The cars we loved.
The Imperial name has a long history dating back to 1955 as being the premium marquee for Chrysler. Similar to today’s standard of larger automakers establishing premium brands with their own marketing and dealer networks. Imperial was its own brand until it’s resurgence in 1981 when it simply became the top car in Chrysler’s regular lineup. The automotive landscape had changed significantly for Chrysler from the heydays of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Sinking in red ink with dated platforms, the Chrysler Corporation needed an infusion of government loans to stay solvent. While the company was busy at work on the life saving K Car platform, it decided in the meantime that a flagship car would insure the public that it was alive and well. Hence, the Imperial name was dusted off and developed from the Chrysler Cordoba/Dodge Mirada platform. The Imperial was longer and heavier than its stablemates, but offered the most luxurious automotive experience available in any Chrysler during this dark chapter in the company’s history. It was so luxurious that there were virtually no options, save for a moon roof.
The car had its good and bad points. The best being what at the time looked like a derivative design. Actually, development of the car had started in 1977, a few years ahead of Cadillac’s Seville. By the time of it’s introduction, fresh off the heels of the debut of Cadillac’s stunning slantback Seville, the Chrysler was assumed to be a copycat. Not quite as successful as the Cadillac, it was attractive nevertheless (much better looking than Ford’s version of this style). The bad points were plenty. First, and foremost were quality issues. The Imperial was a hurried exercise in desperation. It featured old rear wheel drive technology , but inside sported a digital display that was very Japanese like in concept.
The Imperial unlike it’s Cadillac and Lincoln rivals and was plagued by quality control issues. Early cars had serious fuel injector problems. So bad that dealers took it upon themselves to install reliable old-tech carburetors from the Mirada in the Imperial. Frankly , from this vantage point in time I have never understood why Americans would repeatedly go back to GM, Ford and Chrysler cars when their products from this era were plagued with so many quality issues. Was the public so brainwashed with the USA#1 buy American rhetoric that it would buy based on the Union label at it’s own detrament? Chrysler hoped that was the case, but the public wasn’t biting this time.
The automotive press pointed out that at nearly 4,000lbs., the cars 5.2 L V8 felt underpowered and was at only 140hp. The car’s slippery shape helped in efficiency and even made the Imperial a short lived NASCAR racer due to better aerodynamics over the Mirada. Even with the NASCAR angle, the Imperial was a long way from the performance heritage of the HEMI powered cars of the Sixties.
In an effort to shore up sales, Chrysler offered a special edition of the Imperial called the FS, in honor of Frank Sinatra. Recardo Montalban must have been jealous having to settle for being just a spokesman for the Cordoba, when Frank Sinatra got his own version of the Imperial. Sinatra and Lee Iacocca were good friends, so having Franks name on an Imperial would do wonders for the car’s image, or so they though. Each FS came with a boxed set of 16 cassettes of Frank’s music to be played on the 30 watt stereo with Dolby noise reduction. A special concealed cassette storage console neatly anchored the stereo, offering flair and practicality. The limited edition cars were recognizable by their light blue metallic color and special FS badges (inside and out).
Recardo got the last laugh however (revenge is best served cold), as sales of the Cordoba outpaced the Imperial. The FS did little to boost sales to the point of saving the Imperial name or the company, but it was the most desirable of all Imperials from the early Eighties. The Imperial did establish Chrysler as a viable maker of American luxury cars, even if they were merely a shadow of their former selves.