Rare Luxury: 1966 Chrysler Imperial Convertible

In 1966, The Green Hornet aired on TV for one season, with Bruce Lee playing the Hornet’s sidekick, Kato. Their car? A heavily modified 1966 Imperial Crown sedan, called Black Beauty. This 1966 Imperial Crown convertible isn’t black, but it is a beauty and can be found here in our Barn Finds Classifieds. Offered at $26,750 by Gesswein Motors, a Chrysler dealer in Milbank, South Dakota, from the owner’s personal collection. 

In 1966, the Imperial was a separate marque. Built on a full perimeter frame unique to the marque, it was so strong that Imperials with this frame would be banned from competition in demolition derbies in later years, as they were unstoppable. One of 514 convertibles built that year, this one left the factory with green paint and was later resprayed in Lilac. The seller included a photo of the body plate showing the original paint code as “999” which usually denotes that the car was painted at the factory in a non-standard color for that model (for a small fee, a dealership or a fleet account could order a car in a color that wasn’t available for that model but was available on another).  Lilac was an Imperial option that year; I think it’s an attractive color, and the respray appears to be professionally done – but I wonder if this could have been a “one-of-one” car if it hadn’t been resprayed in a different color.

The odometer shows 75,000 miles; no mention of whether it’s accurate or TMU. In addition to the respray, the owner replaced the top a few years ago and rebuilt the engine, a 440 cubic inch V8 rated at 350 horsepower (1966 was the first year for this engine in the Imperial) and 480 ft.-lbs. of torque. The car also has automatic transmission, power windows (including power vent wings), and factory air conditioning, and that is real wood on the dashboard, door panels, and steering wheel. Air conditioning was an option; all the other items mentioned were standard equipment. There’s no mention in the ad of any other repairs or the car’s condition when first acquired by the current owner.

To me, the Imperial – especially the Crown convertible – was always the most desirable of all the American luxury cars available at the time. This one presents nicely and doesn’t appear to need anything other than a new owner to enjoy it this summer. Never mind whether The Green Hornet and Kato would be willing to be seen in a lilac Imperial; at what may be a very fair price, would you?


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  1. doone

    Built like a tank.

    Like 16
    • Steve Clinton

      I recall when demolition derbys were popular in the ’70s, Imperials were banned. They were built like a truck.

      Like 6
      • bone

        Outlawed in the 80-90s too ; it was in the rules at local tracks in CT., which was odd because you didn’t even see these on the roads around here by then.

        Like 3
    • Rockwreck

      Had one. White with red leather, twin to all the brochures that Chrysler produced. Found in an estate sale on Cape Cod in a bundle of cars.
      16 k miles in 1997, all original.
      All the horse power and all the torque it produced couldn’t overcome the 2 1/2 ton weight issue. Couldn’t spin the tyres.
      But was a great highway cruiser.
      Sold it to buy my house, tripled my money in a year.

      Like 6
    • Robert G.

      Built like a tank ? That is what everybody thinks. However in a crash test these old tanks did not do so well.
      See 1959 Chevy Bel Air V. 2009 Chevy Malibu
      This crash test was performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,
      Caution is advised for more sensitive viewers as old cars and old hearts were injured during the production of this video.

      Like 1
      • Chuck Dickinson

        Yes, we’ve all seen that video. However, a 59 Chev is NOT a 64-66 Imperial. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

        Like 18
      • dr fine

        They took the engine out of the ’59 so it would crumple good.

        Like 2
      • Miguel - Mexican Spec

        That car had an inline 6 so there was a lot of room in the engine compartment for the body to collapse.

        Like 2
      • bone

        And the 59 Chevy had an X frame ; not the best design .

        Like 4
      • Robert G.

        They did not take the engine out, the X frame was not any weaker then other full frame automobiles of the day.
        More then likely both vehicles had six cylinders engines in them.
        Other cars of the day crunched up just as badly.

  2. Bob C.

    Still with Exner cues (windshield, vent windows ).

    Like 5
    • That AMC Guy

      Probably the last wraparound windshield to be found on an American car.

      Like 8
    • Billyray

      I remember when these cars first appeared in late ’63. I was immediately struck by the all new design, yet glad that they at least kept the windshield. As a young teen, I didn’t understand the economics of updating an aging platform, where the cowl and windshield needed to be retained. But I doubt if I was the only one that felt that the signature windshield kept the Imperial identity even with an all new body. Currently there is a lot of unwarranted disapproval over that windshield; but at the time it was part of an identity. Back in the late 50’s, when most American cars had ridiculous dog leg windshields, which were quickly abandoned and forgotten, the Imperial windshield was a true classic.

      Like 7
  3. Dale S

    I always liked most of these mid to late sixties Chrysler products (Dodge, and Plymouth included). I bet there’s no body flex on this convertible.

    Like 7
    • Mark W

      Oh it definitely has body flex!! They had “ballast blocks” of cast metal in corners for primitive damping factor, plus the convertible got extra X-member and still it flexed like an overloaded buckboard, lol.

      Also to wimpy owner elsewhere on this post, my 66 Crown conv with posi sounded like a hemi chirping its tires around every corner, coolest car with that effect I ever drove, and I had some hot rods – that 440 torque is amazing even in this 5,300 pound car – my ’76 club cab 4×4 Power Wagon weighed “only” 4,900 lol

      Like 2
      • Bil McCoskey


        As to the cast iron dampers, neither of my 1966 or 1964 Imperial convertibles had these, but all the 1961-67 Lincoln convertibles DID have them. Were you possibly confusing the Lincolns with Imperials?

        Like 12
      • Mark W

        Mr. McCoskey – the ballast blocks were shown clearly in my 1966 Imperial factory service manual, they were referred to as, “ballast blocks”.

        You could see body flexing at doors when traversing railroad tracks, and I swear sometimes you you actually feel it as the brute got tossed around in tight traffic situations.

        Today I heard a Jesse Ventura interview, he said he paid $10K for optional wood trim on his Porsche interior!!

      • Bill McCoskey

        Thanks for the info. On the Lincolns the weights were fairly easy to spot. Did the Mopar engineers try to hide them better? How easy are they to spot? I’m thinking that perhaps my 2 cars still had them and I never noticed, because with both cars, I never experienced body shaking like on my 1965 & 66 Lincoln convertibles. [If my memory is functioning decently today], I think it was my 1966 Lincoln convert that was missing all 4 weights, I was told later that they were removed when the car was repainted, & left off the car because of a lazy painting staff, who figured no one would notice/care!

  4. Billyray

    Looks like a sound car. I owned one of these 10 yrs ago. These are very complex cars, and not easy to find parts for. Finding a mechanic that understands these cars can be very challenging. What surprised me most, was the lack of interest these cars elicit at car shows. Probably because most people have no idea what it is. However these cars have a small, cult of fans that wouldn’t consider anything else.

    Like 19
    • alphasud Member

      Same thing can be said of the Continental Convertible. Difficult cars to make right and expensive.

      Like 6
  5. Mimo

    Where’s Mr. Drysdale and Miss Jane?

    Like 19
    • Dale S

      I saw Miss Jane driving a ‘lowly’ red ’64 Dodge Polara convertible in one episode.

      Like 3
  6. nlpnt

    I always thought the Green Hornet car should’ve been…green. And in the 2011 Seth Rogen version it should’ve been an ’00s Chrysler 300 – seriously, they destroyed some by-then-rare ’60s Imperals for that movie.

    Like 5
  7. angliagt angliagt Member

    Don’t think I’ve ever seen a purple one before.
    Not one of the better colors for these.

    • Steve Clinton

      It was ‘Rosewood’ Mauve. I had a ’64 in this color.

      Like 3
      • Chuck Dickinson

        The 66 color was actually called “Lilac”, and it’s very similar to the 65 Chevy “Evening Orchid”. Different than “Rosewood Mauve”.

        Like 1
  8. Michael Hosier

    All I can think of is Milburn Drysdale pulling up to the Clampett’s house!

    Like 6
  9. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    My oldest brother (rip) was an Imperial lover and owner. He bought his first one in 1960, it was a blue 2 door hardtop model. He later bought a 65 model 4 door hardtop. He as the kind of guy that always had to have latest and greatest of everything. He was 84 when he passed a few years ago. I miss him everyday, he taught me a lot about life even though we didn’t have the same philosophy on life.
    God bless America

    Like 11
    • William R Hall

      My family inherited a 65 Imperial sedan, neat car that I liked from new. Unfortunately my brother somehow wiped out the right side. Then it blew a timing chain and probably bent a couple of valves. It was sold as a parts car.

      Like 1
  10. RichardinMaine

    This is beach resort cruise ready.” I got me a Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale, and it’s about to set sail….”

    Like 4
  11. Steve Clinton

    1966, when cars were cars and Imperials were land yachts.

    Like 7
  12. Bill McCoskey

    I had a triple black version about 30 years ago. Should never have sold it. Wonderful car, never had a problem with it, mechanicals all the same as regular Mopar cars. Trim parts for Imperials were [and are] made of unobtanium.

    Also owned a white 1964 Convertible, 1965 LeBaron, and one of the ten 1965 Ghia Imperial limousines.

    Like 6
    • Dale S

      On ‘Wheeler Dealers’ if Mike B. couldn’t find a part, he would take the broken part to a company that had a 3D printer, and they would make him a new one. Parts made of metal may be more complicated to manufacture, but as of 2019 can still be done.

      Like 2
  13. Charles Landreai

    Didn’t Bob Hope Drive one when he was sponsored buy Chrysler

    Like 1
  14. SDJames

    I grew up in Milbank. It was awesome watching Jim Gesswein and his guys pull cars out of the shed and fire them up, cruising through town once in awhile. I remember several Superbirds, a Hemi ‘cuda, a 66 Hemi Charger and lots of these Imperials. I drove a 71 Charger in high school and would stop by often to talk with him and his mechanics when they were working on them. In 1992, he bought the 35th Viper produced. I was 14 when I watched that big orange tractor/trailer with a viper on it pull up and Jim backed the car out and drove it around the parking lot. I still remember that rumble as he fired it up in the trailer! He had Vanderbrink do a sale last summer I believe, I wonder how many didn’t sell?

    Like 2
  15. ADM

    My 4th grade teacher drove a black, ’62 Imperial. The battle ax drove a battle tank.

    Like 5
    • TC Australia

      I wouldn’t call my 62 Imperial 2 door a battle tank but sitting behind the wheel it feels like you’re driving an aircraft carrier with the size of that hood, more like a landing deck, and it’s grey as well.

      Like 1
  16. Royal

    Wish it were some form of blue.

  17. John Klintz

    Love it; not only the “most desirable” American luxury car of the time, but the best engineered and best built. Awesome car! Agree with nplt; I also read that they destroyed several of these beautiful examples of American engineering to make the Green Hornet movie.

    Like 4

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