Fitch’s Folly! Todd’s 1981 Imperial by Chrysler

Life is too short for boring cars! Having to decide *not* to buy an old car once a week comes with the territory here at Barnfinds, and last week, for the first time in three years, I bought one for myself. This 1981 Imperial emerged after 20 years in an Ohio barn and turned up in “as found” condition on eBay. Fuel system work around the gas tank seems to have sidelined this fuel-injected classic, but the seller said it would run on a jump start after splashing fuel down its throat. The price left room for an engine replacement if necessary, so after some deal-making with my spouse, I clicked Buy It Now!

Many owners had their ’81-’83 Imperials converted to carburetors either by Chrysler itself (due to some EFI problems) or by others. This one retains its fuel injection system. Though not as intricate as the Kugelfischer injector pump on my mechanically port-fuel-injected 1972 BMW 2002 tii, this one shares many similarities, with the principle difference being the throttle-body style and computer controls of the Imperial. While I’ve seen cars these powered by late-model Dodge Hemi motors, I’ve never seen a stock-appearing performance-enhanced ’81-’83 Imperial. It would be an interesting challenge make this EFI system feed a warmed-up 360.

This shot really sold the car. Though dusty, the driver’s seat shows almost no visible wear, and the carpet’s not bad either. I expected the leather to be in desperate need of nourishment, but slipping behind the wheel when loading it, I found the dusty hides to be soft and supple, and I heard a whisper… “Clean me and get me running, then we’ll drive to California.”

The 1981 and ’82 Imperials wear genuine Cartier crystals in the hood ornament, steering wheel, ignition key, and both opera lights, and sometimes they go missing due to wear or vandalism, but this car has all of them! The only extra-cost option on a 1981 Imperial was a power moon roof, which this car lacks, but that’s fine with me. Oldcarsweekly noted that Chrysler’s New Yorker listed at under $11,000, compared to the Imperial’s lofty $18,311 base price.

The “bustle” trunk appeared earlier on Cadillac’s Seville, providing a retro luxury touch. I prefer Chrysler’s rendition. A product of Canada, the Imperial used extra-thick body panels and special paint. Other quality-control measures included taking every Imperial on a five mile test drive and subjecting it to a high-pressure car wash to check for leaks. Wheel choices (no additional cost) included these factory wire wheel covers or alloy road wheels.

A crack on one steering wheel spoke, sagging headliner, and a raised area on the dashboard top comprise the only obvious interior shortcomings. It will need a good detailing. Though sold as having “about a hundred thousand” miles, connecting a battery revealed that the digital dashboard A. works! and B. shows 147,000 apparently gentle miles. Hopefully earlier owners’ attention to maintenance equaled their care of the interior. Buyers had their choice of four stereo systems, and this one has the 8-track option. I’ll certainly keep this head unit, though a more modern stealth stereo would be handy at some date. I look forward to showing some “after” pictures as this project moves onward. Do you remember this generation of Imperial?

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Comments

  1. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Congratulations on the new addition, Todd!! That is so cool, it really looks like a winner and with your experience I’m sure that it’ll be crooning like ol’ Blue Eyes in no time (I know that it’s not a Sinatra Edition, but still)…

    Nice find, it’ll be fun to see the updates!

    Like 16
    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Thanks Scotty. I’m a big Sinatra fan, but not a fan of the lighter blue of the Imperial FS. I look forward to getting the stereo refurbished / upgraded behind the scenes and cranking Sinatra, probably some tracks done with the incomparable Billy May Orchestra. Someone sawed out the car’s catalytic converter so it will bellow some before emitting more mellow tones. Hopefully I’ll have some promising news to report before too long.

      Like 7
  2. Ramone Member

    I’ve always like these, even though many didn’t. The style of the body, I guess is a love or hate thing. Maybe because of the bustle back. Anyway, they were fancy cars when new, then became worth much less when they were known to have so many drivability problems with that early attempt by Chrysler with FI. I think this is a cool find. Great looking unique body. Usual Chrysler drivetrain, so a great way to create a unique and fun driver with better intake, likely without doing much else.
    Great find. If this car made so many miles with that FI ,then maybe try to keep it intact?
    Nice car. Good find!

    Like 8
    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Hi Ramone. I agree on the EFI. I will definitely work to understand the components and get it running as-is. I believe I would do something like faster gears and Gear Vendors overdrive before abandoning the fuel injection. Time will tell. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Howard A Member

    Very nice cars, last of the “Mohican’s” ( btw, I realize that may be offensive to someone these days) Last of the RWD , TRADITIONAL Imperials. Imperial always meant “top of the line”, and what replaced these cars a few years down the like, was an absolute joke. Kind of like the “Granada” Lincoln. I read, the 318 was used here, getting little long on years, but still a great motor, seats, best in the biz, Todd, you scored a winner here. May I remind you, “Todd’s Folly”, seems to be a takeoff on “Seward’s Folly”, referring to Alaska. Well, Alaska turned out to be the deal of the century, and like wise for you.
    Side (sad) note on a car like this,,,Ed Navinsky. Who was he, you say? At my 1st ( real) trucking job in the late 70’s, the senior driver there, was Ed. Been with the company many, many years, fixin’ to retire soon. Ed loved his Imperials. Finally, the day came for Ed’s retirement, as a gift to himself, he bought a new Imperial like this and used to come back up to the shop, he missed his trucking dearly,,3 months later, he dropped dead.

    Like 4
    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Thank you Howard. Mostly I love the styling of these Imperials. The digital dash and the fuel injection add interest for me, and hopefully that challenge will not turn into folly. Interesting that you mention Seward. My ancestor, Abijah Fitch, of Auburn, N.Y., accompanied Gov. Seward on his trip to Alaska, so perhaps exploring the unknown runs in the family. I’m sorry to hear that your friend didn’t get to enjoy his Imperial. Hopefully I’ll have better luck. Thanks for your comments!

      Like 2
  4. Pat L Member

    Nice find Todd. Back in 1982 I was driving a Dodge Mirada CMX. The dealership that I purchased it from had a white on white Chrysler Imperial on their used car lot. I went in and crunched the numbers with them, but unfortunately it was too expensive.

    Like 2
  5. Jim ODonnell Jim ODonnell Staff

    Great write-up Todd, thanks for sharing. Yes, I remember these but never knew anyone who actually owned one. Even back in the day, they were not a common sight.

    Future progress reports will be greatly anticipated!

    Like 3
  6. jwzg

    A Sniper EFI system to replace that ancient technology would be ideal. Would be cleaner, with more power, reliability, and efficiency. That’s just for starters.

    Like 3
  7. Bones in AK

    Funny, one was just on Craigslist here (Anchorage, AK) for 500.00 if I remember correctly. was on for a couple weeks. but when I just went looking is now gone. It was Silver and not as nice as your find Todd. think it had the Sunroof and alloy wheels. With that sloped nose and pop-up headlights kind of reminded me of the Mirada. Good luck with the new project!

    Like 1
  8. Dave

    With 147k on the clock and little chance of appreciation, this looks like a candidate for a hipo heart transplant…. should make a nice sleeper.

    Like 1
  9. 370zpp

    I find it fascinating to hear the “after” story of buying something like this on eBay, etc. Always a gamble but one that takes skill – and nerve.

    Like 1
  10. Bigdlm633

    Two Barcaloungers up front with a Broyhill in the back.

    Like 4
    • Mountainwoodie

      How old do you have to be to drive this?

      I’m sure Todd is not old enough. He must be planning ahead :)

      Spot on the barcalonger/ broyhil. crack. Just looking at this reminds me of how folks my age now, back then ,were driving these!

      I’m still too young

      Like 2
  11. JCA

    Who orders an 8 track in 1981? I though we already had cassettes by then

    Like 2
  12. Geoff

    Malware detector blocking oldcars.com???

  13. Wesley Willison

    Todd- I own two efi Imperials one an FS I rescued a year ago feel free to email me I would be happy to help.

    Like 2
  14. AMCFAN

    Congrats, I owned one and was a nice car. I bought mine from an estate. My car showed 30,000 miles. That was great. There was a Mopar tag on the inside of the door that was some sort of service tag. Talking with an enthusiast of these cars said what that tag was. Seems the speedo had been replaced and those miles were not original. Stated it was a common issue.

    Many fail to realize that a few years prior there was almost NO Chrysler. The Imperial was a proud moment especially to those that had given it up for the dead.

    Like 2
  15. TommyPops

    Love the car!

    Hope you are able to get it running with the EFI. I like your idea of slapping it onto a 360…

    Why not get the 8-track stereo all tuned up and use a combination of an 8-track to cassette adapter and a Bluetooth cassette? Just the right amount of “kitsch”. Haha.

    Like 1
    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Hey TommyPops… Bluetooth to Cassette to 8-Track. Love it. I’m thinking about A500 transmission swap to gain overdrive and some faster gears. Then some additional horsepower may be in order. Thanks to everyone for the ideas and encouragement!

      Like 1
  16. Larry

    That copy-cat Cadillac rear end is bad enough but why did Chrysler plaster that license plate area right smack in the middle of the trunk lid??? Terrible!

    Like 2
    • Bill McCoskey

      Larry,
      Cadillac copied that trunk lid design from the British Vanden Plas Princess, they remained the same look from 1947 to 1967.

    • Bryan

      Chrysler designed this Imperial prior to the introduction of the 1980 bustleback Seville. In 1979 Lee Iacocca had to show future products to Congress as a condition of the $1.5B loan guarantees. The 1981 Imperial was noted as one of those cars in the product pipeline.

    • glenn

      I agree! I went so far as to fill in that hole and place the plate below the bumper. It was what a 94 Imp could have been. Sold that Imp and I dout the new owner new any better!

  17. OIL SLICK

    If you ever want to sell it let me know…

    Like 1
  18. Pete Kaczmarski

    Take a picture and hang it on your wall because the EFI system was problematic and unreliable as I owned one 32 years ago. It died and no retrofit carb. kit units were left. They are pretty to look at when sitting still.

    • Glenn

      Pete your old Imperial is not hanging on the wall! It has been running strong and still injected 32 years later! I know because I bought it from you for $3500.00 in 1988 and it was a simple fuel pressure sensor replacement I was able to figure out and replace myself. its now up to 160 K miles and going strong!! How’s that for reliability, plus the styling is timeless!!

      Like 3
  19. curt wichman

    I recently bought one of these good looking cars,(2 year ago!) unfortunately, mine is a ugly color, (butter cream) but I will be changing that. I found mine at of all places, a Subaru dealership, traded in by the original owner, with only 43,000 miles! but really needs a fair amount of work, it was sitting on the dealers lot for several years. parts are not easy to find! there is a gentleman in AZ that has a bunch of parts for these, I bought NOS wheel well chrome, it was pricey, but mine is dinged up. I wish I had the time to get started on mine! just too busy right now.

    • glenn

      google Murrays Park C bodies Tiffin Ohio. He has around 20 81-83 Imperials for parts plus some that just need TLC, plus many more of the other years. Plus he has a ware house of NOS and used parts He has a store on the internet you can bourse his inventory at!! I was there last week and it was the best yard tour I have ever been on!

      Like 1
  20. Jasper

    My uncle had one. Something about a gambling debt Lee Iacocca paid him in the form of one of these.

    Like 1
  21. Ryan

    Contrary to popular belief, Chrysler designed the bustleback BEFORE Cadillac did. And, I believe Chrysler pulled it off better.

    Like 5
  22. George Louis Member

    You need to check with with an FCA Dealer to see if they still offer a Remanufactured Fuel Support plate . This was the Heart of the Fuel Injection System that was originally manufactured by Chrysler Huntsville Electronics Division.. If part is not available contact me by E Mail and I will see if the remanufacturer can help you out.

    • MOPAR Joe

      I believe the original support plates were manufactured by TRW. Huntsville did the remanufacturing. There were big bounties on the support plates before the decision was made to retrofit the engine and exhaust to the carbureted 318 package found on the Córdoba and Mirada.
      A little known condition of the Chrysler Loan Guarantee of 1979/80 was the injection system had to hit the market for the 1981 model year. The funds to design and develop the system came from some Federal emissions/fuel economy program. Chrysler had the money long before the loan guarantee thing came along and the Feds wanted a return on that investment. Obviously the FI system was raced into market before it was ready. Too bad because those 318’s were way smoother than the carbureted versions.

      Like 2
      • MOPAR Joe

        Very cool cars. Extremely quiet on the highway.

        Like 1
    • Wesley

      They have not made the efi parts since the late 80s sadly. Who remanufactures these? I’m curious if anyone does. I have 15 efi plates I would send out if I could find someone!

  23. Don Sheerman

    I bought a 1981 silver blue Frank Sinatra edition Imperial not running at an auction in the early 90’s for a few hundred dollars and thought I scored. The fuel injection system needed replaced and that would have been over $ 1,000. I ran it back through the auction and made a couple hundred dollars and barely escaped a money pit !

    Like 1
  24. Dave P.

    Love this car. I bought an Imperial from a small lot in Illinois back in 1994 for $250. It was an 81 and needed brakes and a rear window. I fixed the brakes and then began a search for the window, which was hard to find.
    Found one about 3 weeks later in a bone yard in Kansas and had it shipped.

    The maroon paint was badly faded, but the interior was in surprising condition, no rips or tears and the headliner was intact. I drove this one for about 3 years until a short developed in the light switch and did a number on the car.

    Then I found another a few weeks ago in Minnesota as a barn find of sorts. The former owner was the second to own this car, a 1983 Mark Cross in a medium gray inside and out. In 1993, he had hit a dear and drove it home where he parked it for 27 years. In that time, he bought a new front nose and hood, but failed to trade the damaged parts for the new, which to his luck were the same color as the car.

    I paid $895 for this one, which I felt was a bargain. The car was in need of new rubber and was delivered with one flat. I have been replacing them with American Classic white walls that are a close match to the factory tires. It has the optional moon roof and is reported to have around 70,000 miles on it. She also has the alloy wheels, I do have a set of 15″ steel wheels and wire wheel covers if I want to change things up a bit. Since it had a part removed for another Imperial he owned, it came in with the EFI in the trunk. It is currently with my mechanic where it is doing his best to assemble it and get her going again.

    I can’t wait to get her back and drive it. I miss that comfortable ride that my current Chrysler does not provide.

    I do have some before pictures and will have some after pictures that I will be happy to post once she comes home for you guys.

    Like 3
  25. Lance Hockin

    My parents had a 71 Imperial back in the seventies. I loved that car.

    Like 1
  26. Robert Baker

    I have had many of these cars and still have the first one I bought. It is still fuel injected and runs amazingly well. I bought so many of these through the years because of EFI problems. Many I got running right in the place where the car was stored and drove them home. Always loved these cars. Mine has 180,000+ miles and still gets 24 mpg on the highway. Doesn’t use any oil to speak of and is smooth and quiet. I have many parts for these cars.

    Like 2
  27. Robert Baker

    By the way, these cars Will Not Run with the top lid off of the air cleaner. They are a closed system.

    Like 1
  28. George Louis Member

    Part of the problem with the EFI System on the Imperial was the guy who knew the most about the system died of a heart attack and most of the knowledge went with him, that is why Chrysler had so many problems and no answers.If you want more information on the field conversion kit there was a TSB Technical Service Bulletin issued some time around May/June 1985 listing all the parts required that were in the Service Package required to convert from EFI to carburetor model. Some of the old line dealers may still have access to the TSB either the Service Manager or the Parts Manager,

  29. George Louis Member

    As far as the crystal hood ornament it did not come from Cartier but was sourced to a company called Jewel Company of America. They were shipped from Europe i believe it was Lichtenstein. A Plastic replacement was made to replace the original crystal units.

  30. Beignet at-the Beach

    So, Todd, Congrats! The EFI on these can be healed with some preventive measures. First CLEAN FUEL…the little wheel inside by the ocular gets occluded by our modern fuels. Second: CLEAN the ground on the fender well under the controller box…right side and use dielectric grease on ALL the grounds. When I worked for the factory we did several conversions to carburetors..the kit was EXTENSIVE, and with current technology, I would NOT do it. Owners would not MAINTAIN the car, which seemed to be part of the driveability issues.

    Like 1
    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Thanks Beignet at-the Beach! I will definitely be working to keep the EFI. My other project car is a mechanically fuel-injected ’72 BMW that I brought back from the dead. A little self-flagellation is good for the soul.

      Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey

        Well Todd, I guess in keeping with your expanding collection of rare EFI cars, I suppose your next addition might be the other rare MoPaR example; a 1958 Chrysler 300D with EFI, if you can find one!

        Like 1
      • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

        Bill McCoskey — never heard of that FI on the 300D before. I just read up on it… “waxpaper-covered capacitors…” sounds like, uh, fun? As soon as I finish and sell the BMW I’ll see if I still have an appetite for adventure. Thanks for the tip!

      • Bill McCoskey

        Todd,
        If you do elect to start searching for the elusive 300D EFI, it’s gonna be a real challenge, as all of the 23 [some sources say the number is 21 cars] cars that managed to make it into the public’s hands, all were recalled and replaced with the dual carb versions.

        Jay Leno’s chief restorer, Per Blixt, found & bought one of the original cars, and he changed out the replacement dual carbs for a modern Bosch EFI set-up.

        This Bendix system used on the 300D was a true Electronic Fuel Injection, and not to be confused with the Rochester Mechanical Fuel Injection introduced in the 1957 Chevrolet.

  31. Robert Baker

    I had one of the kits and made a copy of the parts list and instructions. Finding them in all my stuff might be a chore.

  32. Arthur

    With the technology available today, the simple solution to the EFI problem would be to have it replaced with an EFI setup from companies like Holley or Edelbrock.

    Speaking for myself, though, I would give this Imperial an Art Morrison chassis and a Hellcat engine, but have it customized so it still appears stock on the outside.

  33. Dan Hart

    The “bustle-back” cars of this era were beautiful in my opinion, although I realize it was a polarizing look, to say the least! I’d still love to have one because to this day, they’re still a love/hate for most. I’m kind of surprised it still has the EFI setup. Chrysler’s EFI troubles remind me of Cadillac’s air suspension problems with the Broughams of the late ’50s. A lot of them just got swapped out for a more conventional setup, whether EFI or air suspension.

  34. Glenn
  35. Glenn

    I also have owned around 7 of these fine attractive Imps over the years. My current being a 81 Frank with sun roof. These were the only two options available in 81, the sun roof only available in 81, I’ve always wondered why? only 158 Franks were built in 81 so that makes mine one of about 50 built with both options plus its still injected! Join the 81-83 Imperial talk group on Face Book its great to interact with fellow owners of these classic Imperials!!

    • Dave P

      Glen,
      If the sunroof was only available for the 81 model, then I must have a very rare 83. I had read that the option for the sunroof for 83 was priced somewhere between $850 and $1200, which made it a very pricey option and I can fully understand why they would be a rare find indeed.

      • Bryan

        Dave, the moonroof was not offered as a factory option in 82 or 83 but any owner (or dealership) could have one installed if desired. Open your trunk and look for the electric motor for the moonroof. Is it mounted under the package tray? Not likely.

        Years ago I visited a shop in Portland Oregon that installed a convertible top on a friend’s Chrysler. The shop had a dozen new cars in it, all being outfitted with new electric moonroofs. He provided this service for new car dealerships in the area. If a new car buyer wanted a moonroof then the dealership could definitely get it done!

        Like 1
  36. Wes

    Join the Facebook group “It’s Time For You” the 1981 to 1983 Imperial Group

    Like 1
  37. Robert Baker

    My guess on ending the Sunroof option is that you lost so much headroom in the back seat. An adult can not sit up straight in the back seat with the Sunroof

    • Dave P

      Well, there was still room in the trunk for the mother-in-law.

      Like 1
  38. Bryan

    I have a Daystar Blue 1981 Imperial with dark blue leather (like yours) and the optional one-year only moon roof. These are fine cars and very reliable with the factory carb conversion like mine. I also have an 82 Sinatra and an 82 Mahogany Brown (w/brown leather) with only 32k miles (still injected).

    The Imperial and its J-body stalemates (Cordoba & Mirada) were built in Windsor Ontario Canada. The moonroof option was available on 1980 and 1981 Cordobas and Miradas too, but like the Imperial not offered in 82 or 83. It does not appear that the option was installed by American Sunroof (ASC) like all previous Mopar sunroof or T-top offerings (like my 79 T-top Magnum or 79 Chrysler 300 w/electric sunroof). Oddly, the moonroof’s electric motor is under the package tray; as such it is accessible in the trunk!

    Like 1
  39. Dave P

    Bryan, when I get over to my mechanics place, I’ll check it out. From what I understand, if the electric motor is mounted under the rear shelf, then it would be factory. If not, then it’s an after market, right?

  40. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Todd, I’m a huge bustleback guy (that sounded creepy), and I agree with the others who prefer the bustleback trunk on the Imperial over the Seville.

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