Wiring Gremlins: 1981 Chrysler Imperial

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The Imperial nameplate enjoyed a 50-year run at Chrysler as a luxury car before taking a sabbatical in 1975. The company resurrected the marque in 1981 as a personal luxury automobile. Since Chrysler had fallen on hard times, the car only lasted three model years with total production just north of 12,400 units. This first-year example is described as a driver-condition vehicle that’s got a gremlin or two in its electronics. From Palm Springs, California, this Imperial is available here on craigslist for $5,500. Sleuthing efforts from Rocco B. brought us this tip!

Chrysler drew from the second-generation Cordoba platform (Series YS) as the basis for this rendition of the Imperial. Styling to the rear of the car had a wee bit of the “bustle-back” like Cadillac would soon do with its revived Seville luxury sedan. The cars did the best they could in the performance department with Chrysler’s tried-and-true 318 cubic-inch V8 – that with fuel injection was capable of 140 hp. 0-to-60 came at the leisurely pace of 13.4 seconds (but could top out a 107 mph if you felt the need). Two-thirds of the revived Imperial’s production came in 1981 at 8,133 units.  That would trickle off to 1,500+ units in 1983 before the experiment came to an end.

We’re told the car looks better in photos than in person, but not many of them are provided. The paint is not original but it’s the same shade of blue that the Frank Sinatra editions came in. The seller says the interior is okay although there is one tear in the upholstery. The seller estimates the car’s mileage to be 120,000 from some receipts and other documentation, yet the odometer is showing half that.

Mechanically, the machine is in great shape and runs well except that you have to disconnect the battery every time you drive it or it will drain down the battery. There’s an issue somewhere that the seller has not gotten around to tracking down, so the buyer gets to have that bit of fun. For Californians, it’s noteworthy that this Chrysler has just passed its smog test. The seller has run out of room at his/her digs, so the Imperial has to go.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. angliagt angliagtMember

    Looks like something Sinatra would drive.

    Like 5
    • Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

      Yeah, he should’ve kept the Dual Ghia..

      Like 2
  2. alphasudMember

    I believe this was Lee Iacocca’s first flop. Story goes Frank’s car had so many problems it hurt his friendship with Lee. Not a bad looking car and the best Chrysler could do during its darkest hour before the K car came on scene to save the company. I kind of like it and I bet it’s a comfortable place to be as long as you are not pushing it.

    Like 14
    • FireAxeGXP

      Wrongo! Iacocca had zilch to do with the Imperial. The car was designed and approved and ready for production. Lee came in after all this and claimed he would have preferred to have either stopped the project or delayed it as he was aware that Chrysler’s new EFI was big trouble. These cars were all hand built on a single line. Only veteran Chrysler body guys (10 years experience minimum) were allowed to work the line. As a result much of their quality was miles better than what else was on the road.at the time.
      The “story” about Frank Sinatra being displeased with his is just that. A story. Made up hokum. In fact Sinatra went to the trouble of writing Iacocca a personal letter praising the beauty and quality of the car.
      Sadly the crap EFI and low production, due mostly to the hand built nature of the production line, made the Imperial an easy target for cost cutting. My best friends Dad had an 82 in the Smoky Rose colour. It would fly along all day at 85 which was big doings to us kids who got our licences during the miserable Jimmy Carter leftover 55 MPH speed limit.

      Like 7
      • alphasudMember

        That may be your account of how it went down but Lee was very much involved in this project using a similar formula he used while at FoMoCo with the Continental. Here is a article that backs this up.


        Like 0
      • NHDave

        And, except that the national 55-mph speed limit was signed into law in January 1975 by President Gerald Ford.

        Like 0
      • Darryl Theus

        I loved the car. Tried to get my dad to buy one, but he went with the 5th Avenue instead.

        Like 0
      • CCFisher

        Lee Iacocca came to Chrysler in 1978. He had plenty of time to stop the Imperial.

        Like 1
    • NHDave

      A clarification… President Richard Nixon signed an emergency act a year earlier, January 1974, that created the uniform speed limit, and Ford signed the law that made it permanent a year later. Sorry for not distinguishing that.

      Like 0
  3. Bud Lee

    Say what you want. This is a great looking car. You could Hellcat this into the ultimate sleeper or make it a Charger tribute or 300 or Roadrunner or GTX etc…. One of you Dodge guys should go for it.

    Like 17
    • Stan

      Torally agree 👍 even a truck sourced 318ci or 360ci “magnum” would be real sweet. Great lines on these Mopars

      Like 11
  4. George Louis

    Check the glove box light and trunk light for not shutting off when closed, for your battery drain draw.

    Like 4
  5. Dave Brown

    It is a truly beautiful automobile. The mechanicals were typical for the time and most cars were slow compared to today. I wish that less panels were shared with Cordoba/Miranda as it cheapened the Imperial. But, nonetheless, this is a beautiful car in any company.

    Like 14
    • Big Bear 🇺🇸

      Yes Dave they where beautiful cars. I remember seeing these being delivered to the dealership I was working at. Each Imperial was marked for the customer that ordered it. The early imperials hood ornaments were made of real crystal. Unfortunately they were being stolen off the cars. So Chrysler change it to a quality plastic or glass.They have problems with the fuel injection I remembered. And if any Imperial was in the shop they had top priority over any other vehicle. And if it needed parts I had to drive to the Chrysler parts Depot get the parts the same day and bring it back so the mechanic could fix it. They were very comfortable vehicles drove like a cloud. It’s a shame it only came with 318. I wish they put the 360 four barrel. I’m trying to remember the issue with the battery drained down. I think it has something to do with the alternator or one of the electronic components. Good luck to anybody who gets this. 😂🇺🇸

      Like 18
      • Don Gulyban

        Yes I believe it was in the voltage regulator and not hard to fix

        Like 0
  6. Jim A

    I was an engineer at the plant making these. I remember Frank and his friend Gregory Peck visiting to see the first Fran Sinatra specials. Still think it’s a great looking car.

    Like 25
  7. Joe Machado

    I live 16 miles from this Imperial, but it’s too new for my taste.
    I have been trying to obtain the number 67 Arrington Imperial.
    Slow going though.
    It qualified at Talladega in a field that all went over 200 mph.
    That one interest me

    Like 7
  8. Big C

    So, Sinatra was already losing his mind, back in ’81? When he agreed to put his name on this dog?

    Like 3
  9. Sam61

    Hopefully old blue eyes wasn’t left standing in the rain after the efi crapped out on his comp car.

    I do like these….would love to have a bustle back Seville and imperial…still mixed on the Lincoln.

    Would like feedback if anyone has seen a bustle back imperial limo in the metal.

    Like 2
  10. Rick

    If I had to diagnose the battery drain problem I’d begin by removing the bulb from the trunk light. That light staying on and draining the battery was a common problem back in the day.

    Like 13
    • TJDasen2

      My thoughts exactly. I bought a new Fleetwood that suffered the same malady. After two weeks in the shop, (and thousands of dollars of warranty work) it turned out to be the trunk bulb staying lit.

      Like 4
    • Bear Davidson

      I worked at a dealership until 1980 until the owner retired and closed up.
      Back then the dash clock also was found to run the battery down.

      Like 3
    • Bryan

      A friend had a yellow 82 Imperial years ago with a battery drain issue. Turned out that it was a bad light switch in the glove box…the bulb would stay on (easy fix).

      Like 2
    • PRA4SNW

      No matter what i causing the battery drain, it probably wouldn’t take more than an hour or two to track it down.
      If it gets you a car for a reduced price, it can be an easy fix.

      Like 2
  11. Joe S.

    Still love this generation of Imperial-Mirada-Cordoba. The 318 4bbl motor of the period would have been more appropriate than the known ‘crap shoot’ EFI. Not much better than the 1958 roll out disaster.

    Like 0
  12. Kelly MacGregor

    I went to Law School in the early 1980s in Windsor, Ontario, where these cars were built. I remember storage lots around the city literally overflowing with Imperials, which I assume could not be sold as quickly as Chrysler would have liked.

    Like 2
    • Sam61

      Total tangent…we had a local/national motor sports journalist, Robin Miller (RIP), who liked to comment about frequenting the Windsor “ballet” whenever covering the Detroit Grandprix. Robi was a no-no sense straight shooter with great stories and inside dope.

      Like 4
  13. Idiot Boy

    This doesn’t quite compare to Break(ing) Away in a Wide Track, but times change and Pontiac never went as far as creating a special ‘ol Blue Eyes edition of the ‘69 GP. This is a styling standout for 1981 and has stood the test of time quite well. Worth a modern crate Hemi conversion.

    Like 5
  14. Reg Bruce

    Does this have the F. I. still installed? Most of these had that TRW system replaced under warranty with what we half-jokingly called “The Coffin Fix” because the complete kit of new parts to complete the repair/update (new intake, carb. etc. etc.) came in this long, narrow box.
    The biggest cause of poor engine performance we found was because the optical fuel sensor “clouded over” and the computer could not accurately sense how much was needed = default to full-rich mixture. As far as I am aware there never was a completely satisfactory fix for this issue hence Chrysler opted for the safer route of a carb. conversion. And yes, it was CARB approved!

    Like 2
    • Guardstang

      I worked at a Chrysler Plymouth dealer 85 to 86 and a tech told me he hated diagnosing problems on these because the car would not run without the air filter assembly installed. Much of the job was removing and installing the assembly and then checking progress

      Like 1
    • George Louis

      This fuel injection system was designed and built by Chrysler Huntsville Electronics Operations, Huntsville, Alabama. The key component was the Fuel Support Plate made at Huntsville and not TRW. Mopar Parts Division came up with a Remanufacturer to rebuild the fuel support plate. Once this supplier came on board they did a good job at solving the problem.The ful support plate at one time was the NUMBER ONE CAR DOWN ITEM at Mopar, once the Remanufacurer came one board this item went away as the number one CAR DOWN item.

      Like 1
  15. Gary Bregel

    My dad had one of these cars back in the day but his was dark brown in color. I believe he got it when it was a year or 2 old. I got to drive it once in awhile, I sure loved this car, brings back memories.

    Like 3
  16. Charles R. Wirt

    As to the electrical problem, start pulling fuses then a test light, could narrow it down with little trouble.

    Like 0
  17. rayburn

    I had an 81, great driving car. That is a steel for that one!

    Like 1
  18. Emel

    I luved the styling of these Imperials. And of course I was in the minority.
    Of course I neither shop at Walmart or eat at McDonalds or BK or Taco Bell, etc. etc.
    It’s better being in the minority other than the ignorance is bliss thing ! lol

    Like 1
  19. ramblergarage

    We owned a lot of Chrysler products from that era and every one ended up with a bad alternator.

    Like 0
  20. Peter T.

    I am the owner of said vehicle and did not really appreciate this being titled “Wiring Gremlins”. I was very frank and honest in my ad for the car and the people that have come to see the car have commented on how much better it is in person than I described. Also, the electrical draining issue that has been commented on by several people on this post is not a major issue. I don’t drive the car but, once in a great while and therefore the battery has to be disconnected. My mechanic says that the drain is 1.7 volts or less and if driven with any regularity would not be a major issue but, should be tracked down anyway.

    Like 0
    • Arthur Nordfors

      Did this ever get sold?
      Peter did the imperial ever get Sold?

      Like 0
  21. Joe S.

    Regarding parasitic draw, 50 mA is considered the max allowable universally. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    Like 0

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