Long And Wide: 1961 Chrysler Imperial

1961 Chrysler Imperial

The second generation Imperial was built on it’s own platform and is the widest non limousine American car at almost 82″. They are also very strong, with a a box frame and X cross-member. They are so big and strong they were banned from demolition derbies. From what we can see in the pictures, this one listed on eBay looks pretty straight. It was “garaged for decades” so it might be in good shape. There’s no word on why it was never driven after it arrived in Lakeland, Florida from California. Thanks to Jim S for the tip.

back seat

The red leather interior looks in pretty good condition, or at least the back seat does.

engine

It looks like things are undisturbed under the hood.

front

It still has its California plates. It’s hard to tell much from the pictures, but this Imperial looks very complete. It might take a lot of work on the mechanics to make it drivable again, but it looks like it won’t need much cosmetic work. I would get it running and driving and enjoy it the as it is. What would you do?

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Comments

  1. Rick

    Great classic Demo Derby candidate!

    • Andy Frobig

      That’s cold, man.

  2. Howard A Member

    Many years ago, my old man rented a warehouse and in it were several cars, this being one of them (or a ’62, I forget) It had suffered an engine fire. I’m sure it had an all stainless roof. IDK, there’s a lot to these older luxury cars, it’s not like a pickup truck. Pretty complicated, if parts are even around. I’d let it go.

  3. Dave Wright

    They were outlawed in most demolition derby’s. There was nothing that would hold up to them. I have owned many of these cars and am embarking on the restoration of a 1966 convertible I bought last month. We went to pick it up with my equipment trailer…….it was within an inch of the trailer fender wells…….so, we sent a roll back. These are magnificent cars destine to be the super classics of there era, some of the finest American iron ever produced.

  4. Cody

    Looking at pictures on google of this car, I noticed the steering wheel isn’t really a wheel. It’s kind of a square with rounded off corners. Weird.

    Cool car. Would look great with a off color roof. The all white color is kind of blah.

    • David Frank david Member

      A lot of Mopars from this era had these square wheels, including my 1960 Plymouth. It didn’t seem to make any difference. You didn’t really notice it.

  5. Steve B

    A piece of Kennedy-era American history. Superb. One thing I see is if those are supposeldy original CA plates they should be yellow from 1961, black plates didn’t start until 63.

    • al8apex

      all cars registered in CA at the time were updated in 63 to the black and yellows … this car having “later” IIDxxx plates most likely arrived in California in the mid 60’s to have such a “late” black and yellow plate. IF it was registered in CA prior to 63 it would have an Axx or Bxx black plate

      • Steve B

        Mmm, are you sure? My neighbor has a pre-63 Valiant that has been her daily driver in CA since day one (still is), still has the yellow plates.

  6. John P

    ..possibly transferred the plates from another car to have late yellow plate assignment?

    • Steve B

      Possible, the owner doesn’t talk much. But since it’s a one-owner car, and if all cars registered in CA at the time were updated in 63 to the black and yellows, what would it have been transferred from? BTW this is her “new” car, the other one is a Cranbrook.

  7. G 1

    These old Imperials made a Cadillac feel like you were in a Chevrolet

  8. Roselandpete

    Love the old Imperials.

  9. Andy Frobig

    I think of myself as a Cadillac guy, having owned a ’65 that I loved, but these take a close second and are a LOT rarer. This one looks sweet. I could totally see Milburn Drysdale pulling up to the Clampett mansion in one of these (probably a convertible, though).

  10. Junkfixer

    Alright, this MoPar junkie has had enough. We don’t refer to a DeSoto Fireflite as a “Chrysler DeSoto” so why do we keep doing this to Imperial? This car is a 1961 Imperial LeBaron, not a “Chrysler Imperial” From 1955 to 1975 Imperial was a separate marque from the Chrysler brand (and no, I don’t want to talk about the yrs 1981 to 1983 – I still have a bad taste in my mouth).

    In 1955 Chrysler Corp filed paper with all 48 states registering Imperial as a separate division. They did this to better compete with Lincoln and Cadillac divisions. In fact, Cadillac had to stop using the Imperial moniker on it’s top tier limousine at this time.

    So, from 1908 to 1916 Imperial was non-Chrysler (there was also some British use of the name during this time), prior to 1955 “Imperial” was a Chrysler model name, 1981 to 1983 were the luxury cars from Chrysler that we dare not speak of, and from 1955 to 1975 Imperial was it’s own brand. As car guys/girls we know better. Thank you for reading this rant and I’ll go crawl back under my ’65 Newport project now.

    Like 1
    • Keith

      Thank you Junkfixer! I agree though I can forgive a lot of non-Mopar and mild-Mopar guys for not knowing that. Then of course there was the brief 81-83 stint when Imperial again was a separate make from Chrysler, too.

  11. packrat

    ‘E’s got a slightly older Plymouth beside ‘er in the garage, too- ‘e likes ’em in White, ‘e does.

  12. M B

    Starting with the 1964 models, although Imperial was (in many ways) better than Cadillac, the sales didn’t reflect that. So Chrysler Corp intensified their efforts to get sales closer to Cadillac via improved interior materials and designs, a little better sound insulation package, and being more selective about which components were used in the vehicles. This meant that the ’64-’66 Imperials had “the best of everything” Chrysler Corp could provide. The 1966 brochure details the lengths to which they went to select the best hides for the leather (without any scars in the hides), the “clean room” environment the transmissions were built in, and many other “above the bar” things they did to make the finest Imperials ever produced. At one time, there was a batch of engines built to “close spec” tolerances of quietness and smoothness, that somehow got mixed in with the normal engine shipment to the Chrysler assembly plant rather than the Imperial plant.

    As to their body strength, it is legendary. Especially as they did get outlawed from the demo derby arena. One guy in the Imperial Club bulletin board mentioned that he wanted to add a rh outside rear view mirror. He got his punch out to get the hole started. When he hit the punch with a hammer, it bounded off.

    The 1981 Imperials also had the “close spec” parts in them, too, as many items where also shared with regular Chryslers. The best radios, the best engines, the best transmissions, etc. And to compete with Lincoln and Cadillac, the “over-designed” fuel injection system. This system, with design input from Chrysler Aerospace, was NOT well-understood “in the field”, but was a very simple add-on system (on the engine). Problem was that when you took the air cleaner top off, the motor died. Why? The mass air flow sensor was mounted in the air cleaner snorkel. Taking the air cleaner top off meant no air coming through the snorkel. With the air flow signal gone, the computer stopped the fuel delivery. This is why the band clamp around the air cleaner top and bottom IS necessary to be correctly in place!!!

    In the later 1980s, we were at Mopar Nationals, at our hotel. In the parking lot was a “bent bar” Imperial. The guy who owned it said he just bought it. He had a buddy at a Chrysler dealership who told him it had been traded in by the grand-daughter of the original owner. It wasn’t running too well, so they put it on the back lot “for sale”. The guy went and made a deal on it. Fixed the mis-adjusted placement of the air cleaner’s band clamp. It then ran smoothly. And he drove it home.

    The ’81-’83 Imperials also allegedly had thicker sheet metal than normal Chryslers AND were about 4000 pounds. Even the plucky 318 with something like a 2.2 rear axle ratio struggled with acceleration and modern traffic speeds. Needed more motor.

    There’s a MOTOR TREND test of a 1965 Imperial Crown Coupe. They were in the desert and running over some dips. The shot was of the Imperial with ALL four wheels off the ground, “flying” level. The caption was something like “She flies through the air with the greatest of ease, and doesn’t bottom out when she lands”.

    To me, this old Imperial does need to be saved and restored to it’s original glory. To make people wonder why they didn’t sell better, but then exclusivity has its “price”. Certainly won’t meet yourself at intersections!

    • Roselandpete

      I never owned or rode in one but I always considered those old Imperials to be handsome cars.

  13. Ed P

    The tailfins on this Imperial do nothing for me, but this car still deserves preservation. Clean it up and make sure the mechanicals work properly. This will be a hit at car shows.

  14. Jim Marshall

    I worked in a Chrysler dealership in 57 as a new car get ready prep man and I remember the problems with Chrysler products that year. Brake issues, water leaks, poor fitting body panels, just to name a few. The Imperial was one of the worst. By 61 They had perfected this design and I suppose they were nice luxury cars by then. In 1960 Chrysler except for the Imperial switched to unibody design but Imperials remained a body on frame car.

    • Ed P

      Chrysler Corp had. a sterling reputation up to 1957. It took one year to destroy that in their rush to production. What a shame. If the 57’s had been up to their previous standards just think what might have happened.

  15. Roselandpete

    I was reading a 60’s Imperial brochure that talked about how often the Imperials were inspected, checked, and double-checked during production. Was that BS or was that started in the 60’s?

  16. jim

    After all the problems with the redesigned 57’s sales were hurt by the 58 recession and Chryslers bad reputation as a result of the issues of
    the
    57 models. By the time the 60 models came out quality improved greatly in all areas

  17. Rob Marshall

    As you know all life is put on hold so that I can read my daily dose of barn finds. What I wanted to know is the different classification of number plates and have noticed it’s the best if the car STILL HAS CALIFORNIA PLATES. Could you please explain why it then makes the car worth more so to speak. Is it related to the climate.

  18. Jim Marshall

    This car was basically a face lifted carry over from the 1957 models that were very poorly assembled and suffered from numerous mechanical and body integrity issues that I remember well since I worked in new car get ready at that time for a Chrysler dealer. By 1961 hopefully all if not most of these issues were corrected. Lincoln finally came to their senses in 61 with they’re elegant downsized Continentals but Chrysler stayed with these land barges until their end in 1976. They revised the name in 1990 with an extended K car but it only lasted until 1993.

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