Tag Archives: Chrysler Corporation

Bow before the Crown

The 1961 Imperial: rich, regal... Reichstag?

The 1961 Imperial: rich, regal… Reichstag?

There’s something vaguely disturbing about these ads for the 1961 Imperial.

Yes, I just said ‘Imperial’, because at the time, it was a top-end standalone marque of the Chrysler Corporation, not a model of the Chrysler division.

"The eagle won't let them touch this car, trust me."

“The eagle won’t let them touch this car, trust me.”

While all the signifiers of mid-century high society are present in the ad – a glamorous women dressed for a night out, minimalist background, GOLD EVERYWHERE – a strange undercurrent runs through these ads.

For some reason, I can’t view these ads without thinking of the Nuremburg Rallies and Nazi architect Albert Speer.

Maybe it’s the grandiose style of it all, but when you add all that glittering, finned excess to the somewhat menacing artwork, the minorities treated as a zoo exhibit, and the eagle, that (in my books) equals a passcode to a dangerous and powerful secret society.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these sedans parked outside an Eyes Wide Shut-style Illuminati sex party.


 Imperial: the rich uncle that keeps re-appearing


The Imperial name is firmly fixed to the Chrysler brand. After all, it was the ‘affordable luxury’ model that put the fledgling company on the map in 1926.

Since then, it has come and gone from the lineup, re-appearing most recently in the early 1990s as a luxury sedan positioned above the New Yorker. Previously, it had served as a problem-plagued flagship coupe (1981-83).

A monstrous and possibly demonic Imperial concept car was unveiled in 2006, though it came to nothing.

The ’61 model seen here came from (or grew out of) a revered era at Chrysler.

To better allow Chrysler to challenge Lincoln and Cadillac, Imperial was turned into its own range-topping marque in 1955, where it would stay until 1975.

Movie star and super-stud Gary Cooper chats up Jane Russell and her '57 Imperial.

Movie star and super-stud Gary Cooper chats up Jane Russell and her ’57 Imperial.

Just like with Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler, the low, finned ‘Forward Look’ styling of designer Virgil Exner was applied to Imperial in 1957, generating great acclaim, but by the turn of the new decade (after numerous tweaks and add-ons) it was looking awkward and dated.

The dawn of the 1960s was an all-around confusing time for Chrysler design, though Imperial at least didn’t have to contend with downsizing. That didn’t mean a large, long car couldn’t be made to look strange, however.

Virgil Exner, former Chrysler design head (Image via)

Virgil Exner, ex Chrysler design head (Image via)

1961 brought an edgy new front end for the Imperial, with odd freestanding headlights perched atop the bumper and recessed into a fender cut. Ahead of the rear axle, the look was cohesive and reasonably appealing, but the bat wing tailfins throw the whole design into confused disarray.

Seemingly out of good ideas, Virgil Exner was ousted from his position of head of design in 1962. His successor (Elwood Engel, formerly of Ford) brought Imperial away from the heights of outlandishness and towards a more conventional, simple design.

And so he did. Sharp lines and Lusitania-like length was the name of the game for the rest of the decade, before the ‘fuselage’ bodied Imperials bowed in 1969.

While the Kennedy Era was short-lived, it was memorable for both its experimentation and its focus on style and grace.

Some cars from this era – like the 1961 Continental – became timeless icons of tasteful American design. Others, such as this Imperial, can best be filed under ‘tired relics of 1950s excess’.

In its defence, at least it didn’t start a war.

Albert Speer's 'Cathedral of Light', Germany, 1937 (Image via)

Albert Speer’s ‘Cathedral of Light’, Germany, 1937 (Image via)


Special K

Reagan-era pride: 1982-83 Chrysler LeBaron, spotted in Gatineau, Quebec.

Reagan-era pride: 1982-83 Chrysler LeBaron, spotted in Gatineau, Quebec.

It was, and still is, a status symbol born of 1980s America.

The Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Loved by many (especially Lee Iacocca and Jon Voight*), it was the first spin-off of the 1981 K-car architecture, and brought top-down motoring back to U.S. shores.




Sadly, you don’t see many of these soft-tops plying the roadways anymore.

This 1982-83 example ditched the Town & Country’s fake wood veneer in favour of some sporty red pinstripes. All in all, it’s not in bad shape, though spots of rust are forming and the trim – like that of many old models – is starting to become misaligned.

Ricardo Montalban doing what he did best - hocking Chryslers.

Ricardo Montalban doing what he did best – hocking Chryslers.

While the LeBaron name had been used on and off by Chrysler for some time, it is these 1980s front-wheel-drive compacts that people most associate with the name.

Hot on the heels of the bankruptcy-busting 1981 Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant twins, Chrysler’s 1982 introduction of the LeBaron sedan, coupe, wagon and convertible helped squeeze as many products as possible from an existing platform (in order to put the company’s finances firmly in the black).

Joined by its stablemate, the Dodge 400, the new ‘Super-K’ aimed to bring luxury to the still-novel domain of front-wheel-drive American vehicles.

At the time, the U.S. was still struggling from the effects of a recession and high gas prices brought on by the Iranian Revolution. Value for money was everything, which explains why Americans flocked to buy the cheap-but-roomy Aries and Reliant starting on Day 1.

In order to capitalize on the success of the first year K-cars and solidify the company’s comeback, Chrysler Corporation released a now-famous television commercial starring chairman/saviour Lee Iacocca.

Iacocca enticed potential buyers with an old-fashioned sales pitch that culminated in the iconic line, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”

Mechanically, the early K-derived LeBarons harnessed the same hardware as their lesser brethren.

A carbureted 2.2-litre four-cylinder made 84 horsepower and 111 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 3-speed Torqueflight automatic transmission or less-common 4-speed manual.

The man's desire for Chryslers was insatiable.

The man’s desire for Chryslers was insatiable.

Optional was the 2.6-litre four borrowed from the Mitsubishi Astron. Also carbureted, this hefty 4-banger made 114 hp and 146 lb-ft, and served as the K-class upgrade engine until the Chrysler-made 2.5-litre came on board in 1986.

Starting in 1984, LeBaron owners could outfit their ride with a turbo version of the 2.2 and finally enjoy top-end performance (the stock engine was tuned for low-end torque, but ran out of steam fast).

Despite not being designed for it, the 2.2 proved to be very adaptable – several increasingly powerful versions of the turbo 2.2 were built before the engine ceased production in the mid-1990s.

While their numbers dwindle each year, we can find comfort in the fact that LeBaron convertibles will always live on through their many movie and TV appearances.

‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ (1987) features many memorable road trip scenes in a LeBaron Town & Country, while a 1994 episode of Seinfeld immortalized the same model as the too-good-to-be-true ‘Jon Voight car’.

Long live the Jon Voight car.

Mr. Belvedere

1966 Plymouth Belvedere, spotted in Aylmer, Quebec.

1966 Plymouth Belvedere, spotted in Aylmer, Quebec.

Call it a sleeper.

When people think of 1960s Chrysler Corporation collectibles, the mind usually turns (almost exclusively) to the years 1968 and ’69, and the hot muscle cars cranked out by Dodge and Plymouth.

Brash, in-your-face, and often sporting vivid colours to alert cops from afar, those rides oozed appeal but they aren’t – oh, what’s the word – subtle.

Go back a few years further, and you’d find there was still muscle to be had, only with a side of anonymity.

The 1966 Plymouth Belvedere is a good example of that – a car that could drag race on a country road but wouldn’t appear out of place in a church parking lot.

Inside this grandpa car lurks pure, raw POWER. Beware.

Inside this grandpa car lurks pure, raw POWER. Beware.

The Belvedere was Plymouth’s bread and butter midsize, sandwiched between the compact Valiant and the full-size Fury.

Spanning a number of body styles, the Belvedere line included the Belvedere I and II trim levels, as well as the top-level Belvedere Satellite, available only as a two door.

After spending the early 1960s in a state of confusion trying to figure out its styling direction, Chrysler Corp. entered 1966 with a firm commitment to the slab-sided look, which adorned everything from lowly Plymouths to top-end Imperials.

The razor-edged styling motif, which served to emphasize the vehicles’ length, continued until the Fuselage Era of 1969-1974.

1966 was also the year Chrysler began hitting the gym and showing off.

The fastback Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger bowed that year, the latter backed by a youth-oriented ‘Dodge Rebellion’ advertising campaign.

It's got the power. The top-level Belvedere engine made 425 horsepower.

It’s got the power. The top-level Belvedere engine made 425 horsepower.

The corporation capitalized on the success of its vehicles – including the Belvedere – in the hands of NASCAR drivers like Richard Petty, inserting those wins into ad material to bolster its growing street cred.

Midsizers often prove to be versatile vehicles, and the Belvedere was eager to be anything its owner wanted it to be.

With a 225 c.i.d. Slant-Six serving as a base engine, the Belvedere could be equipped with a vast array of V-8s. A 273 c.i.d. with 180 hp, a 318 with 230hp, a 361 with 265 hp, and a Commando 383 with 325 hp were available, as was the range-topping 426 Plymouth Street Hemi.

That engine, introduced in 1966, made 425 horsepower and 490 ft-lbs of torque. When coupled with the Belvedere’s fairly light midsize body, the engine was a performance monster.

The Belvedere spotted here sported ‘383’ badges and the popular and bulletproof 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic. No doubt it could lay some rubber in a hurry. But, if you were to take away the white letter tires and sport rims, there’d be little to give away this car’s performance secret.

In a word: discreet.

The early rumblings of the muscle car could be heard in 1966.

The early rumblings of the muscle car could be heard in 1966.

Big and topless

1968 Dodge Monaco 500 convertible, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

1968 Dodge Monaco 500 convertible, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

I’ve said it for years – there’s something about Chrysler products from the late ’60s/early ’70s that make them seen invincible.

It just feels that regardless of what damage they could sustain – even a frame bent 90 degrees – the menacing Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodges would just get mad… and then get even.

Too many car chase movies in my youth, I guess.

The example of Mopar muscle seen here – a slightly battered 1968 Dodge Monaco 500 droptop – was once the pinnacle of luxury motoring for the Dodge division. Not just any Monaco, the massive, top-level 500 was two tonnes of compliant driving enjoyment.

Luxury conveniences were plentiful, while the power any driver of a menacing Hippie-era Dodge needed was instantly on tap. A 383-cubic inch V-8 making 330 horsepower was mated to a bulletproof 3-speed Torqueflight automatic with console shifter.

The Monaco and Monaco 500 coupes, sedans and convertibles were all based on the forgettable Dodge Custom 880 (the division’s hastily-prepared full-size offering), which ran from 1962 to 1965. The Monaco replaced the 880 in the U.S. market in 1966, and in Canada in 1967.

While the American Monaco had a 383 as the standard engine, the thrifty Canadian marketplace demanded that it also come with the 318, as well as the 225 Slant-6.

Doing what a '74 Monaco always seemed to do best (image: www.imcdb.org)

Doing what a ’74 Monaco always seemed to do best… (image: www.imcdb.org)

Looking at the bruised-but-still-kicking convertible pictured above, some of the menace fades from its visage when you imagine a Valiant-worthy Slant 6 under its hood.

While the Monaco soldiered on well into the Malaise Era (earning it lasting fame as The Blues Brothers’ car), the 500 option was scrapped after 1971. After splitting the nameplate into ‘Monaco’ (formerly, the Coronet) and full-size ‘Royal Monaco’ in 1977, a bankruptcy-bound Chrysler Corporation was forced to kill off both the following year.

Serving as the ubiquitous cop car in countless 1970s films and TV shows, the stodgy-but-tough Monaco saw its media presence last well into the ’80s, thanks to its durability and cheap resale value. Look to any episode of The Dukes of Hazzard for proof of this.