Vintage Review: 1972 Imperial LeBaron – Road Test Reviews The Facelifted Fancy Fuselage

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For 1972, Chrysler served up a sheetmetal freshening for the flagship Imperial.  The Fuselage design theme continued, but lines were smoothed-out while vertical lamps were added front and rear.  If anything, the car appeared more massive than ever.  Road Test Magazine offered up an extended drive report–did they find the refreshed Imperial worthy?

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Sadly, the Imperial’s styling did not stand the “acid test of time.”  The Arab Oil Embargo assured that all cars this massive would look ridiculously oversized within a few years.  One future trend that the Imperial did offer first in its class was the 4-wheel anti-skid system from Bendix called “Sure Brake.”  Highly praised, but rarely bought, the system cost $344 ($2,051 adjusted).

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As was typical for Chrysler’s big cars of the era, the Imperial handled well for its ponderous size.  The huge 440 4V V8 also ensured that the big beast was pretty quick–and quite thirsty.

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Road Test tried to stress the superiority of Chrysler’s 4-wheel anti-skid brakes compared to the 2-wheel systems concurrently offered by Ford and GM.  But to no avail: the majority of buyers in 1972 did not seem to understand the benefit of the early ABS system from any maker.  They were apparently still getting used to seatbelts and front disc brakes…

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The biggest issue with the Imperial (aside from its size) was the relative lack of prestige compared with Cadillac and Lincoln.  The fact that the Imperial handled better than its domestic rivals, and was packed with some very nice comfort and convenience features not found on the top Ford or GM products, did not seem to matter.  By 1972, the Imperial was seen as nothing more than a fancy Chrysler, and therefore not worthy of being ranked in the top echelon of domestic luxury cars.  Product benefits didn’t matter when the owner was so disadvantaged in the snob appeal derby in the country club parking lot.

Just 13,472 Imperial LeBaron 4-door hardtops were produced for 1972, beating only the lowly “Farmer’s Cadillac” (aka the Calais), which sold 3,875.  But the Hardtop Sedan DeVille trounced the Imperial, with 99,531 produced, and even the top-line Fleetwood Sixty-Special handily beat Chrysler’s flagship, with 20,750 sold.  Over at Lincoln, the Continental 4-door sedan sold at almost three times the volume of the Imperial, with 35,561 finding homes.

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Nor did the 2-door hardtop body style help the Imperial: a paltry 2,322 were sold, compared with 3,900 Cadillac Calais 2-door hardtops, 95,280 Coupe DeVilles and 10,408 Continental 2-door hardtops.  But that wasn’t the worst of it for Imperial in 1972, as the company had no entry in the booming Personal Luxury segment.  Ford and GM moved 229,107 high-end Personal Luxury coupes (Buick Riviera, Cadillac Eldorado, Ford Thunderbird, Lincoln Continental Mark V, Oldsmobile Toronado).  The Imperial had absolutely nothing to offer to those style-conscious buyers.  Nor would buyers interested in the luxury imports be tempted either–the Imperial’s mammoth dimensions were way too much for anyone seeking functional luxury.

So the facelifted Fuselage Imperial wound up being mainly a footnote in the status wars of the early Seventies, but as Road Test pointed out, offered interesting benefits for lovers of automotive oddballs.

Additional Reading:

In Motion Classic: 1972 Imperial LeBaron – Rolling Manhattan, Extra Dry by Joseph Dennis