Original Hemi: 1954 Chrysler Imperial

The 1954 model year marked the end of an era for the Imperial. Initially launched in 1926 as Chrysler’s range-topping offering, the company decided to take on General Motors at their own game by launching a premium brand to compete head-to-head with Cadillac. That meant that from 1955, the Imperial badge would no longer grace any Chrysler model, but it would become a prestige brand in its own right. That makes our feature car the last of its breed, at least until Chrysler brought the name back under their umbrella as a model rather than a separate brand in 1990. This 1954 Chrysler Imperial looks like a tidy survivor that needs little work to be returned to active duty. Barn Finder Matt H spotted this classic for us, so I have to say a big thank you for that, Matt. It has been hiding for a while, but returning it to active duty might not be a complex undertaking. It is located in Pendleton, Oregon, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. The owner has set the sale price at $8,750, making it an affordable project car.

It is incredible to think that this Chrysler has been sitting in its current location for around thirty years. The owner says that it wears most of its original Pebble Beige and Cordovan Brown paint. It doesn’t seem to matter which angle you consider, that paint holds an impressive shine. It makes me wonder how stunning it could be if the buyer treats the whole car to a buff. There are no significant flaws or problems with the paint, while the same seems true of the panels. The listing doesn’t mention any rust issues, and with the lack of any visible problems or accumulated corrosion, I’m quietly confident that this Imperial is rock solid. Most of the exterior chrome is in good order, and while a perfectionist might despatch a few items to the platers, the condition is very acceptable for a survivor-grade car. It’s also worth noting that the ’54 Imperial is not a big-ticket vehicle, so overspending on any restoration work could undermine this project’s financial viability. This Imperial rolled off the line fitted with tinted glass, and its condition looks as impressive as the rest of the exterior.

One of the aspects of Chryslers from this era that attracts me is their interiors. I know that the Imperial was their range-topping model, but even the most basic cars seemed to bring something special to the table. However, when you’re talking prestige, the company pushed out the boat. It will probably ignite debate, but I doubt that any manufacturer from this era had a better grasp on the use of chrome interior trim. The potential was there for an interior to look garish or chintzy, but Chrysler managed to strike a perfect balance in the ’54 Imperial. It is part of what makes this interior special. The other is that it is in remarkable condition for its age. It is upholstered in a combination of leather and cloth, and most of the upholstered surfaces, the carpet, and the headliner are in good order. There’s a significant split on the front seat, which has probably gone beyond the point of no return. This has the potential to be a sticking point because replacement covers are almost impossible to source. However, several suppliers stock upholstery material that is a close match, so an upholsterer might be able to whip up something to address this issue. Otherwise, this interior is original and unmolested. As well as lashings of chrome, it comes equipped with a pushbutton radio, a clock, and power windows.

If there’s nothing as great as a V8, many people would argue that the pick of the bunch is the Chrysler Hemi. That’s what we find hiding in this engine bay, and that 331ci beast would’ve pumped out a healthy 235hp in its prime. Completing this drivetrain combination are an automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. At 4,540lbs, the Imperial was slightly on the chubby side. It’s also worth noting that Chrysler was marketing this as a luxury car, not a muscle car. That makes its 19-second ¼-mile ET look fairly healthy. This Imperial isn’t roadworthy, and it doesn’t even run at present. However, the owner drained the fuel system before placing the car into storage, and the environment looks ideal. I wouldn’t be surprised if a day’s tinkering resulted in that mighty Hemi roaring back to life. If that’s the case, returning this classic to a roadworthy state might not take a lot of time or money.

There was probably no single reason why the Imperial brand didn’t soldier on for many years as a separate entity within the Chrysler empire. The reality was that American manufacturers, especially those rolling out prestige products, felt growing pressure from European manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. The result was that domestic manufacturers were selling into a shrinking market share. If Imperial hadn’t returned to being a model rather than a separate brand when it did, the advent of manufacturers like Lexus would’ve sealed the deal. That makes cars like this 1954 Chrysler Imperial important because they marked that moment when the company was poised to launch into a bold new marketing strategy. Interestingly, for a prestige model, the ’54 Imperial is not a car that commands a high price in today’s market. They weren’t built in large numbers, but it is possible to find some extremely nice examples for under $15,000. This one isn’t roadworthy, but getting it to that point could potentially be easy and inexpensive. Addressing its interior issues shouldn’t break the bank, and when you take all of those factors into account, this could be a project car that makes sound financial sense.

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Comments

  1. Will Fox

    Would’ve liked to have seen more interior pics to gage the overall quality of it, but if it’s anything like the outside, it has to be stunning. I can’t balk at the price, you’re getting a VERY highly original `54 Imperial that has seen alot of TLC. It’s not everyone’s taste in collector cars, but you’ll have the only one at the next car show you attend.

    Like 29
  2. Pete

    This was back when Chrysler built a solid product. They were known to be engineer’s cars.

    Like 18
    • David Clanton

      I appreciate hearing that. My grandfather was an engineer for Esso/Standard Oil Co and he proudly owned two Imperials; one from the late 50s and the other was a white ‘68 with silvery-blue button leather seats.

      Like 12
  3. Robert White

    I usually can’t stand four door cars, but this one is a classic four door IMHO. Good car nice price too. It’s a good candidate for a museum or really cool man cave as a garage decoration.

    I’d get the yearly Christmas tree with this, and maybe hit the liquor store too.
    Good for going to the local apple orchard too.

    Best as a garage decoration though.

    Bob

    Like 3
    • Rodney - GSM

      Yes, a good car to drive drunk as you are more likely to hurt the other guy and not yourself. They say God protects children, drunks and apparently Chrysler Imperials…

      Like 7
      • jeff

        Robert said go to liquor store, not go to liquor store, get drunk and drive home.

        Like 6
      • Rodney - GSM

        Jeff, of course. Robert actually said, “hit the liquor store” but I don’t think he meant rob the liquor store and use the proceeds to buy apples and Christmas Trees.
        Nice car!

        Like 2
  4. William R Hall

    One big asset this car has is location. Pendleton is a very dry town in the heart of wheat country right on I 84

    Like 4
  5. Car Nut Tacoma

    Beautiful looking car. If only more pics of the car were posted. Typical Craigslist. They never post enough pics of anything they’re advertising. Given its condition, I’d pay close to $8,000 for it. I’d make sure everything works like they should.

    Like 3
  6. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    My father and several of his friends bought 54 Chryslers at the same time. He got a Windsor with the Spitfire 6 while his friends got the New Yorker versions. His was two-tone: light blue with a black roof. He put 220K on it commuting to NYC every day. It withstood 2 major accidents. When he finally switched to commuting by train, he parked it in a garage around Canal Street near his machine shop. Some drunk attendant managed to wreck somehow seriously damaging all 4 sides of the car.

    The interior was identical to this Imperial’s interior with the exception of the power windows. Chrysler didn’t stint on that for any of the models. It was the engine and some body trim that changed. For example, the Imperial’s grill was different as were the parking lights and the taillights were also different (the Windsor and New Yorker had 3 stacked lights (tail, brake/turn, backup) that were very similar to the 53 Chevy taillights,
    Wish this car wasn’t 3000 miles away. I’d seriously consider it. Great for Cars and Caffeine shows.

    Like 4
  7. David Culberson

    Love to have that car but about as far away as I can getfrom NC

    Like 1
  8. Cristiana

    This is just the sort of car one would want for touring/sightseeing trips with friends. Smooth ride, luxurious seating, plenty of head, shoulder and leg room in the rear seat, and with four doors, easy ingress/egress! You can’t even buy a Cadillac today that could match it.

    Like 6
  9. Dale S

    It’s dated looking even for a 1954 model.

    Like 1
    • Wayne from Oz

      Not as dated as a 1954 Ford or Chev.

      Like 1
      • Dale S

        My aunt drove a metallic green 1954 Ford for years. She must have loved that car. They all look like ’52 to ’53 models. I guess we could break the tie by figuring out which one is the ugliest.

  10. JImmyinTEXAS

    I’m not a Chrysler fan but I could very easily fall in love with this car…

  11. charlie Member

    My cousin (he was 19) had the ’54 Dodge 4 door with the Hemi, and it beat the pants off of my uncle’s ’55 Chevy with the 265 V8. I wondered why he bought a used 4 door car (this was in 1957) and he said, “Because it is the fastest thing on the road that I could afford.” The relatives, including his mother, described him as a “hellion”. He lived.

    Like 5
  12. George Beauregard

    Does it have air conditioning?

    • Rick

      Does not appear to.

    • Johnny

      Does,nt need it. It has vents and wing windows.

      Like 3
  13. HC

    What a clean,sweet 54 Chrysler Imperial. A fair price even for a 4 door in this condition. Would be nice to know for sure if she starts, runs and stops. Probably not far from that. Great find.

    Like 2
  14. Jim Mitchell

    I had a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe 2-door hardtop with the same Hemi engine. That car sat firm on the road and really hauled the mail! The interior appointments went far beyond stylish with the leather and cloth seats and a padded dash. Yes, this was a classic era for Chrysler products – when American automotive engineering and individual style were built into every automobile. This is a fine example.

    Like 6
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      That’s my grandfather’s 54 New Yorker Deluxe 4-door. Seems very similar to the Imperial, actually. I was told he always wanted a Caddy instead, but living through the Depression, he settled for this. I inherited it from my cousin in the late 80s and even did an amateur restoration including paint.

      I had the scary old and brittle recaps replaced with radials. That 331 Hemi would get that car rolling down the road like a living room sofa on wheels. Eventually lost my storage and finally and reluctantly sold it. I kept my Grandmother’s sunglasses which were still in the glove compartment.

      Like 3
  15. Johnny

    A very nice -well cared for car. Rather have it .The way it is. Then any new car or truck on the road. That is a well built beautiful car. Wished I had it. I,d enjoy driving around in it.

    Like 2
  16. HC

    Four doors cars don’t usually get my attention like this one has. After drooling over this clean engine bay&Hemi, as well as the interior and body. You could always add Vintage air if you had to have it. I’m in love with this Imperial.. it’s Gonna be a great entry level car for any car lover.

    Like 3
  17. Paul52

    Love those ’50’s high end dashboards. Very artistic.

    Like 4
  18. Clay bryant

    My eyes might be deceiving me but it looks like there’s a paint mismatch on the drivers side but other then that slap a pair of factory wire wheels on it and it would be good to go. They really set off these cars.

    Like 1
  19. Michael L Gregory

    I hadn’t realized how similar to the New Yorker this car is. We had a ’54 New Yorker Deluxe from the time I was one until I was maybe eleven. My dad kept it in tip top shape. It had A/C, but no power windows. These cars were built like tanks.

    Like 1
  20. Rick

    Chrysler brought the Imperial name back under their umbrella as a model rather than a separate brand in 1971, not in 1990.

    Starting in 1971, there was an Imperial By Chrysler nameplate on the trunk lid.

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