Curbside Classic: 1978 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham – A Most Imperial Chrysler

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What’s in a name? When it comes to vintage Mopar land yachts, the name means a lot–in some cases, success or failure. Take the Imperial marque, for instance. Intended to move Chrysler more into Cadillac and Lincoln territory, it never really took off despite attractive design and plenty of luxury features. But for many, it was always a “Chrysler Imperial,” and thus not as prestigious as a Continental or Sedan de Ville. That was what ultimately brought the Imperial to a grinding halt in 1975–but the car lived on for 1976 under an assumed identity.

1974 Chrysler-Plymouth-16-17 (800x401)

The chronic Mopar misfortune held steady through the ’70s. In 1974, all their new full-size C-bodies, from the Plymouth Fury to the Imperial LeBaron, were redone with more formal and Broughamier sheetmetal. Although not drastically different size-wise from their fuselage predecessors, they looked bigger. And when the gas crisis hit in late 1973, just as the ’74s were debuting, Chrysler got screwed–again. Despite the company’s continuing bad luck, all their new models were attractive despite styling cribbed directly from GM–something especially noticeable in the Plymouth Fury’s Oldsmobile 88 cues, and in the Dodge Monaco, which looked suspiciously like a 1973 Buick LeSabre.

1974 Imperial-10-11

At the top of the heap was the Imperial LeBaron, arguably the most attractive car of the bunch–as well it should have been, considering its premium $7,200-7,800 pricing. The Imperial’s 124″ wheelbase was the same as lesser New Yorkers and Newports, but the car itself was longer overall and featured exclusive hidden headlights; button-tufted upholstery, in velour or optional leather; and four-wheel disc brakes.

But it didn’t sell: After selling just 14,483 1974 models and a mere 8,830 ’75s, the Imperial finally left the building–well, at least in name…

1976 Chrysler-01

For the car did reappear–prominently displayed on the cover of the 1976 Chrysler brochure–no longer as an Imperial, but a New Yorker Brougham. In reality, it was the plain-Jane Newport that had been discontinued for 1975. All the other Chrysler nameplates got either an upgrade or a downgrade depending on the model: The ’75 Newport Custom was now the ’76 Newport; the ’75 New Yorker Brougham became the ’76 Newport Custom; and the ’75 Imperial LeBaron was the ’76 New Yorker Brougham.

1975 Plymouth Fury-01

Confusing? You bet, but Chrysler was strapped for cash and this was the best they could do at the time. And don’t forget that the midsize ’74 Satellite became the 1975 “small Fury”, as biggie ’75 Plymouths all wore the Gran Fury moniker! With these changes added to the ’76 Coronet becoming the “new” midsize ’77 Monaco (all big Dodges became Royal Monacos in ’77; the RM moniker debuted as the top big Dodge in ’75), Mopar shoppers likely got a headache trying to figure out what was what.

1977 Chrysler Brochure-03

Strangely, it worked, at least for the big Chrysler. The ’76 NYB, still available in coupe and sedan models, sold far better than the ’75 Imperial, and Chrysler likely laughed all the way to the bank. The Chrysler-ized Imperial was a bit less well-equipped than the Imperial had been–the four-wheel discs reverted to front discs/rear drums, for instance–but customers didn’t seem to care. In fact, despite the lower price of the NYB, many probably sold for Imperial money, since most buyers wanted all the power options that had been standard on the Imperial and now cost extra.

1977 Chrysler Brochure-04

Chrysler did attempt to cheap out on the 1977 model. The super-deluxe “lawyer’s desk chair” upholstery that had been standard on all ’76s became an option in ’77. The standard ’77 interior, shown above, was just not as snazzy for a car with the New Yorker Brougham mantle. The Newport-like interior disappeared almost as fast as it came, and once again the ’78s were equipped with button-tufted goodness as standard equipment.

1978 Chrysler-02-03

Nineteen seventy-eight was the last year for the big New Yorker. Chrysler’s lineup was shrinking–the Dodge Royal Monaco, Plymouth Gran Fury, and Chrysler Town & Country wagon had all disappeared at the end of 1977–but you could still get a big, “luxy” Chrysler, by golly!

P1260090

You could still get white leather, too, as shown on this triple-white NYB shown on newyorkeronline.org. Sure, it sucked gas, but it was one of the last no-compromise full-size (and I mean FULL-SIZE!) cars on the market. Screw CAFE, I’m getting a Brougham, dagnabit!

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Not too much was new in its final model year, but you could tell a ’78 by its revised waterfall grille and pinstriping along the lower swag line. It was also a milestone car of sorts, as it and its Newport sibling were the last pillarless hardtops made and, thanks to JPCavanaugh, I now know that this was also the last die-cast grille on an American car.

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As you would expect, the top-tier Chrysler had many standard features. First and foremost were the 440 CID (7.2-liter) V8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor and TorqueFlite. Other expected amenities included power windows, power brakes, power steering, velour 50/50 bench seating  and shag carpeting. The trunk was also carpeted, and each door save the driver’s got its own ash tray and lighter. It was a different time.

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Plenty of chrome trim was in evidence with wheel moldings, drip rail moldings, a stand-up hood ornament and gold-tone New Yorker script on each front fender and the tail panel. The very handsome Road Wheels were optional, but whitewall tires were standard equipment.

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A vinyl roof cover was also standard, at least on the NYB; on Newports, it was an option. I’ve always loved this little curve in the C-pillar of the Imperial/NYB sedans–just a little hint of Hooper-bodied Rolls Royce, and a nice touch of class. Indeed, the whole car was pretty classy. One of these in black with a black vinyl top, white leather upholstery and red carpets would be my dream car. Oh, and don’t forget the 15-inch Road Wheels!

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I had noticed what appeared to be a 1974-75 Imperial in the parking lot of a local business but initially I didn’t stop, as I’d recently done the 1977 Newport CC. About a month ago, however, my curiosity got the better of me and I pulled over for a look-see. It was not an Imperial, but a ’78 NYB, in Golden Fawn with a beige top and beige velour–a very ’70s color combination, no?

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Here’s the instrument panel. Unlike its Cadillac and Lincoln competitors, the instrumentation was not limited to just a gas gauge and speedometer; it  also included engine temperature and alternator gauges. Although a far cry from its 1940s-1960s engineering heyday, Chrysler still had some thoughtful “right brain” touches, including the aforementioned gauges, the bullet-proof TorqueFlite transmission and torsion bar front suspension.

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The full-size Chryslers were also among the last to offer vent windows, albeit optionally; the last of the C-body Royal Monacos and Gran Furys had them as well. All too soon though, they would be gone for good, save for the power vent windows found on Ford products well into the late ’80s. I remember that my grandmother’s Rose Quartz 1987 Continental had them. So did the 1977 Mark V before it.

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Here’s that Broughamtastic front seat. Not only was the seat split 50/50, but each passenger got their own fold-down armrest. This car also appears to have an optional CB radio, though I don’t recall if it was the AM/CB or AM/FM/CB system. Considering all the options on this not-inexpensive car, I would guess it’s the AM/FM version with four speakers.

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Here’s the back seat. This is a 100% Brougham Society-approved interior, the kind of seat where you could lose not only pocket change but your entire wallet. Four-door models included lavaliere straps (seen above), and both the coupe and sedan had pillows–yes, pillows–built into the C-pillar.

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Yes, the NYB was a whole lotta car for the money, but times were changing. Big Benzes were becoming the status symbols of choice, and increasing government meddling spelled the end for the uncompromising full-size luxury car. Cadillac had already shrunk their Fleetwood and de Ville models in 1977; in 1979, Chrysler did the same with the New Yorker and Newport; and Lincoln was last to the small-big-car party, with their 1980 Panther-based Connie. It was truly the end of an era.

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As for the New Yorker, although it reinvented itself many times over the next two decades–from downsized R-body to mid-sized M-body to shrunken K-car Broughamette to luxury LH–it always had at least a modicum of style and comfort. It lives on even today, in a fashion, as the premium 300 sedan. Considering the 300 series was originally a sportier replacement for the Saratoga, I can’t help but wonder why a LWB New Yorker variant hasn’t come out. After all, nothing says big American luxury car like “Chrysler New Yorker.” Its reputation was built on yachts like this ’78.

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