carter AFB 3108S 4-bbl carburetor with mechanically controlled secondary draft system and quick response well-type automatic choke. The engine is mated to the Chrysler TorqueFlite fully automatic transmission with torque converter, 3-speed planetary gear set, and neutral safety switch.

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Mopar performance is on the grand scale. Longitudinal acceleration is rated as 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds, 0-100 mph in 27.8 seconds, and 0-110 mph in 43.9 seconds. When you think about a 4,800+ pound luxury automobile leaping from a standing start to 110 mph in less than 60 seconds is awesome. It has a top ungoverned speed of 120 mph, and does the ¼ mile @ 83 mph in 17 seconds. The Wedge-head in the 1961 Imperial produces 350 hp @ 4,600 rpm with 637 Nm of peak torque @ 2,800 rpm. Performance is a Mopar hallmark..

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Virgil Exner didn’t waste time riding the coat tails of General Motors or Ford Motor Company…it is his “Forward Look” that created some of the world’s most beautiful automotive designs. The 1961 Imperial is one of the most exclusive automobiles built in America. It is the LeBaron Series that has the elusive enigma. “You won’t see the LeBaron on the streets in great numbers, simply because a car of such integrity and excellence cannot be produced by the usual production-line methods”… is how the sales brochure reads. An Imperial LeBaron Southampton to put it quite simply, is the absolute pinnacle in luxury motoring.

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This ultra-rare Flagship was built at the highly restricted pace of only 1,026 Imperial LeBaron luxury sedans for the 1961 model year which makes it highly attractive as an investment. Virgil Exner’s “ahead of the competition” styling has created some of the world’s most valuable collector cars…take the 1957 Chrysler 300C for example…and then, there’s the legend of the eminent  LeBaron Coachbuilders. Dignity used to be a Chrysler hallmark…the Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton stands alone in pre-eminence in the world of luxury automobiles. There will never be another Imperial LeBaron…

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I would like to personally thank the On-line Imperial Club (http://www.imperialclub.org/index.htm) and Mr. Richard Rowlands for the beautiful photographs of the ultra-rare, ultra-luxurious Formal Black 1961 Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton. I would like to also thank Hyman Ltd. Classic Cars, as advertised June 2011 for the Tuscan Bronze 1961 Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton. These are ‘rare’ sightings indeed! This tribute to the Imperial LeBaron is for all of my Mopar luxury car enthusiasts world-wide. More Mopar luxury to come…The early 1960s Imperials have a unique charm all their own.

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Something ethereal about Mark Harris’ 1960 Imperial Crown

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More of Richard Rowlands’ 1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton

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Farewell

1961 Imperial LeBaron four-door Southampton

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