During the halcyon days, the Big Three American automakers always worked on a monkey see, monkey do basis. As soon as one of the manufacturers scored a success with a particular concept, the others were soon to follow.
When it comes to top-of-the-line luxury cars, General Motors had its Cadillac division. Ford had the Lincoln. What was Chrysler going to do? Clearly, Walter Chrysler did not want to be left out of this lucrative and prestigious niche, so he had to do something. That something was the Chrysler Imperial.
The Chrysler Imperial was first introduced for the 1926 model year. It was powered by a 288.6 cubic inch engine, and it was good enough to enable the Imperial to break the existing transcontinental speed record.
This car was such a rock star that it was used as the pace car for the Indy 500 during that initial model year. The Imperial 80 was so named because it was capable of cruising at 80 miles an hour all day according to the company. That is quite impressive when you are talking about a 1926 motor vehicle.
An engineering barrier was broken with the design of the 1928 Chrysler Imperial L-80. It was the first Chrysler engine that was able to break the 100-horsepower mark with a 112 rating.
The Imperial was a top-of-the-line Chrysler from its inception through the 1954 model year. At that point the company decided that the Imperial should be a make, in and of itself, outside of Chrysler per se. You guessed it, just like Cadillac and Lincoln.
Virgil Exner was a top designer at Chrysler. Right around the time that the Imperial was becoming a brand of its own, Exner was putting his imprint on a new breed of car. He had a vision that he called the “Forward Look.” The early Imperial line embodied this look, with an unmistakable feature being the “gunsight” taillights.
If you can find a 1955 Imperial two-door Newport hardtop coupe you have located a rather rare American automobile. There were just over 3400 of them built. In all, 11,430 Imperial models were manufactured for the 1955 model year.
The Imperial lasted as its own brand through 1975. It was revived from 1981 through 1983, but that was the end of the road for Imperial as an automotive brand. The model was brought back as a top-of-the-line Chrysler from 1990 through 1993, but sales were dismal, and it was discontinued.
The company called the Imperial “America’s Most Carefully Built Car.” It was definitely a well-built, important vehicle that helped to further the cause of automotive engineering.