354 Hemi V8 Desert Find: 1956 Chrysler Imperial

While the Imperial name had been associated with Chrysler since the 1920s, they spun it off as its own make and division in 1955 to better compete with Cadillac and Lincoln. And the first two model years of the car had stunning styling compliments of famed Chrysler designer Virgil Exner. This 1956 edition appears to have been out baking in the Hanford, California sun for quite some time, yet you can still imagine what it looked like in the glory days with its Desert Rose paint. The opening bid for this car is $2,500 with no takers yet here on eBay. Hats off to Barn Finder Larry D for another great lead!

Lincoln, Cadillac, and Packard had dominated the U.S. luxury car market going into the 1950s and Chrysler wanted to do something about that. Studebaker’s merger with Packard all but eliminated that competitor, so they set their sights on the other two for 1955. From a styling perspective, the big, bulging rear fenders from the 1940s Imperials were dropped, to be replaced by a smoother, more modern 1950s design with long chrome side spears and a bold split grille. To finish it off, “gunsight” taillights were mounted atop the rear fenders. These were impressive machines that took up a lot of real estate with a 130-inch wheelbase and weighing in at 4,500 lbs.

The Imperial was little changed going into its second year, but the ’56 edition gained a bigger Hemi engine displacing 354 cubic inches and producing 280 hp. The 2-speed PowerFlite automatic was replaced mid-year by the 3-speed TorqueFlite, push-button, of course. Though more popular than before, Imperial only managed to produce 2,094 editions of the Southampton 2-door hardtop for ‘56, like the seller’s car. So, 65 years later, there can’t be that many of these bountiful automobiles lurking about.

This car was purchased by the seller from the original owner and says it’s complete, though extremely weather-worn. I wish I could say that rust isn’t a factor, but my nose would start to grow. Corrosion is present in the quarter panels and around the roof trim, while the seller says the trunk floor is weak though it looks okay. The sheet metal is straight except for some ripples in the roof and a dent in the driver’s side front fender. And the front bumper has taken a nice hit and is also rusty.

The interior has been baked like a pizza, so most everything there is going to need replacing or refurbishing. While the Imperial offered every convenience known to man at the time, factory air conditioning was just becoming a “thing” and this car is equipped with it. That includes the air vents rising from behind the back seat. I always wondered if the passengers back there froze while the folks up front were cooking.  This car will be a challenging restoration project but could be worth north of $70,000 if done right. But how much of that dollar figure will be required to pull the job off?


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  1. Robert White

    I’d buy it if I could. The poor old car needs some love & affection IMHO.

    What a beauty.


    Like 18
  2. CJinSD

    I love the car, but it’s a couple hundred thousand dollars away from being worth mid-to-high five figures.

    Like 12
  3. Dave in Arlington, TX

    Do the valve covers say “Chrysler IMPERIAL”? Those are very cool. The car looks rough, but maybe it could be saved, Nothing else had taillights like that..

    Like 9
    • stillrunners stillrunners Member

      That would be 1957-58 392’s…..Dave.

      Like 1
      • Dave in Arlington, TX

        Thanks for the info. Have seen those valve covers but didn’t know if all Imperials had them.

        Like 1
  4. 370zpp 370zpp Member

    Think about it: A 1956 two door Imperial. Wow.

    Like 8
  5. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Bought and sold these big beasts for years and now have a 56 Winsor that will be my 300 clone. This one’s starting point is priced at about the top of the price range per the condition. Actually a lot of these sitting around the yards with out the engine. Good luck to the next owner – it does have a great color !

    Like 2
    • sg

      Hey stillrunners, I have a really solid 56 Windsor sedan that needs a new home. No rust, low miles. Any interest?

      Like 1
      • stillrunners stillrunners Member

        SJ – thanks but I’m all most tapped out on energy alone to finish the projects I got.

  6. Kenneth L Putney

    My dad had a 56 4 dr in black. He loved that car.

    Like 4
  7. CCFisher

    You note that Imperial became a separate make in 1955, yet the headline for the article reads “Chrysler Imperial.”

    Like 4
  8. Steve Clinton

    “While the Imperial name had been associated with Chrysler since the 1920s, they spun it off as its own make and division in 1955 to better compete with Cadillac and Lincoln.”
    So why is it described here as a “1956 Chrysler Imperial”?

    Like 4
    • Dave

      Just like a Dodge Ram or a Yamaha Royal Star.

  9. Billyray

    A never ending debate. Is it a Chrysler Imperial or just an Imperial? Lincoln Continental also suffered this fate back in the day when they were just Continentals. Who cares?

    I have owned many Imperials and I always thought being clear was better than being exact.

    Even in the custom bodied classic era of the early thirties they were Chrysler Imperials. Hardly a bad association.

    Like 6
  10. ADM

    Anyone got a baseball bat? I want to knock those tail lights over The Green Monster.

  11. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    Not too long ago, Hemmings did a series on the restoration of a 56 convertible (New Yorker, I believe). The amount of effort that it took to get that car back to concours condition was daunting, and no doubt extremely expensive. In that case they also had a parts car that they used for bits and pieces (a sedan and different in many ways. The instance vehicle is in need of so much that you’d be under water very quickly, no matter how rare. Lots of cars are rare, but are they desirable? Coming before the radically different 57s I can’t see this car being worth the restoration cost unless you’re doing all your own work. Good luck with that.

    Like 1
    • Burger

      If one sees cars as money propositions, they are in business, not enjoying a hobby. There are those who do this as their passion, and there are those who only see dollar signs. I have a high regard for one. Very low for the other.

      Like 2
  12. Richard Kirschenbaum

    My father was a VP of a construction firm (third on the pecking order) and every year we upgraded to a “new” 2 year old Imperial that gave everyone the impression that we had money. Our last was a gorgeous black ’55 four door. Really thought the ’55 and ’56s trim crisp styling outclassed their storied successors.

    Like 3
  13. GCS Member

    Not being a body man, the rust around the windows is beyond me. Neat car though with the Hemi… I hope someone does it up right.

    Like 2
  14. Mountainwoodie

    Damn shame.

    I love the gunsight tail lights. Pat Brown when he was Guvnor of Cali in the Fifties had a (Chrysler) Imperial Ghia limo with the later gunsights and tail fins.maybe a ’57.

    This will be a substantial undertaking! I hope someone tries.

  15. Bill Hall

    This car is a project for love and not to make a pile of green on

    Like 1

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