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The Automotive Chronicles

Monthly newsletter published by McLellan's Automotive History. Dedicated to literature collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature
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January 2007 Issue
 
ARTICLE
 
Imperial is Back
By Robert McLellan
 

DaimlerChrysler has announced the return of the Imperial. Prior to World War II, Imperial grew in status at Chrysler as a model until it became an individual make after the war. Like DeSoto and Plymouth, Chrysler Corporation discarded a prominent name in history.

The Imperial name has been a popular one which has come and gone many times. Its first automotive use appeared in 1900 and lasted until 1901 on a car built in Philadelphia. Another company in Columbus, Ohio, fitted the Imperial nameplate to an automobile built in 1903-1904. Then there was an Imperial built in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1907-1908. Still another car named the Imperial was built in 1908-1916 in Jackson, Michigan. The latter was, thus far, the most successful attempt.

The last effort prior to Chrysler Corporation's more successful Imperial was probably the most feeble attempt and done in a most unlikely place — Houston, Texas. Just a few miles from this author's location. I arrived at the company's old address to find what appears to be the original building that is now used for a police substation. There is no evidence that it once was used for automotive manufacturing, and no dated cornerstone.

The first Chrysler model appeared in 1924 and the Imperial name was used as a body style for the B-70, a 4-door, 5-passenger sedan priced in the low to moderate range of $1,895. In 1926 the Imperial rose in price and stature as a luxury series, with distinctive styling, a longer wheelbase and a larger, more powerful engine than other Chryslers. Public interest in the car boosted the Imperial to the top of the line in 1927. The whole Series E-80 line of 15 body styles became Chrysler's prestigious luxury model. To the delight of MoPaR performance enthusiasts of today, we can document the moment that Chrysler Corporation's marketing department uttered the word "high-performance" for the first time. It occurred when the 1927 Imperial introduced the "Red Head" high-compression engine. From this point Imperials grew better each year.

 

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After World War II Imperial continued under the wing of Chrysler due to the demand by Americans to get them back on the road after years of no production. Imperials initially were simply luxury Chryslers, but in 1954 Imperial was separated from Chrysler and acquired its' own identify as a separate make. With the introduction of the 1955 model the styling became more distinguishable and soon became, at least to some, more outlandish. It certainly stood out from the Chrysler range and departed from its' competitors - Cadillac and Lincoln.

Unfortunately, in the late 1960s, the Imperial reverted back to more conservative Chrysler styling and, in some ways, mimicked its' competitors.

 

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With the disappearance of Imperial in 1976 it was somewhat of a surprise to see it reappear from 1981 through 1983. Even though its rear end styling drew heavily on the Cadillac Seville, it is overall one of the best Chrysler Corporation designs during that period.

 

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Imperial reappeared again from 1990 through 1993. One of our regular readers, Pete Kraus, graciously pointed out that "Imperial rose from the ashes yet again for the 1990 through '93 seasons, albeit as a glorified front-wheel drive Chrysler New Yorker." This proves that, as a historian who is interested in the older cars, I have a tendency to not pay as much attention as I should to modern ones and I overlooked these years.

 
 
The Automotive Chronicles, January 2007
 
 
 
 
 
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