Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I have mixed reactions to the Chrysler Imperial concept car being shown at most of the US auto shows this season. Based on the best selling 300c, the "new" Imperial is imposing but...and herein lies the problem for me...not an Imperial.

The name is the problem. Chrysler Corp struggled for years to establish the marque as a luxury chariot to rival Cadillac and Lincoln. They succeeded sometimes, failed most of the time. From the Air Flow Customs, the Dietrichs and LeBarons of the 30's, the extended length Chryslers of the late 40s and 50s, the fabulous Forward Look 57-59s, the revival of 1964, the return to an extended Chrysler in the 70's to the failed returns of 1981 and 1990, Imperial always stood for Chrysler's most luxurious autos.

Underdogs all. The 30s were outshadowed by the multi-cylinder Packards and Caddys. The 40-50s could not shake the "Chrysler" Imperial image, thus making them a step down from Caddy and Lincoln. The 1957 briefly boosted the marque above Lincoln but it slowly sank down. Even the brilliant 1964's could not last against the fast charging Caddy and rising Lincoln. Sinking to a luxo-New Yorker in the 1970s the marque ended in 1978 as a New Yorker Brougham.

But that was not the end, a revival of a luxo coupe occured in 1981. Debuted in the dark days of Chrysler's most serious brush with death, the car was totally out of sync with the drive towards more sensible economy cars. Styling was contoversial and the market response underwhelming. Not many more than 13,000 were made in 3 years, the vast majority in 1981. The story goes that new Chysler President Lee Iacocca wanted to stop production but the car was too far along and was introduced to try to recoup some of the money spent.

From 1990 to 1993 the Imperial was again another extended length Chrysler. Based off the K-body New Yorker, it looked small and guilded against the Caddys and Lincolns of the era. A bit more successful, about 41,000 were built in the 4 model years. And that was it.

Chrysler denies that the Imperial concept is for production. Reaction from the public is key. I am not sure, to me the Imperial needs to rest. Too much baggage. But then again, what better name for the most luxurious and special Chrysler.

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