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In January 1924, the Maxwell Motor Company launched its new Chrysler cars at the New York Auto Show. The next month, they revealed a new, top-end car in magazine ads: the Chrysler Imperial, a range-topper for the new Chrysler brand.
Basically, the Imperial was just a higher-trim Chrysler; but the company made a greater effort with the 1926 Imperial 80, named after the guaranteed top speed of the car. Floyd Clymer bought a new one and quickly set a 700-mile stock-car record (52 mph) with it — mostly on unpaved roads. The car was sold with three different wheelbases — 120, 127, and 133 inches long.
Then, in late 1927, came the new L-80 series, using a “longer than the prior longest” 136-inch wheelbase. The engine was based on the ordinary Chrysler Six, but with light aluminum-alloy pistons and a carburetor “fumer” that preheated the mixture (the car also had an emblem on the dashboard that lit up when the radiator needed water). This new six had a wider bore (1/8” larger than the usual 3.5”), keeping the five-inch stroke. The 310-cubic-inch engine pushed out 92 horsepower in standard form, but buyers could upgrade from the “black head” to the “silver dome” (100 horsepower) or the “red head” (112 horsepower, thanks to higher compression of 6:1).
The base “black head” engine could use pretty much any gasoline that came its way, with its 4.7:1 compression. The silver and red options were the first to push Chrysler to (and beyond) one hundred horsepower, taking advantage of the new leaded fuel developed by GM.
Prices ranged from $2,675 to $3,475. Buyers could get semi-custom bodies from Locke, Dietrich, or LeBaron, with prices ranging up to a steep $6,795.
From October, 1928 until June 1930, the company launched a mildly updated car, the Imperial L*, part of a briefly used and awkward corporate naming scheme. These had slimmer-profile radiator grilles, and cars with rumble seats added a door on the curb side.
The L* changed frequently while in production, as the Research and Development team came up with new ideas, or analyzed breakdowns and tried to increase reliability. Sherwood Kahlenberg of the Walter P. Chrysler Restorers Club noted that the side mount arm was changed three times — on a car with a total production of just 2,900.
As usual, production is uncertain; Kahlenberg found that the Master Parts Book serial number list indicated 2,900 made, but a 1950s Chrysler list of serial numbers showed 2,884, which he deemed to be more likely.
Sherwood Kahlenberg also pointed out that early roadsters used a 1928-style body, while the later roadsters used a completely new one; and that bumper styles were changed, with the grooves being removed, along the way. Instrument faces also changed along the way.
The transmission was a three speed manual — until a new four-speed was used, starting in August 29. This was apparently a different unit than used by the Chrysler 70 or 77, though many parts interchanged; and, Kahlenberg wrote, the first gear was a seldom-used compound low, so the transmission was, in effect, another three-speed. People would normally start in second gear (2.19:1) rather than the very low 3.78:1 first.
Rear end ratios varied from 3.77:1 (optional on three speeds, standard on four-speed open cars) to 4.90:1 (optional on four-speeds), varying based on the transmission and body style.
There were five types of wheels, including two wire, one disc, and two wood, with 7x18 tires. Kahlenberg’s article has cautionary notes on the Buffalo wheel, as, if the hubs were mounted incorrectly, “there was the distinct possibility that as one drove the wheel would soon pass the car.” Hubcaps on the wood and disc wheels would interchange, and changed after fewer than 300 cars were made. Radiator caps also changed, from a plain wingless cap to an optional winged one also used by the Chrysler 75.
These were elegant, well-engineered cars, not as well-differentiated as they would become in later years, but still Imperials.
Largely based on an article by Sherwood Kahlenberg in the Walter P. Chrysler Club magazine. (See the Pogue Imperial of the “200 mpg carburetor” and the 1929-30 Imperials)
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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