The History of Imperial, More Than Just a Car (Part XI)


We return once more to Imperial today and find ourselves in 1967. The earlier portion of the Sixties was a turbulent time for Imperial, as the D-body soldiered on from 1957 through 1966 model years as the Imperial marque’s second-generation car. In 1967, Imperial’s lead designer Elwood Engel managed Imperial’s transition to a new shared platform. Say hello to C.

The flagship luxury Imperial no longer resided on its own special body-on-frame platform, as it migrated to Chrysler’s largest C-body for 1967. While the C platform was a unibody and certainly more modern than the outgoing D-body, the latter had long been known for granite-like strength and garnered Imperial its reputation as the driver’s luxury car of choice. Chrysler felt after the rest of its lineup made the switch to unibody for 1960 that it had enough engineering experience to switch Imperial over, too. The D-body was also fairly ancient by 1966, and Chrysler had introduced the modern C-body for its cars in 1965.

Imperial shared the C-body with all of Chrysler’s large cars of the period: Town & Country, Newport, 300, and New Yorker. While it was a new product direction for Imperial as a brand, it was certainly not the first time Chrysler’s flagship shared a platform with New Yorker and company. Recall that through the Forties and Fifties Imperial was essentially a trim variant of the largest Chryslers after it fell from its coach-built beginnings. The separation of the Imperial brand in 1955 was intended to put an end to sharing and similarity. Alas, money was tight, and sales no longer justified a unique platform for a single model.

Imperial’s wheelbase shrank by two inches to 127 with its swap to the C-body. Other dimensions withered too: Overall length was 224.7 inches, down from 227.8 the year prior. Width fared better, as shoulder-pad wearing occupants made do with 79.6 inches of overall width instead of 80. Overall height increased against the long and low grain of the era, from 55.8 to 56.7 inches. Imperial was still longer than any Chrysler, with its luxury-enhancing inches added out in front of the wheels. A comparable New Yorker in 1967 was just 218.2 inches long. The new platform helped reel in the Imperials heft, as the 1967 model topped out at 5,200 pounds over the D-body’s chunky 5,500. If either of those figures sounds outlandish for a passenger car, remember the current Cadillac Escalade weighs between 5,600 and 5,800 pounds.

Production moved with the new model, from Warren Avenue Assembly (Detroit) where it had been since 1963, and back to Jefferson Avenue Assembly, Imperial’s more historic production location. Imperials were also built at Belvidere Assembly in Belvidere, Illinois. It was the first time a production Imperial was built outside the Detroit metro area.

Imperial returned with four body styles, one more than in 1966. On offer were the two-door hardtop coupe and convertible, four-door hardtop, and the returning band member not seen since 1960: A most basic four-door sedan. Series nomenclature this year was CY1 (M, H) as Imperial lacked a “base” model designation once again, though there was a base Imperial without a secondary trim name attached. Mid-level trim was the Crown, and again flagship was LeBaron. Though it had a shared platform, Imperial had its own body panels and was not a badge swap of the New Yorker.

Elwood Engel continued the general Continental-like styling direction he’d established on the Imperial’s Exner-free rework in 1964. The most notable throwback was the full-width grille up front, with quad integrated headlamps that lost their housing of the prior year. Block lettering at the front returned to Imperial, now within the grille instead of atop it. The leading chrome strip along the hood and body side that was present on Imperial for years disappeared, as body chrome moved low on the door. Hard slab-sided body lines grew softer and headed toward the fuselage design that would Define Chrysler for much of the Seventies. Wheels were not as deeply inset into the body, as late Sixties cars moved away from “bathtub on piano wheels” setups. Door handles became push button and grab handle design, and were no longer flush like the prior year. Wrap-around windshields, a detail of the past, were gone, and the roof treatment was a bit thinner and more glassy. Also gone was the faux continental kit bulge at the trunk. The Imperial’s new rear end was much less rocket inspired and went for a horizontal slats look with a grille that mimicked the front. Carried over was the large imperial logo in the center of the rear, which functioned as a fuel door.

Interior styling wasn’t far removed from the year prior. The dash was still sweeping and horizontal, though now was angled away from front passengers instead of towards them. Dials and controls were all horizontal in design, with buttons and switches that were more integrated into the dash rather than on separate pods near the driver. Vents became integrated into the dash instead of mounted underneath. The steering wheel was exactly the same as in 1966.

The incredibly rare Ghia-built Imperial Limousine was no more and moved to a more practical type of construction and location. Chrysler hired the Ambruster-Stageway company to build its Imperial limousines. A name change meant the special limo was now called Imperial LeBaron Limousine; the historic Crown Imperial name was dropped. Based in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Ambruster was a company famous for making six-door limos used for airport transportation, and other very long commercial vehicles. For limousine orders, Ambruster added 36 inches to Imperial, most of which went to the car’s midsection. There was also a short extension between the rear door and wheel well. Middle row passengers faced the rear in the 1967 Limousine, unlike prior limos that used a jump seat setup. Between the rows was a sideboard for drinks. The resulting 260.7-inch car was longer than a Ghia car ever reached, and for marketing purposes was also longer than a Cadillac Series 75.

A new option to Imperial this year was Mobile Director, available only on the Imperial Crown coupe. The executive option allowed the front passenger seat to face the rear, where a table and desk lamp folded over the back seat. The general idea was an executive could work facing the rear while his driver headed toward the office. Said executive would sit in the back seat if he had a secretary with him, who could do work in the rear-facing front seat. The unusual option package cost $317.60 in 1968, or $2,558 adjusted. It was so pricy that only 81 Crown Coupes were fitted with Mobile Director, and the option was dropped after 1968.

Carried over from 1966 was the new Wedge V8, the 440 (7.2L). The big-block was paired to the same three-speed TorqueFlite A727 as before. In other engineering news, power brakes with front discs were standard. No longer standard was dual exhaust, which was only offered with the TNT engine package. TNT added 15 horsepower to the 440 via twin inlets on the air cleaner.

The new platform and redesign improved Imperial’s sales in 1967 by about 28 percent, as Chrysler sold 17,614. By 1968 Chrysler was winding down its first generation of the C-body. Aside from Imperial, its C cars had been on sale since 1965, and Chrysler was preparing to head a new styling direction. For 1968 the Imperial’s series was renamed DY1 (M, H), and little was changed from the model’s debut year. Bumpers retained their battering ram detailing, which extended into revised corner lamps that wore the grille’s slatted design. The resulting look was more modern and streamlined than 1967, with a simpler and larger grille design that was split down the middle but only by a small trim strip. Buyers of 1968 went without a proud hood ornament, as the Imperial fowl moved into the middle of the grille. The rear-eagle fuel door was now made of metal instead of plastic. The base model unlabeled Imperial ended as a single-year offering, as it was canceled and the four-door pillared sedan became a Crown instead. Customers who wanted an Imperial convertible bought in during 1968, as the model was about to fall by the wayside forever.

Sales dropped as customers anticipated fuselage looks the following year, to 15,361. Of that figure, 1,887 were base Crown sedans, and 8,492 were Crown hardtops. The unpopular Crown convertible sold only 474 examples in its final outing, while the top-tier LeBaron four-door sold 1,852. Pricing for a base sedan was $5,653 ($46,077 adj.), and it was a small step up to the Crown hardtop at $6,114 ($49,835 adj.). Crown coupes asked $5,721($46,631 adj.), while a convertible was much more dear at $6,522 ($53,160 adj.). The LeBaron made no apologies for its $6,939 ($56,559 adj.) ask.

By 1968 the early Sixties Continental styling of the Imperial looked very upright and conservative among other large car competitors that had gone longer, lower, and wider over the decade. The following year saw an all-new Imperial once more, as Chrysler introduced its enormous Fuselage Look Imperials of 1969. More on that in Part XII.

[Images: Imperial]

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