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1974-1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham: The Top Chrysler

How the Imperial became a Chrysler, by changing its nameplates and feature list

by David Zatz

The brand-new 1974 Chryslers had been years in the making - and came out in time for the 1973 fuel crisis, which pushed customers out of large cars. It wasn't Chrysler's fault, really - nobody had expected gasoline to suddenly spike in price - but it still slapped large-car sales down just when Chrysler needed them most.

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The 1974-75 New Yorker Brougham was long, tasteful, and elegant in most respects; it revived the "dual lion" Chrysler theme for its hood ornaments, but those adorned a fairly straightforward body, without fussy details or affectations. This was the top-end Chrysler, sitting above the Newport and the standard New Yorker. It was the top car Chrysler Corporation could sell you - other than the Imperial.

Today, the New Yorker still looks more elegant than many cars of the era, with smooth lines, gentle curves, and relatively little adornment. Other cars had coach lights, opera windows, and other gadgets tacked on. Chrysler even had a chrome-plated metal grille, while Cadillac had gone to plastic. The 1974-75 New Yorkers, with their quad headlights, large horizontally-slatted grilles, chrome bumpers, and mild "front fins" were not copies of Cadillacs or Lincolns, yet promised a good deal of luxury inside the cabin.

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The cars' fundamentals were unchanged from past years, despite the full workover: front torsion bars provided height adjustment and had a good combination of ride and handling for the day. Rear leaf springs were set up to maximize high-power launches and stability. Power from the V8 engines were sent through TorqueFlite three-speed automatics to Chrysler-engineered rear axles. The package was rounded off with 12-volt electricals, two-circuit hydraulic brakes, recirculating-ball steering with hydraulic power assist, and Chrysler's own electronic ignition. One less worthy carryover was routing all power through the dashboard, so the driver could have an ammeter rather than a voltmeter. The 1974 cars had better sound insulation and more isolation from road imperfections than the past models, and had stiffer bodies.

In January 1974, the company added a "St. Regis" package to the New Yorker Brougham two-door hardtop. It had Spinnaker White paint with a gold stripe, 50/50 vinyl split bench front seat, with a choice of white-and-black or gold-and-white interiors; and a padded white vinyl canopy roof with an opera window and different mouldings. The St. Regis package fussed-up the car, for those who thought a New Yorker was too plain.

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Chrysler used the same basic design for all its large cars, from Plymouth to Imperial; brands changed the engine choices, styling, sound insulation, trim, features, and options. The only car above the New Yorker Brougham was the Imperial LeBaron, sold as a two or four door hardtop; 231 inches long and 80 inches wide, it shared the New Yorker's 440 cubic inch V8.

The 1974-75 Imperial LeBaron was visually separated from the 1974-75 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham by hidden headlamps on either side of a relatively narrow but tall grille, and other unique front and rear styling cues. The base upholstery was ribbed velour (in six colors), with an optional special soft leather (in seven colors). Four-door buyers had individually reclining front seats; and all had a new, exclusive-to-Imperial four-wheel disc brake setup with steel-belted radials. Gauges included digital alert lights. The Imperial LeBaron came loaded with just about every possible feature, further distancing itself from the top Chrysler.

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The cost range was quite wide; the cheapest Plymouth full-size two-door hardtop was the Fury III, checking in at $4,000 (Fury I and II sedans cost less). Moving up to the New Yorker Brougham version two-door hardtop bumped the price up to $5,546; and the Imperial LeBaron version started at $7,062. Despite all the common parts and engineering, the Imperial's tiny sales must have made it a money-loser, and the 1975 Imperials were the last of the line.

Or were they?

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The 1976 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham showed up looking just like the 1975 Imperial LeBaron, with the same grille and hidden headlights, the same tail, even the same interior, for the most part; the Brougham no longer shared other New Yorkers' visual features. The car started at well over $6,600, far less than the 1975 LeBaron (when loaded up with options, as most were, the cost was about the same as the Imperial would have been) - and sales shot up.

Buyers could opt for buttoned "Corinthian" leather - reportedly named by Ricardo Montelban himself, to make a commercial speech sound better. Standard cars had velour upholstery, just like the LeBaron, and all had a dashboard with a relatively realistical imitation of Brazilian rosewood and silver accents.

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The cars were a full 232.7 inches long, in the same size class as the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham and Lincoln Continental; but they had an elegant hardtop styling, unlike its (more successful) competitors.

Despite its financial troubles, Chrysler kept the little touches that made the Imperial special, including cigarette lighters and reading lamps for each passenger and rear headrest pillows.

New Yorker Broughams came with the 440 V8 as standard equipment, while the 400 V8 was optional to save tiny amounts of fuel. In high altitudes and California, the 360 V8 was standard, with the 440 V8 optional. The cars now had the Lean Burn computerized spark control system, a source of many troubles, both from design flaws and from ill-advised tampering.

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The New Yorker Brougham had a huge list of luxury options, including power door locks, power antenna, power trunk release, 6-way power seats, rear window defroster, AM/FM stereo with 8-track player (including a demo tape), tilt/telescope steering, window locks, automatic climate control, and many others. That was one major way the company differentiated it from lower models, such as the Newport Custom - which shared the same basic body and nearly all the same dimensions.

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As the corporate flagship, the New Yorker Brougham had luxury trim, such as gold emblems and ornate chrome Brougham emblems. The hood ornament continued from the 1974-75 New Yorkers, with Chrysler's traditional lions, rather than the Imperial eagles.

Standard hubcaps had a brushed steel appearance, with Brougham emblems; optional wheel covers were chrome plated, and optional "road wheels" could add a sportier look.

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Since the New Yorker Brougham was now essentially an Imperial, only the LeBaron's two body styles made it into 1976, both hardtops, with two or four doors. The two-door could be optioned out as a St. Regis Edition with opera windows and padded vinyl tops. New Yorker Brougham sedans were now a thing of the past.

A running change in 1976 brought in a new seven-stage autophretic coating system including baking and curing; more effective than the asphalt-based rustproofing of prior years, it used less energy and cut fire hazards and pollutants. The move may have been part of a rapid response to severe Volare/Aspen rust problems.

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The 1977 Chrysler cars adopted new wire terminals, a more reliable starter relay, lighter batteries, and a more efficient torque converter; many parts were redesigned to cut their weight. They brought the Lean Burn computer-controlled spark advance control system to the 440 (still standard on the New Yorker Brougham) "for better driveability and overall performance" (until, many would say, the system stopped working.) The company managed to cut around 76 pounds out of the car.

By far, 1977 was the Chrysler New Yorker Brougham's best year, with high-for-Chrysler sales delivering much-needed profits. On the outside, rubber-covered steel corner and front bumper guards helped the bumpers take a 3 mph collision without damage. Production hit 45,252 for the four-door, and 16,875 for the two-door - out of the ballpark by Imperial standards, and quite satisfactory even for Chrysler itself, especially given price hikes (from $6,641 in 1976 to $7,090 for the two-door, and from $6,737 to $7,215 for the four-door).

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The 1978 Chrysler New Yorker Broughams had revised grilles and side trim, with new paint schemes; in an attempt to address gas mileage, the standard engine was the 400, with the 440 optional. They also cut another 57 pounds out of the weight, though the car was still quite heavy. A new $631 Salon décor package on the four-door cars included a high-gloss silver leather covered steering wheel and aluminum fascia road wheels.

Production dropped down to 9,624 for the two-door and 26,873 for the four-door. Price hikes were likely part of the problem; the car went up to $7,591 for the two-door and $7,715 for the four-door.

From 1976 to 1978, the Brougham stood apart from standard New Yorkers, keeping all their Imperial cues.

The New Yorker ended with the rest of Chrysler's full-size cars, the victim of changing public tastes. Instead of full-size cars, people were buying compact and mid-sized cars, optioned to the hilt. They had almost as much interior space, fit into more parking spaces, were easier to drive, and were less likely to be mocked as "boats." For the next ten years, most people wanted, and got, smaller cars.

The Standard Catalog of Chrysler adds: standard wheels were JR78 x 15 radial whitewalls; wheelbase was the same as the Newport at 124 inches.

Road clearance4.74.7
Shipping weight4,3944,460
Trunk space20.2 c.f.20.2 c.f.

The 1978 400 engine was rated at 195 horsepower, 305 pound-feet; the 440, at 200 horsepower, 320 pound-feet. Both took regular leaded (through 1976) or unleaded fuel, had silenced single-snorkel air cleaners, 8.2:1 compression, a four barrel carburetor, Lean Burn, and a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission.

The 1976 Chrysler brochure stated, "You'd want this New Yorker Brougham for its looks alone. Regal. Resplendent. Dedicated to luxury in every aspect of fine motoring...considerate of your desire for total comfort. And, as never before, New Yorker Brougham represents a concept of worth that demands comparison with others in its class. A close examination of fine features and equipment will reveal that there simply is no comparison. Step into the extraordinary richness of New Yorker Brougham's interior. Experience the softness of velour, or the finely crafted opulence of Corinthian Leather that indulge your taste for textures and colors. Thickly woven shag carpeting covers layer on layer of sound insulation padding. But to begin with, your choice of a New Yorker Brougham says you have uncompromising taste."

Jon Denson's article in the WPC Club magazine was instrumental in writing this article.

See our features on the 1974-75 Chrysler New Yorkers and 1946-75 Chrysler New Yorkers

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