65k Genuine Miles: 1983 Imperial

The late Lee Iacocca has often been credited with being the “father of the Mustang,” but his true strength lay in his ability to extract maximum financial benefits from a product for minimal cost. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the Falcon-derived Mustang, and with the Continental Mark III, which to that point was the cheapest prestige car that Ford had ever developed, and which sold in impressive numbers. When he left Ford under fairly acrimonious circumstances, he soon found his way to Chrysler. One of the first things that he noted was that Chrysler lacked a flagship vehicle to compete with Lincoln and Cadillac. So the Imperial name was revived in 1980 to demonstrate to the world that Chrysler was alive and very much kicking. The Imperial wasn’t the sales success that Iacocca hoped for, but it certainly drew attention to the Chrysler brand. Barn Finder Russell G referred this 1983 Imperial to us, and I have to say thank you for doing that Russell. It is located in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, and is listed for sale here on Craigslist. The owner is asking $6,950 for this prestige vehicle.

If you look the Imperial over from top to bottom, you will not find a single Chrysler badge anywhere. It carries the Chrysler “Pentastar,” but that’s as close as you get. Speaking of the Pentastar, the one on the hood ornament is a testament to the Iacocca brand of marketing magic. It would be easy to have produced this in chromed steel, but the illustrious Lee chose Cartier crystal instead. This was all part of the famous Iacocca genius for marketing. The hood ornament was not the only spot where the new owner could find a piece of Cartier crystal. Every new Imperial came with a gift pack that included an embossed leather Mark Cross folder, a matching umbrella, a gold and leather key fob, and a spare and uncut Cartier crystal door/ignition key. Did this marketing result in sales success? Well, actually, no it didn’t. The 1980 Imperial sold 6,241 units, which was a pretty fair achievement. From there the downward slide was pretty horrific. By 1983, which was the final year of production, Chrysler only managed to sell 932 examples of the Imperial, so the model was retired again. However, it gained the company plenty of attention during its model run, and that had been the Iacocca intention all along.

Finished in Charcoal Gray Metallic, the Imperial is a striking looking car. The Imperial left the factory pretty well loaded with luxury equipment as standard, and this car wears one of the few pieces of optional equipment that a buyer could specify. Those cast aluminum wheels could be specified in place of the standard wheels with the wire hubcaps. The entire exterior of the car presents quite nicely, although there will be people who certainly won’t be attracted to the vehicle’s styling. It has a retro look to it, especially around the rear, and was a way of giving the Imperial a strong identity when compared to the 2nd generation Cordoba on which it was based. The distinctive Cartier hood ornament is present and appears to be in good condition, while the paint and external trim also appear to be very nice.

It was when you climbed into an Imperial that you realized that Chrysler meant business when it came to the world of luxury appointments. The seats were all upholstered in leather, and in this car’s case, it is Silver leather. In addition, Chrysler brought everything to the table, including power windows, a power driver’s seat, power locks, power exterior mirrors, climate-control air conditioning, cruise control, digital instruments, cruise control, and remote trunk release. Continuing the Cartier theme, even the Pentastar in the center of the steering wheel was a Cartier crystal item. The only optional interior equipment for an Imperial consisted of a moon-roof, while the buyer could choose between a premium radio/cassette stereo, a radio/8-track stereo, or a radio/CB radio. In this case, what we get is a radio/cassette, with the “high power” 30-watt amplifier. The interior of this Imperial is generally in really nice condition. The only real problem that I can spot is what appears to be a tear in the leather on the driver’s seat, along with one cracked spoke on the steering wheel. There is a cover over the dash pad, so it isn’t clear what condition the pad itself is in.

It wouldn’t be accurate to refer to this Imperial as a “gentleman’s express,” because with a vehicle weight of 3,910lbs, and 140hp on offer, performance is mediocre, at best. Try 0-60mph in 13.4 seconds, a ¼ mile time of 19.9 seconds, and a top speed of 107mph. However, what the Imperial did offer the owner was eerie levels of quietness and isolation. This was in spite of the fact that what lay under the hood was Chrysler’s aging 318ci V8, albeit with electronic fuel injection. This system could be troublesome at times, and it wasn’t unheard of to find an Imperial owner who had ditched the fuel injection in favor of a carburetor. The transmission was a 3-speed automatic, while no luxury car would be complete without power steering and power brakes. The car has undergone some recent maintenance, including receiving new tires, along with new belts and all new fluids. The owner states that the car has traveled a genuine 65,000 miles, and that is certainly what is showing on the funky digital odometer. He also says that the car runs and drives perfectly.

When the Imperial was new, it represented the most expensive and most lavishly equipped car in the Chrysler arsenal. Ever the salesman, Lee Iacocca was very quick to point out to anyone who would listen that while it was all of these things, it was still being sold for thousands of dollars less than equivalent offerings from Lincoln and Cadillac. This wasn’t enough to save the Imperial, and the badge was retired again in 1983. With such low production figures during that final year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a 1983 Imperial in good condition for sale today. This particular car probably fits that description, although the torn leather on the driver’s seat will need to be addressed at some point. At the asking price, this particular car is right at the top end of what you would expect to pay, but for the person who aspires to own a 1980s prestige classic at an affordable price, this is a car that would seem to fill the bill quite nicely.

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Comments

  1. John D.

    Looking at the prices of similar models on eBay, this would breakdown in price as $3500 for the car and $3450.00 for preserving the car in rust free, undamaged condition!

    Although we had the Imperial franchise, we were deemed to be too small to get the model. IIRC there was also an exorbitant fee to get the rights to sell it, which we were not willing to pay.

    I have driven these and found them to be quite a nice highway car for the times. I also had this body as a Cordoba, which I found equally as nice. So this is really a gussied up Cordoba.

    Like 7
    • Tom Gorr

      So many differences from a Cordoba / Mirada including heavier gauge steel for body panels, hand selected components with only the tightest tolorences including differential, transmission, etc., hand buffed / finished paint, a several mile test drive and full retorque of all underbody items after assembly (every car), and more!
      Too bad the 65k miles showing are not actual / total miles (the “*” between ODO and MILES in the display is the “tell”…cluster was designed to do this if replaced as these early digital odometers used a type of memory that couldn’t be reset / changed in the field so it only appeared if the cluster was changed out / not original to the car). Probably happened (as did most) when the EFI was removed and switched to a carb.

      Like 5
  2. George Member

    Maybe Iacocca’s minimal cost strategy is what lead Detroit to near ruin?

    You can only get so much recycling from the parts bin and as handsome as his Mark III is, look where Lincoln is today

    Like 2
  3. Superdessucke

    A crate 360 would fit into this nicely. Then you’d have some real power to go with the looks.

    Like 10
  4. Kevin

    Loved these when new and even more today. A good thing it is so far away from me. Wonder if this one has the lean burn intact? Looks like the air cleaner is different. Wasn’t the crystal pentastar a 1981 only item. Seem to recall they went to plastic in ’82. I know, minor details, but hey.

    Like 7
  5. Sherminator

    Lord Vader, your car has arrived.

    Like 8
  6. Bakyrdhero

    This is a great looking car. There are some heavy design influences from Lincoln Mark series and the Cadillac Seville opera back. Different and stylish still, it would probably be the only one at the local car show.

    Like 4
  7. canadainmarkseh Member

    Nice car I hope it goes to someone that will continue to preserve it. The tear in is easy to fix take the cover off the seat frame and machine sew it from the back side. There’s plenty of parts available to liven up that 318 I would not change it out after it is very likely that it is numbers matching to the car and should stay with the car. Just give it a good cleaning and use it sparingly.

    Like 4
  8. Rick Brennan

    If I remember correctly, the ads for this vehicle featured Frank Sinatra.
    Always loved the style of this car – shame they didn’t put a more powerful engine in the thing.

    Like 2
  9. Pete Phillips

    I owned one of these in the late 1980s. 1981 was the first model year for these, not 1980. They didn’t have “Lean Burn”. They had an early and troublesome fuel injection system. Mine worked fine until about 50,000-60,000 miles, then I got rid of the car. The fuel injection system was so troublesome that Chrysler had a carburetor conversion kit available through its dealers, specifically for this car. I don’t see the fuel injection decals on this one’s carburetor, which leads me to believe that it has been converted to a carburetor. Another unique feature of the car: Carpeting on the underside of the trunk lid.

    Like 4
  10. Andrew Franks

    I don’t think a 318 is enough for this handsome car, I would probably put a crate Y block 383 minimum with fuel injection that worked.

    Like 2
    • Duaney Member

      Would be difficult with having to change the entire front engine cradle suspension assembly. Transmission different as well, then exhaust, then of course you’d violate EPA standards if you have emissions testing. Unless your “Y” block is an enlarged 360 small block?

      Like 1
  11. Kenbo52

    Totally agree with Pete . Worked at a Chrysler dealership when they were introduced. I was the designated wrench to go to Imperial training class. They were a real challenge to get the fuel system to operate correctly. Cheltenham, Pa is close to where I worked I Lansdown, Pa. Who knows , I may have worked on this one. At the time of their release they were not cheap and very luxurious. I remember when Lee Iacocca was said to have a demo stall coming out of th Lincoln Tunnel going into Manhattan because they had not engineered baffling in the fuel tank and onve the fuel injection system it was a real problem getting the car to run again.

    Like 3
  12. David Zornig

    Well after some Facebook comments and further research, it turns out that the asterisk in the “ODO * MI” on the dash indicates that the cluster was swapped out when the conversion to a carburetor was done.
    Dealership service departments were then required put a sticker with the then mileage on the door pillar and/or on the glove box door.
    So the true mileage would be that plus what the replacement cluster shows.
    CARFAX would likely not have that info because it’s inception was a year or so after the `83s were already out of warranty.
    And it’s given service history would be only after then.
    So the “no modification” and “65K miles” claims are incorrect.
    I messaged the seller about this, and we’ll see if they update the ad accordingly.

    Like 5
  13. NovaTom

    Never understood why they stuck the license plate on the face of the trunk lid. A styling swing and a miss if you ask me – otherwise a great looking car

    • Miguel

      Where would you have put it?

      You can’t cover up the reverse lights or have it sticking off the back bumper.

      Like 1
  14. Louis Q Phan

    The Chrysler Imperial was the last of the old school Blvd. Crusiers/Tuna Boats of the ’60, ’70 & ’80s. They were huge boats that literally floats above the roads and wraps it’s occupants in total comfort and luxury. I guess this was Mr. Iacoca’s last hurrah to the true decadence of American wasteful way of life. I remembered one of my old neighborhod’s “GRUMPY OLD MAN” has one. He was nice enough to give us neighborhood GOOD KIDS a ride on his brand new ’83 “Tuna Boat”-the Imperial! I still can recalled it was just comfortable as the ’68-’72 “Mafia” limo-the old Caddy Fleetwood. Thanks to oil embargo of ’73 that put a halt on our wastefulness. So long Lee and thanks for the memories.

    Like 2
  15. CJM

    Just about the worst colors it could be.

  16. George Mattar

    You think Chrysler would have learned about the 1957 fiasco with Bendix electronic fuel injection on the DeSoto Adventurer. It was a landmark system the same year GM released Rochester mechanical fuel injection. I believe only a handful of these 57 Chryslers are left with the fuel injection system. Almost all the cars were recalled to Chrysler dealers in the 50s to have the systems replaced with carbs. It was a very misunderstood system. But Tom White of Massachusetts has a perfectly running one or did. I believe the car was sold. He got an injection unit by accident years ago while talking to a man at a swap meet. A Chrysler executive knew the system would be worth money and took one home after it was removed from a car more than 60 years ago, and put in his house with strict orders to his wife to not give it away cheap. The man died and White was able to buy it. He rebuilt it and bench tested it before putting it on the car. I got a ride in that car in 2004, and it was jet engine smooth. He is a true master. I love this Imperial. I live only 25 minutes from this car. Don’t tell my wife. I would love to own it.

    Like 2
    • Miguel

      I think Jay Leno did an episode of his show on that car.

  17. Del

    Nice write up John D.

    These were over priced crap from the Get Go.

    Injection system needed a carb replacement at about 30000 miles

    We have discussed these pancakes endlessly here.

    Iacocca did great stuff. These were not his shining moment.

    We see one of these every month.

    This one looks great. Offer half the asking price.

    Like 2
  18. rod444

    I never understood why these didnt sell better. That side profile is truly handsome and this car has great lines!

    Probably has something to do with the fact that ‘cheaper than a Lincoln’ is NOT a selling point to the moneyed crowd they targeted.

    Like 1
    • Bryan

      I have a couple of these Imperials (including a Sinatra edition) and find them to be a very nice driving quality car, especially for their time. Remember the 81’s are almost 40 years old now!

      One of my Imperials has the factory/dealer installed carb conversion (very reliable) and the other still has its factory fuel injection (runs very smoothly but I don’t trust it much). The digital instrument clusters are very reliable and the 30 amp boosted stereos sound great!

  19. Bryan

    I forgot to add that these Imperials originally featured TWO computers attached to the air cleaner housing: one for the fuel injection and the other for the Lean Burn/Spark Control. The dealer 2bbl Carter carb conversions included swapping out the air cleaner with one from a Cordoba/Mirada/Diplomat/etc.

    This particular car features the carb conversion AND a conventional electronic ignition (note the orange ignition module in the engine pic), meaning the factory Lean Burn/Spark Control computer is unplugged (not a bad thing).

  20. DG

    I thought this was a better looking car than the Seville and Continental of the time, but never understood why they used a steering wheel that looked like it was from a K car?

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