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The 1924-1930 Chrysler Imperials

by Sherwood Kahlenberg. Courtesy of the Walter P. Chrysler Club.

The name Imperial was first used by Chrysler in 1924, to designate the highest price model that year. The first Chryslers were introduced January 5, 1924 by the Maxwell Motor Company. One month later, an ad appeared in the Saturday Evening Post listing the Chrysler models, among them the Chrysler Imperial.

The original Chrysler Imperial continued in production until late 1925 when a separate Imperial line was introduced. This new series was code named E-80. The "80" in the code referred to the fact the car was capable of 80 miles an hour. The number in the model code for all Chryslers of this period referred to the top speed of that particular series. Some of the lighter models of a given series could better that MPH figure with ease. This separate Imperial E-80 series was produced virtually unchanged until late 1927 when a new Imperial line was announced. The new Imperial was designated L-80. This car featured a 136" wheelbase, longer than the 120", 127", and 133" wheelbase of the E-80 series of 1926-27.

1926 and 1928 Chrysler Imperial cars

The engine in the "80" was similar in design to the Chrysler 6 of that period. The bore and stroke in the E-80 engine was 3 1/2" by 5". In the L-80, the bore increased 1/8" while the stroke remained at 5". This increase in bore gave the L-80 engine almost 310 cubic inches. This 1928 engine had three different cylinder heads available: the black head, silver dome, and red head. The red head, available for $10 extra, was the high compression head (6: 1) and gave the engine a horsepower rating of 112. The silver dome engine produced 100 horsepower. No reference could be found for the horsepower or compression ratio for the black head engine. The only reference found was a brief mention in the 1924-34 Chrysler Master Parts Book. When the bore was increased, this head was used to lower compression so that the car could be sold in areas of this country and foreign lands where the availability of higher octane gas was low.

In October, 1928, production began on the new Imperial for 1929. This model is designated the Imperial L *. The star or asterisk after the letter L means a continuation of a car series in the same basic mechanical configuration as the preceding year. There were some mechanical changes between the 1928 L-80s and the 1929 L *, but Chrysler deemed these insignificant or they would not have used this method of model identity. Perhaps had they known how many changes would soon be made in the car as production progressed, they would have used another designation. This same method of model identity next occurred in the Imperial line in 1933 when the CL * succeeded the 1932 CL Custom Imperial. Its next use was in 1935, 1936, and 1937 to designate those year models from the 1934 CW Airflow.

The 1929 Imperials were a continuation and refinement of the 1928 models. The 1929 L * is interesting to the author because of refinements, both in body style changes and in the large number of other changes in the car as production progressed through 1929 and 1930. It is the authors opinion that there was no true 1930 Imperial L *. It was a car that became a 1930 model for registration purposes because Chrysler Corporation deemed production of a car after July 1 to be the following year's model. In essence, the cars were identical despite some running changes during its production life. There were many changes before and after the July 1 date. These will be identified later in the article. The Imperial L * was produced until June 1930, when it was replaced by the new 1931 Imperial CG with an eight cylinder engine.

The Imperial L * series ranks as one of the cars with the most changes incorporated into it after it was placed in production. The list of production changes seems to go on and on. Perhaps this car was a testing ground for the engineers. It would certainly be interesting to find out why it was necessary to change the side mount arm three times on a car with a total production of but 2,900 cars.

Imperial roadsters - L80*

In researching this article, the author located two conflicting sources of production numbers for the L * series and both were printed by Chrysler. In the 1924-34 Chrysler Master Parts Book, the serial number range is from EP-320W to car EP-61OW. To decipher this "FEDCO Number System", one must remember the following: The letters WP CHRYLSED correspond to the following numbers 0123456789. W=O, P=l and so on. Therefore: EP-61 OW = 816100 = ending number and EP-320W = 81320 = starting number. 2,900 total built.

The other Chrysler source, printed in the 1950s, shows the following serial numbers for the L *: EP-608R = 816084 = ending number, EP-320W = 813200 = starting number. 2,884 built.

Nevertheless this same source lists a total production of 2,900 cars. This one source then helps the researcher decide that it in itself is erroneous. With 2,900 cars built there can only be one conclusion the ending number was EP-61 OW, It would of course be most interesting if one could find a car still surviving with a serial number after EP-608R. Perhaps somewhere in the Chrysler archives, if the information still exists, someone will find the answer.

height=376In a production run of only 21 months (October 1928 - June 1930) and with only 2,900 cars built, they are not a very common sight at car shows and one is indeed fortunate to see one at all.

Not far from my home there used to be a father and son, George and Bob Locke, who each had an Imperial L *. George had a sedan and his son Bob had an early style roadster. The word "early" is used to designate this roadster because, you guessed it, there were two completely different roadster bodies used on the Imperial L *. The early style body was really a continuation of the 1928 roadster body, and was succeeded by the new style roadster body in the spring of 1929. This change to the new style roadster occurred at car EP-455S.

I located George Locke's sedan in Butte, Montana; it going to be used as a parts car for the roadster owned by Bob Locke. However, it was found to be in fairly decent shape to restore. So plans were changed and the sedan would be restored. The only major problem needing to be overcome was that the car's wood structure needed to be completely redone. The sedan serial number is EP-321 S. This is a very early car and in fact is the 17th Imperial L * produced.

The Locke roadster (for the curious, the Locke Body Co. manufactured many open bodies for the L * series - there is no relationship between the body builders and the Locke family) is serial number EP-373S, the 536th built. Yet, there are a number of changes that could be seen while the chassis sat side by side sans bodies. The side mount arm carrier was changed at car EP-345S (256th). This immediately explains the difference in that item between these two chassis. This same part was changed for a third time at car EP-428Y (1 ,085th). The third change occurred because the side mount arm carrier is used in conjunction with the rear motor support and when the support was changed it necessitated a design change in the carrier. This must have made the parts man think of more than the economic climate of 1929.

Another change made during production was the style of bumpers. Again there was a 1928 style that continued into the 1929 Imperial L * production and this early style bumper is referred to as the grooved blade bumper, and the later style is referred to as the smooth type bumper. No date could be found in any Chrysler reference that told when the style of bumpers changed. An L * Imperial coupe owned by Mike Randolph serial number EP-455H (1353rd) had the late style smooth bumpers. Because of the lack of many L * surviving cars it is difficult to narrow the point of bumper change closer than that between the EP-373S and EP-455H. This is a range of 817 cars. Perhaps someone who reads this article will be able to narrow down the date of the bumper change. If so, we will print the response in a future issue.

To add to the parts man's dilemma., the following items are some of the more observable changes:

  • front shock absorber bracket (after car EP-429Y)
  • air cleaner (after EP-556P)
  • instrument faces (at car EP-455L)
  • water jacket covers (at car EP-476S)
  • accelerator pedal (at car EP-511E)
  • cowl lamp brackets (at car EP-455L)
  • trunk rack and brackets (at car EP-461 W), and
  • splash guards (at car EP-450C). This latter change corresponds directly to the change in roadster and phaeton bodies.

The 3-speed transmission remained unchanged through car EP-511E.

Imperial shift pattern - four speed transmissionA major change was in the use of the 4-speed transmission after car EP-511E. This transmission is similar to the 4-speed introduced on the 1930 Model 77 and 70 and carried through to the 1931 Model 70. In this transmission the bell housing is actually an integral part of the transmission case, instead of the more prevalent practice of a separate bell housing. Many parts are directly interchangeable between the L * 4-speed and the 77 4-speed. However, the transmissions are not interchangeable themselves because the L * 4-speed has a larger bell housing diameter, and the brake master cylinder is attached to the front of the rear motor mount. The 4-speed was referred to as a multi-range. In reality, first gear was a compound low and rarely used, making the 4-speed nothing more than a complex 3-speed.

To begin car movement, one actually began in second gear, placing the floor gear shift lever in the lower part of the H pattern. This is the same position of the normal 1 st gear in a three speed standard shift. 3rd in the 4-speed corresponds to 2nd in the 3-speed transmission and was located at the upper right of the H pattern. 4th gear was final drive as 3rd gear in a 3-speed. Gear ratios were low-3.78, 2nd-2.19, 3rd-l.4, 4th-1. 1 : 1.

These 4-speed transmissions have been mistreated in print as being fragile and too complex. If one really knew both the 3-speed and the 4-speed and had them both apart, the 4-speed was much stronger and more massive. If one could chose between the two to place in his car, the 4-speed would win hands down.

The 4-speed began production in the L * in August 1929. This one month after the so-called 30 production actually began. If one were to extrapolate and try to determine which serial number was the first produced with 1930 registration, one would have to believe that the change occurred at car EP-455L, because of the instrument faces. This is 561 cars before the introduction of the 4-speed, and a reasonable number to have been built in the July-August period. Backing up a step or two, one finds that the Randolph coupe is only four cars before the instrument change, but has the later style of bumper. It would certainly help matters if there were records at Chrysler that could shed some light on this hypothesis.

An interesting note found in an AC fuel pump catalog is a listing for a fuel pump for the Imperial L *. On examination of several late L * engine blocks, there is a boss with hole drilled in it on the side of the block with a plate covering the boss and hole. In checking into this development, one engine was torn down so that the camshaft could be checked. the camshaft was found to have no lobe with which to manipulate or lift a fuel pump arm. Perhaps if the L * engine was to be used in the 1931 Imperials, the fuel pump would have been available to replace the vacuum tank located on the fire wall. Certainly the engineers were prepared for this eventuality. This engine did continue in production after the 8-cylinder Imperial was introduced and was used as a marine engine and as a truck engine in the larger Dodge trucks.

Rear end ratios varied throughout the L * model run. Not only was the ratio dependant upon body style, but also also which transmission was used:

Open Closed Optional
3-speed 4.08 4.45 3.77
4-speed 3.77 4.08 4.45 or 4.90

Tire size was 7 .00x 18 and the L * had 5 types of wheels available. The standard dismountable wood artillery wheel, wooden demountable wheel, disc wheel, and two types of wire wheels. The wire wheel made by Motor Wheel was the most prevalent wire wheel. The other wire wheel was the Buffalo wire wheel. The Motor Wheel, demountable, and disc wheels were held onto the brake drum by cap head bolts, while the Buffalo wheel used a special hub that bolted to the drum on one end and was threaded on the other end. The wheel was placed on this special hub and then a large screw-on hubcap was tightened up on the threaded end literally sandwiching the wheel hub between the hubcap and the brake drum. Care must be taken with the Buffalo wheel so as not to change hubs and/or brake drums from one side to another as the hubcaps and hubs are either left or right. If one did indeed use them on the wrong side, there was the distinct possibility that as one drove the wheel would soon pass the car.

The hubcaps used on the dismountable wood and disc wheels were identical and changed to another design at car EP-349S (296th). The Motor wire wheel hubcap and the demountable wood wheel hubcaps, while completely different, also changed at car EP-349S. The Buffalo wire wheel cars had a pair of left and a pair of right screw-on caps and two special side mount spare tire hubcaps. These did not change during the year because the cap design was standardized for all makes using the Buffalo wheel. What was unique to each make was the insert in the center lock portion of the cap. For the Imperial L *, the insert design was the same design used in advertising the car, the emblem on the taillight cover and on the gas tank cover. The Ray Zuend Imperial L * (EP-358S) Close Coupled Town Sedan has a large emblem attached to the headlight bar with the same design. There is no evidence that this was originally put on the car by the factory because there is no mention of it in any parts book or shown on any factory photos or ads of the period. It does point out the fact that the cars were really unique in many ways.

Perhaps the most often seen change was the radiator cap. The original L * cap was round with a shallow domed top with a raised rib running from front to back. This cap was obviously without frills and was the first wingless Chrysler cap. Imagine the Imperial's new owner, taking delivery of this expensive new auto that ranged in price from $2,895 to $3,855, looking at the less expensive Chrysler 75 in the showroom with a beautiful winged Viking cap. Quite naturally, the dealer, seeing this forlorn look, unhesitatingly obliged the Imperial's owner. This winged cap was identical in style, size, and profile to the un-winged cap except it had two beautifully detailed wings with feathered designs. The plain cap was considered standard equipment (p/n 44804) and the winged cap non-standard (pin 79275). Not many left dealer showrooms with the wingless cap.

In thinking about all the changes made in the car, one can only feel that someone cared for the parts man, because the code word used by the dealer to order parts from the factory was "Actor." Perhaps the only other word that could have been appropriate would have been "Magician". The parts man was certainly both.

All in all these cars were something special and one is indeed fortunate to own an Imperial L *.

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