by Gerard Wilson
This is the fourth article in a series. For details on production records and how these numbers were calculated, see the first article in this series, “Plymouth U.S. Production Figures 1946-2001.”
To build these tables, I examined all of the sources of information on each make and model, and tried to determine the most accurate figure for that make and model.
These tables are not definitive or fully accurate. They are the best I could do with the information which I was able to uncover. I would welcome correspondence with anyone who is interested in this material and can correct any errors or misinformation on my part.
— Gerard Wilson, May 2013
The Chrysler Imperial had always been the most most luxurious Chrysler offering, but in 1955 Chrysler made the Imperial a separate make, with no Chrysler label, to compete with Cadillac.
Imperials were often superior to (and more expensive than) Cadillac and Lincoln, but never sold well, and the Imperial reverted to being a Chrysler model in 1971.
The first standalone Imperial was the 1955 model; the body and chassis were different from those used by Chrysler. It was built on a 3.3 meter wheelbase. There was only one trim line, but that line was lavish and completely equipped.
A Crown Imperial limousine was built for 1955-1956 on a 3.8 meter wheelbase, with hand assembly and finishing. This would be the last of that traditional body style built in the U.S.
Chrysler may have considered the 1955 model too small, so an extended 3.38 meter wheelbase chassis was built for 1956.
Imperials for 1957-1959 were “the finest expressions of the forward look,” Virgil Exner’s dramatic styling which was undermined by poor assembly quality during the introductory year. Subsequent models were improved, but sales never matched those of the flawed 1957 models. Nonetheless, this model cycle was the most successful Imperial; the 1957s recorded more than double the sales of any other year Imperial was sold until 1964.
During this period, Imperial continued (like its competitors) to be built with a body-on-frame structure, while all other Chrysler products switched to unit-body for the 1960 model year. Under Virgil Exner's direction, design was dramatic, but the cars had limited appeal against the more conservative Cadillacs and Lincolns. Concerns about quality lingered among upscale buyers, even though Imperial quality was equal or superior to Cadillcs and Lincolns.
Lynn Townsend took over from L.L. Colbert as Chrysler President in 1961, and replaced Virgil Exner with Elwood Engle as head of design. Engle had come from Ford, and the 1964-1966 cars were elegant, reflecting his past work, especially the acclaimed 1961-1963 Lincoln Continental. Imperial volume did not improve, and although the company was doing well enough to carry Imperial, the low volume was drawing attention. (Probably because of that very same low volume, Imperial remained body-on-frame through 1966.)
The short-cycle 1967-1968 Imperials finally used unit body construction, an arrangement which (once again) allowed component sharing between Chrysler and Imperial to reduce costs. Chrysler sales at this time were strong, and the attractive Chrysler probably drew some buyers from the Imperial.
Chrysler introduced a sleek “fuselage” design theme for all of its large cars in 1969, and the Imperial received the largest, most elaborate, and most carefully assembled version.
Although Imperial was larger than the top Chryslers, they shared the same passenger compartment. The Imperial in this form remained in production through 1973, and was an elegant car, meeting new federal safety standards more artfully than most.
They were lavish, quiet luxury cars, and the torsion bar suspension gave them them a drivability advantage even with their huge mass.
However, when volume for 1970 fell to the level of 1955, it was the end of Imperial as a separate make.
Between 1971 and 1973, the car became the Chrysler Imperial. It was also built as such for the first two years of the 1974-1977 cycle, now sharing the same structure with the New Yorker. The name was then dropped (the basic package remained as New Yorker Brougham), although it would reappear on the 1981-1983 Canadian built J body Imperial and 1990-1993 Chrysler C body New Yorker and Imperial.
Chrysler took the second generation J body coupe platform (Dodge Mirada/Chrysler Cordoba) and developed it into a full luxury coupe, to compete with the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental coupes. It was a beautiful design, except perhaps for an awkward rear deck profile. Every effort was made to ensure assembly quality and to separate the car from its J - body origins.
The Imperial had an exclusive fuel-injected version of the 5.2 liter V8, but this unit proved to be unreliable, generating warranty work and keeping buyers away. Model year production is compiled from monthly totals and changeover dates.
Editorial note. Wheelbases are in meters because the author is Canadian. A meter is around 39.4 inches.
Also by Gerard Wilson: Chrysler 1945-48 • Chrysler 1949-52 • Chrysler 1953-54 • Chrysler 1955-56
and Production numbers and histories, 1946-onwards
Chicago Auto Show
All Mopar Car and Truck News
Chrysler 300 Letter Cars
The Engine Cleanup Committee