Car Show Classics: 1956 and 1960 Imperial Crown Convertibles – Topless Imperialism

(first posted 8/3/2013)     I like Imperials. I mean, I REALLY like Imperials. And I mean Imperials, not “Chrysler Imperials,” bub! So could I not do an Imperial post during Mopar Week? Impossible! And fortunately, during the AACA Grand National–the same show where I caught the ’61 Town & Country and ’60 Valiant–I caught two of the nicest Imperial convertibles I’ve ever seen. Yes, this show was just lousy with fine vintage Mopar iron. So join me, as we look at two fine examples of good Imperialism…

The 1960 Imperial was thoroughly restyled, losing the 1959’s somewhat sinister-looking grille teeth in favor of more flowing lines, especially on the two-door Southampton and Crown convertible. While many folks consider the ’60 a bizarre conglomeration of kitschy Exner cues, it is one of my favorite Imperials–and for those ready to place this model year under the “kitschy” banner, need I remind you of the ’61 Imperial?

By 1960, Chrysler was extending the Imperial’s luxury credibility to its fullest; a year earlier, Imperial production had been moved to a dedicated factory on Detroit’s Warren Avenue. There, special care was taken with assembly and finish quality, a fact trumpeted loudly in Imperial literature of the day. These were solid cars with proven mechanicals and every conceivable power assist. Who needed a Cadillac? Well, apparently many did, as under 18,000 Imperials were built.

I also love the instrument panel–particularly that bold, dual-binnacle gauge cluster. Imperials also used electroluminescent panel lighting; while common today, it was a unique selling point in 1960. Naturally, push-button Torqueflite was also standard equipment. Pink broadcloth, a push-button transmission and an oval steering wheel–I like!

There’s just something about an Imperial convertible, and as the flashiest, brashest and sportiest Imperial of them all, the $5, 774, 4,280-lb. Crown ‘vert was something truly special–and with a mere 618 copies sold that year, you were highly unlikely to see yourself in traffic.

Apparently the original owner of our featured ’60 took a shine to the identical red-over-white Imperial pictured in the brochure. All Imperials, regardless of body style, were powered by a 4-BBL 413 CID V8 that made 350 hp at 4,600 rpm. The sole Imperial convertible was the mid-range Crown, which featured the standard equipment on the entry-level Imperial Custom plus a six-way power seat, vanity mirror and outside rear-view mirror.

In truth, however, there was no “base” Imperial–at least not in the Valiant V-100 sense, as every Imperial came with power steering, power brakes, dual exhaust, undercoating, an electric clock and windshield washers, along with the aforementioned 413 V8 and Torqueflite.

Lovely little details abound, including the little gold crowns on the fins, taillight bezels and what is, in my opinion, the best script ever seen on a car–the “Imperial” name, spelled out in bold cursive on the grille and front fenders. It doesn’t say “imperial,” it says “IMPERIAL!” And nary a Chrysler nameplate appeared anywhere. No, eBay, no, Auto Trader, it is NOT a “Chrysler Imperial Other Base!” Got it? Good.

This one also has the bucket seats with the “buddy” center section. Due to overcast weather, it is not immediately obvious in the photos, but they’re of pearlescent leather with an oh-so-luxurious, oh-so-Imperial luster.

So many cool details inside, too. I also dig the little “thruster” interior-door releases. Throttling down? Nope, just getting out of the car.

As you might be able to deduce by the Monte Carlo SS in the background, this is a BIG car; sure, younger people might think a 1998 Town Car is big, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. I am reminded of JPCavanaugh’s oh-so-appropriate comment in his ’76 Electra CC:

“So when someone sees my Crown Victoria or my son’s ’89 Grand Marquis and remarks about what a big car it is, I can stop what I am doing, throw open the garage door, wrestle them into the front seat and say ‘No you big dumb idiot, THIS is a big car!’”

Yes! The Imperial is big. The ’76 Electra is big. A 1987 Ninety-Eight is not big, nor is an ’88 Continental–relatively speaking, of course.

In 1960, the Imperial reigned supreme. But the same year brought Chrysler yet another financial crisis (sound familiar?), causing the Imperial to lose its own factory; although the 1964-66 models set new sales highs, the make never really did put a dent in Cadillac’s armor.

But oh, they were special cars, and still are. Even today, I get excited anytime I see an Imperial. Because they’re rare. Because they’re special. Oh sure, I love seeing a ’61 Connie convertible or a ’62 deVille, but neither is an Imperial. I prefer Imperials of any year or model–in fact, even the thinly disguised 1990-93 New Yorker-based version, crappy Ultramatic and all, can pique my interest.

This is why I think the 1960 Imperial Crown is quite possibly the most perfect fair-weather friend you could have–assuming you have the means to maintain and feed one. But by now you’re probably interested in the one-of-none 1956 Imperial convertible. Never fear; let’s check it out right now.

Of course, there was no 1956 Imperial convertible: that year’s lineup was restricted to a four-door sedan and four-and two-door hardtops. But clearly, someone thought a convertible should have been offered prior to 1957…

…as this blue convertible is striking. I thought this was the car written up in Hemmings Classic Car a few years back, but a bit of research proved it was a 1955 model, not a ’56. This is apparently one of only a handful built at the factory towards the end of the model year.

Apparently based on the New Yorker convertible, it was never an official production model. Whether they were made for Chrysler Corporation bigwigs, as practice for the upcoming 1957 Imperial convertibles or built for VIP customers is not clear; perhaps someone here at CC knows more.

The interior, which matches the blue paint and white convertible top, is very appealing. Note the little Imperial eagles in the cloth seat inserts. Very cool.

Apart from the décapotable body style, all the usual Imperial refinements are present, including the “microphone” or “gunsight” taillamps, standing proud of the rear quarter panels.

All this talk of Imperials is really making me wish for a new 2013 Imperial. I think a long-wheelbase 300 would make a good starting point. Make the roof more formal, with more glass area, and also offer two-door hardtop and Crown convertible models. How about it, Chrysler? After all, you no longer have Daimler’s boot on your neck, product development-wise. It’s time for a real American luxury car, not some Euro-inspired pretender. It’s time for Imperial–again!