Chrysler Imperial is First Produced

The Chrysler Imperial, introduced in 1926, was the company's top of the range vehicle for much of its history.

Models were produced with the Chrysler name until 1954, and again from 1990 to 1993. The company positioned the cars as a prestige marque that would rival Cadillac and Lincoln. According to a feature article in AACA's magazine The adjective ‘imperial’ according to Webster’s Dictionary means sovereign, supreme, superior or of unusual size or excellence. The word imperial thus justly befits Chrysler’s highest priced quality model.

In 1926, Walter P. Chrysler decided to attempt to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln in the lesser luxury car field. Chrysler offered a variety of body styles: a two/four-passenger roadster, a four-seat coupé, five-passenger sedan and phaeton, and a seven-passenger top-of-the-line limousine. The Imperial's new engine was slightly larger than the company's standard straight 6. It was a 288.6-cubic inch (4729 cc) six cylinder with seven bearing blocks and pressure lubrication of 92 brake horsepower (69 kW). The car set a transcontinental speed record in the year it was introduced, driving more than 6,500 miles (10,460 km) in the week. The car was chosen as the pace car for the 1926 Indianapolis 500. The model was designated E-80, the 80 being after the guaranteed 80 miles per hour (129 km/h) all day cruising speed. Acceleration was also brisk breaking 20 seconds to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).

The Chrysler Imperial was redesigned in 1931. The car received a new engine, a 384.84-cubic inch (6308.85 cc) I8. Marketing materials for this generation of Imperial referred to the car as the "Imperial 8", in reference to the new in-line 8-cylinder engine. The engine would be found in many other Chrysler vehicles. The redesign also saw the introduction of new wire wheels that became a standard wheel treatment until the 1940s. Stock car driver Harry Hartz set numerous speed records with an Imperial sedan at Daytona Beach, Florida.

The 1934 to 1936 Chrysler Imperial ushered in the 'Airflow' design. The car was marketed with the slogan "The car of tomorrow is here today." It featured eight passenger seating and again an eight-cylinder engine. This was the first car to be designed in a wind tunnel. Initial tests indicated that the standard car of the 1920s worked best in the wind-tunnel when pointed backwards with the curved rear deck facing forward. This led to a rethinking of the fundamental design of Chrysler's line of cars. The Airflow was an exceptionally modern and advanced car, and an unparalleled engineering success. Both engine and passenger compartment were moved forward, giving better balance, ride and roadability. An early form of unibody construction was employed, making them extremely strong. This was one of the first vehicles with fender skirts.
The public was put off by the unconventional styling and did not buy the car in large numbers. The failure of the Airflow cars in the marketplace led Chrysler to be overly conservative in their styling for the next 20 years. The "standard" styling on the lower-end Chryslers outsold the Airflow by 3 to 1.

Innovations for 1937 included built-in defroster vents, safety type interior hardware and seat back padding, and fully insulated engine mounts. There were three Imperial models in this generation. The C-14 was the standard eight and looked much like the Chrysler Royal with a longer hood and cowl. The C-15 was the Imperial Custom and the Town Sedan Limousine, with blind rear quarter panels. This model was available by special order. The third model, C-17, was the designation for the Airflow model. They had a concealed crank for raising the windshield and the hood was hinged at the cowl and opened from the front; side hood panels were released by catches on the inside. A Custom Imperial convertible sedan was used as an official car at the Indy 500.

In 1946 the Imperial line was simplified. Two models were produced, an eight passenger four door sedan and an eight passenger four door limousine. The two vehicles had a US$100 price difference and a 10 lb (5 kg) weight difference.

Three Imperial models were produced in 1949. The Imperial C46-2 was a four door, six-passenger sedan. The Imperial Crown models, both with the C47 designation, were a sedan and limousine for eight passengers each. Standard equipment on all 1949 Imperials were self-energizing, hydraulic, four-wheel disc brakes consisting of two flat pressure plates on which segments of brake lining were bonded. Braking action was obtained when the pressure plates were forced outward into contact with rotating brake housings.
The C50 models in 1950 featured a new hood ornament, grille, front and rear bumpers, as well as taillights.
For 1951 and 1952, two series were added: the Imperial and the Custom Imperial.
In 1951, "Hydraguide" power steering, an industry first for use in production automobiles, becomes available on the Imperial for an additional $226. Full-time power steering was standard on the Custom Imperial long-wheelbase 8-passenger sedan and limousine models.
The 1953 Crown Imperials came with a 12-volt electrical system and Chrysler's first fully automatic transmission, called PowerFlite, became available late in the model year.

In 1955 Chrysler spun off the Imperial as its own separate marque in an attempt to compete directly with the Cadillac and Lincoln luxury marques offered by General Motors and Ford, respectively.
Imperial sales during this period were generally about 10% of the numbers that Cadillac was posting.
Imperial as a marque was always sold in Chrysler dealerships and never in distinct Imperial dealerships (which were never set up), so the nameplate failed to separate itself as its own marque as a consequence. See the separate page Imperial (automobile) for information about Imperial model years 1955-1975 and 1981-1983. Although there were no Imperials produced between 1976 and 1978, the cars previously sold as an Imperial were sold as the Chrysler New Yorker Brougham during this time.

The early 1990s saw a revival of the Imperial as a luxury version in Chrysler’s lineup. Unlike the 1981-1983 Imperial, this car was a model of Chrysler, not its own marque. Based on the Y platform, it represented the flagship full-size model in Chrysler's lineup; below it was the nearly identical New Yorker Fifth Avenue, and below that was the entry-level New Yorker. Presently, this model was the last production vehicle to have borne the Imperial name.
Though closely related, the Imperial differed from the Fifth Avenue in several ways. The Imperial's nose was more wedge-shaped, while the Fifth Avenue's had a sharper, more angular profile (the Fifth Avenue was later restyled with a more rounded front end). The rears of the two cars also differed. Like the front of the car, the Fifth Avenue's rear came to stiffer angles, while the Imperial's rear-end came to more rounded edges. Also found on the Imperial were full-width tailights, which were very similar to those of the Chrysler TC; the Fifth Avenue came with smaller vertical tailights. On the inside, the Imperial's "Kimberly Velvet" (Mark Cross Leather was available) seats carried a more streamlined look, while the Fifth Avenue came with its signature pillowy button-tufted seats.
This Imperial remained effectively unchanged over its four-year run. It featured six passenger seating and was powered by either a 3.3 L or 3.8 L V6 engine. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard. Power equipment came standard, as did air conditioning, ABS brakes, Cruise Control, a cassette player, driver's side airbag, and its distinct Landau vinyl roof. The Imperial featured the same hidden headlamps behind retractable metal covers as the LeBaron and New Yorker/Fifth Avenue. The cab-forward Chrysler LHS replaced the Imperial as Chrysler's flagship model for 1994.

A Chrysler Imperial concept car was presented at the 2006 North American International Auto Show. This concept uses the Chrysler LY platform, which is an extended LX. It features a 123-inch (3,124 mm) wheelbase. Riding on 22-inch (560 mm) wheels, the car presents "a six-figure image but at a much lower price" according to Tom Tremont, Vice President of advanced vehicle design for Chrysler. The design incorporates a long hood and front end dominated by an upright radiator and strong horizontal grille. Brushed and polished aluminum pods evoke the free-standing headlamps of past models. Circular LED taillights with floating outer rings harken to the "gun sight" taillight look of early 1960s Imperials. The roof line is pulled rearward to enlarge the cabin and to create a strong profile.
The concept was introduced at the same time that the Dodge Challenger concept car was, but the Imperial was cancelled after considerable negative reaction from the public regarding its looks (and perhaps due to internal market analysis at Chrysler).

Chrysler's Prestige Car Sticks to Tradition in Both Styling and Body-and-Frame Construction.

Tradition, a strong factor in luxury car design, played a great part in shaping the 1960 Imperial. Unlike radically changed Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge and Plymouth, it continues as the same basic car that has been gaining a larger market since 1957.

Though it contains many innovations and improvements, the new Imperial is essentially a face lift of the previous model and does not share the unit body-and-frame construction of its 1960 corporate brothers.

Styling changes are still impressive; interiors favor lush comfort with an attention to detail seldom found in any automobile. Seats have as much as six inches of foam rubber, with a separate seat back for the driver which supports shoulders and spine like few production cars ever have. There's a non-glare instrument panel with electro- luminescent light (metal dials coated with glowing phosphor), an improved auto pilot and swivel seats that chase doors open and closed. Series designations are the same as 1959 (Custom, Crown and LeBaron) as a re engine capacity and major exterior dimensions.

Best of the new features are a double padded instrument panel, improved seat belt design and a wonderful emergency warning flasher system. No matter whether the ignition is on or off, the owner of an Imperial can flip a special switch and start all four turn signals flashing on and off as a warning to oncoming traffic. Borrowed from the truck lines, this is a feature that could well be on all passenger cars.

Some styling changes are obvious, others not. There are satin-finish stainless steel inserts on the roof of LeBaron models, which also have a sharp appearing small rear window for greater rear seat privacy in both sedans and hardtops. Inside there are power operated vent windows and a new elliptical steering wheel. The unique shape of the wheel and spoke placement permits a full view of the instrument panel, while flattened upper and lower areas provide greater leg clearance and improved forward visibility for short people. For old fashioned folks, a conventional full circle wheel is available.

The automatic speed control (Auto-Pilot), introduced by Imperial in 1958, has been updated but good. Early models held the speed well, but if the unit was cut off by touching the brake, the driver had to engage the control again manually. On 1960 Imperials the control is cut off only temporarily when the brake is applied. When the dialed speed is reached again, the control engages itself automatically. There are few changes under the hood, except for detail improvements made to ease servicing and production problems.

As usual, interior trim materials seem almost too nice to sit on. Full leather, custom designed nylon-viscose body cloths and a new doeskin vinyl [NOTE: ??? May be in same category as flashers] are all available. The last material has all the feel and appearance of high quality chamois, except that the nap doesn't fuzz when you rub it. It is lovely and will certainly set a new trend when custom car fans get their hands on the bolt material. The Imperial Custom series uses the nylon-viscose, Crowns offer combinations of cloth and leather (or full leather) while the LeBaron features soft, tailored woolen broadcloth combinations. Deeply set buttons increase the impression of rich depth while LeBaron coat of arms decorates head bolsters of the back and driver seats.

Driving the Imperial proved only that, like all previous large Chrysler products, it handled and rode better than anything else of its size on the road. For all its mass, it feels like a light car, with TorqueFlite transmission, power steering and power brakes doing everything they can to eliminate labor from driving. Compared to last year's Imperial, the 1960 is quieter, more comfortable, and even easier on the eye. But compared to a 1960 Chrysler (with unit body), the 1960 Imperial will likely suffer. Its frame and separate body construction will probably pass more road noise and shock to the driver. Sound control does not seem as good as on the Chrysler, with the result that more engine and transmission noise are to be expected.

At a high speed, from 75 to 100 mph, wind noise rises to the point where conversation becomes difficult. This may have been better than average for 1959 cars, but for 1960, Imperial suffers by comparison with its running mates.

Still, it is an Imperial. The car is big, with all the lush comfort of our best transportation from the Chrysler Corporation. It handles like a dream for such a large car, with huge tires and measured suspension soaking up chuckholes like a thirsty sponge.

Maintaining its successful engineering and widely accepted styling, the 1960 Imperial comes into the showroom as one of the most thoroughly proven cars in its class.