An Extremely Rare Isdera Imperator 108i From 1991


You might recall Rare Rides featured an Isdera not long ago, a silver Spyder 036i from 1991. Today we return to the exclusive German marque to learn about their flagship sports coupe.

Let’s check out the Imperator.

The Imperator was the basis for the rebodied and roofless Spyder 036i. The Imperator entered production in 1984, and was at its base the reason Eberhard Schulz created the Isdera company. Though the brand’s first offering was the Spyder 033 in 1982, the Imperator had its roots in a Mercedes concept made before Isdera existed.

The Mercedes-Benz CW311 design study debuted in 1978 and was never intended for production. Solely a technical exercise, the striking CW311 was penned by Schulz himself. Schulz was previously an engineer at Mercedes, but at the time was employed at Porsche. He drew up the CW311 during his free time. The design stuck with Schulz, who pestered Mercedes about releasing their ownership of the design to him so he could build it. They relented, and Schulz set about making the CW311 come to life. Imperator was a go.

Imperator was made from a fiberglass shell over a space frame made of tubular steel. The design was not changed much from the original CW311. Initially, the Imperator used a roof-mounted rear-view periscope instead of door mirrors but said door mirrors replaced the periscope (optionally) in a 1991 refresh. The coupe’s gullwing doors were lifted straight from the CW311’s design, though its headlamps were initially sealed with clear lenses instead of the CW’s drop-down headlamp doors. The aforementioned 1991 refresh brought along the original headlamp look from the CW311.

The Imperator’s V8 was in the middle and drove the rear wheels, but the engine used varied by model year. Initially an M117 5.0-liter V8, the first Imperators could travel to 60 in five seconds flat, and on to a top speed of 176. Engine developments at Mercedes flowed to the Imperator too, and later on, the 108i was fitted with the 5.6-liter version of the M117, as well as 5.0- and 6.0-liter examples of AMG-tuned V8s for even more Germanic thrust. One transmission was available throughout its life: a five-speed manual by ZF from the Mercedes lineup.

Imperator was built slowly and methodically and remained in production through 1993 before its replacement by the even crazier Commendatore. In the end, a total of 30 Imperators were produced. Of those, roughly 17 were facelift cars like today’s ’91 example. Priced by request, it’s presently available in left-hand drive and located in London.

[Images: Isdera]

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