Car Show Classic: 1970 Imperial LeBaron – A Chrysler in Emperor’s Clothing

CC has not featured any Imperial models from the early 1970s, and it is not hard to understand why: By this time, the Imperial brand was on its last gasp. With annual sales in the low five-figure range, these were not common even when new. And while I never cease to be amazed at the depth of old cars still plying the streets of the West Coast, good luck finding a ragged curbside example of one today. Car shows are realistically your only chance at seeing one of these Imperials in the metal.

So let’s take a closer look at this 1970 Imperial LeBaron I found at a car show last summer – who knows when we’ll get a chance to see another one.

Imperial has always been a niche product for Chrysler. Even in its best year (1957), they moved only 37,593 examples. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lincoln was routinely outselling Imperial 4:1, while Cadillac was moving roughly 12 cars for every one Imperial sold. In 1970, the year of our feature car, Imperial found just 11,816 buyers across its entire lineup.

Although the Imperial brand would go through many “lasts” over the years, 1970 would be the last year Chrysler marketed Imperial as a true standalone marque. Starting in 1971, the Imperial would be badged as the “Imperial by Chrysler” and would no longer have its own separate brochure, having to share pages with the Chrysler brochure.

While there are multiple reasons for this decline (which we will get into shortly), part of Imperial’s problem was the lack of an entry in the red-hot Personal Luxury Coupe segment. In 1970, Cadillac moved 23,842 Eldorados, which was by then a four-year-old model. Lincoln sold 21,432 examples of the Mark III in 1970, its third year on the market. Both these single-model sales numbers trounced the sales of the entire Imperial lineup that year. The market was shifting to the PLC, for which Chrysler would endure a long wait: Not until the 1975 Cordoba would Chrysler have a PLC, and Imperial wouldn’t morph into a PLC until 1981, right at the tail end of the PLC era.

1970 would be the last year the Imperial was offered in two series: Crown and LeBaron. Beginning in 1971 the Imperial Lebaron would be the sole model on offer. Both the Crown and LeBaron were available in a two- and four-door hardtop configuration. Other than the split bench seat and vinyl roof (both standard on the LeBaron, optional on the Crown), I can see little difference between the two models. Buyers apparently agreed, as only 1,597 Crowns were produced vs. 10,229 LeBaron models. Of those LeBarons, 8,426 were four-door hard tops, making the featured car by far the most popular Imperial variant sold in 1970.

Every 1970 Imperial came with a 440 cu. in. 4-bbl. V8 producing 350 gross HP. While the numbers sound impressive and were surely more than adequate, they trailed both the Lincoln (460/365HP) and Cadillac (472/375HP) that year. While the real-world differences were minuscule, in this class, bragging rights matter.


1968 Chevrolet Caprice. More than a passing resemblance.

The 1970 Imperial faced other headwinds. While the front end is certainly imposing in person, the front ends of most full-sized cars from this era overflow with presence and substance. To my eyes, the front end of the Imperial bears a bit too much resemblance to a 1968 Chevrolet Caprice, especially the grille. The “Woodlites” that the Imperial sprouted in 1972 are a much more distinctive (if polarizing) look, but at least they can’t be mistaken for anything else.

The situation doesn’t get much better as you move further back. The bloated fuselage styling introduced in 1969 does the Imperial no favors, especially compared to the crisp, creased lines that Cadillac and Lincoln were sporting in 1970. Major body panels, including the roof and glass, were by now shared with lesser Chrysler models.


The wide, flat dashboard was more 1960 than 1970, and it was also shared with lesser Chrysler models. By 1970 Lincoln and Cadillac were sporting driver-centric  “pod” style dashboards suitable for the emerging “Me” generation. Even Plymouth and Dodge were sporting pod-style dashboards by 1970. And while wing windows weren’t entirely obsolete by 1970, they were definitely on their way out, and both Lincoln and Cadillac had dispensed with them by then.


The back seat tries its best to hold up its end of the luxury bargain, with robe rails on the front seatbacks, leather “oh shit” straps, and a weird padded thingie on the C-pillar. Was this some early form of side impact protection? Or perhaps a pillow for tired passengers to rest their weary heads upon? The brochure is silent on the matter, so as usual I’ll leave it for the commenters to speculate.


The rear is probably the least distinctive view of the Imperial. While the corner bumper extensions that hint at fender blades are visually interesting, the brake lights could just as easily have come from a contemporary Buick or Mercury. You know how when you recognize someone’s face, but you can’t quite place it? It’s like that. In 1969 the turn signals were at least sequential, but in 1970 even that bit of distinctiveness was gone. It’s not like Chrysler couldn’t do great rear ends: The rear treatment of the 1970 Chrysler 300, with its unbroken full-width taillight, is a much more cohesive design.

The base price for the Imperial LeBaron 4-door hardtop in 1970 was $6,328 (about $51,000 in 2023), making it the most expensive model in the Imperial lineup. This lines up pretty close to the base price of a 1970 Continental ($6,211) and Sedan DeVille ($6,118). Throw in a few essential options like A/C ($475), power door locks ($73), power seat ($120), AM radio ($165), and whitewall tires ($46) like this example has and you are looking at over $7,000 ($57,000 adjusted).

However, the Imperial’s real competition wasn’t across the street, but across the showroom. When compared to the mechanically identical Chrysler New Yorker, which started out at $4,762 ($38,600 adj.) in 4-door hardtop guise, it is easy to see why so few Imperials found buyers.

Related Reading

My Curbside Classic: 1973 Imperial LeBaron By Chrysler

Fender Blade On A Fuselage: The Design Of The 1973 Imperial by Chrysler

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