Curbside Classic: 1975 Imperial LeBaron Coupe – The Last Real Imperial

 

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(originally posted in 2010) 

Enough with these pathetic little Briggs and Stratton powered sidewalk toys like the Rabbit and Starlet! We need us a real car to counterbalance that axis of Cozy Coupes. This Imperial weighs a half a ton more than both of them together. Its 7.2 liter engine is almost three times as big as their egg beaters combined. And its got enough torque to twist those little tin cans into shreds. This baby rocks, even if it is to a song that abruptly played out the year of its birth. Yes, this Imperial was born under a bad sign: the crescent moon. And it marks the end of the road for Chrysler’s pride and joy, save some pathetic efforts to revive it. But Chrysler’s loss is our gain today, because it isn’t every day we stumble onto one of these bitchin’ waterfall-grilled monstrosities with big twin exhausts to rumble our memories and fantasies far away to another time and place…

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I’m going to call this the coolest big sled find since the hot-rod ’50 Caddy coupe. They have a lot in common too; they’re the beginning and end of the whole crazy and uniquely-American idea: the biggest, meanest luxury coupe with the biggest, baddest motor in the house. I know; Caddy and Lincoln were still at the game with big rigs in ’74, but which of the three would you pick to put mag wheels on and hang a couple of big exhaust pipes out the ass end? I thought so. For whatever reason, and wherever your loyalties to the Big Three lay, the big Chryslers were the only ones that still could pull this sort of stunt off in 1974.

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Was it the styling, or what was under the skin? The return of the waterfall grille was a bold and distinctive step, even if it was a reprise of that divine sales flop, the Airflow.  The rest of Chrysler’s new look wasn’t exactly original either; it looks like a slightly warmed over ’69 Buick Electra except for that outrageous front end. The stunning and original fuselage styling of ’69-’73 was worn out, as were Chrysler’s creative juices. The crap that came out of Highland Park from here on out was nothing but the result of death rattles moving the hands of the designers. That is, until Lido showed up and taught them to fold, spindle and mutilate a simple box in more ways than had ever been…; well “imagined” is too flattering a word. That resulted in zombie Imperials that still haunt our nightmares.

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Yes, the Arabs put a kibosh on this barge that Cleopatra would have been proud to float down the Nile on. And her tush would have been sitting pretty on all those acres of gen-u-ine Corinthian leather. The 440’s blubbering dual exhausts didn’t even need to be submerged under water to sound like an old Chris Craft speed boat. They don’t call these barges for nothing.

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No, it wasn’t the styling alone. Chrysler’s big unibodies were always the eating-disordered unpopular sister of the big luxury three. A ’74 Lincoln had a good 600 pounds on this Le Baron (how that name was dragged through the mud by Lido’s K-Kars). Does anyone still know what Le Baron once was? The builders of the finest coach-built custom bodies in the land, like this Duesenberg. All things must pass. Well, this Le Baron isn’t exactly a Duesey, but it’s a lot closer to it in spirit than what followed all to soon. Just for good measure, here’s the tracks this ’74 was following.

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But the tracks ended here; well, technically the following year in ’75. If you can tell the difference between the two, you should be writing this. Less than 4k of these coupes were made in ’74; even fewer the year after. Then it was over, for Chrysler’s perpetual wild goose chase for Cadillac gold. Since breaking away from the Chrysler brand in ’55, it managed to beat Lincoln just twice, in ’59 and ’60. But the brilliant ’61 Lincoln showed its trim little taillights to the Imperial, and never looked back. Twenty-one years of true Imperials, and every single one a memorable one. That’s more than I can say for its competition. Nothing like going out in style at the top, big time.

 

The pretenders to the name:

CC 1981 Imperial – It’s Time For You, Or Not  (Jim Cavanaugh)

CC 1990-1993 Imperial – The Last Imperial; The Last Iaccoca-Mobile  (Paul Niedermeyer)