(first posted 11/18/2014) Having profiled a 1959 Imperial sedan from one of the wildest-looking years of Chrysler’s Forward Look era, it will be interesting to contrast it with a car of the same make and model, and even in almost exactly the same color and condition, from five years later. This 1964 Imperial sedan, spotted in the car hobby mecca of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, shares almost everything with its 1959 predecessor except for its exterior styling. The difference in style is so extreme that it is difficult to believe that they are essentially the same car beneath their sheet metal.
The 1964 Imperial was the first complete restyling of Chrysler’s flagship conducted by Elwood Engel, the stylist of the 1961 Lincoln Continental, after Chrysler hired him from Ford in 1961. On the same chassis and body structure introduced in 1957, as evidenced by the continuation of the 1950s-style wraparound windshield that was long out of fashion in Detroit by 1964, Engel placed a completely new body style obviously derived from his earlier work on the Continental, with slab sides, bladed fenders, a squared-off roofline, and a similarly shaped inset hood. Bringing Imperial finally in line with the contemporary trend in styling that started with the 1961 Lincoln Continental and that Cadillac emulated by 1963, the restyling was a success, with Imperial sales soaring by 65% to 23,295 — the first Imperial model year over 20,000 since 1957, and the best year of the 1960s for Imperial.
The restyling extended to the interior, which left behind the squared-off steering wheels and instrument panel pods of the early 1960s and reinstated more conservative normalcy, with a round steering wheel and a simple and elegant instrument panel. It continued earlier practice with extensive instrumentation and pushbutton transmission controls — the latter in their final year. The pushbuttons controlled the same 413 Wedge/Torqueflite combination that had powered Imperials since 1959.
The 1964 restyling modernized the look of Imperials and was a sales success, but in retrospect, it was only a partial success. After the 1964 uptick in sales, they fell below 20,000 again in 1965 and did not climb above it for the remainder of the decade. Part of the reason may be that the new styling direction was so heavily imitative of the Continental, and that where it differed, such as in its rear view, the results were less harmonious than the original. Neither the 1964 restyling nor the completely new chassis and body of 1967 established a distinct look for Imperial, which could have helped Imperial to revive its fortunes as the 1961 Continental had done for Lincoln. As a half century old classic car, the 1964 is similarly uninspiring for me, a decently styled big cruiser but not really distinctive in any way. Given a choice between a light blue 1964 Imperial sedan and a light blue 1959 Imperial sedan in the same condition, I would take the latter.