(first posted 8/24/2015) Poor Imperial. Despite Chrysler’s efforts, the automaker’s flagship luxury division never seemed to get both feet off the ground and pose a serious threat to Cadillac and Lincoln. The fact is that without serious sales figures, Chrysler simply couldn’t devote the same amount of resources to Imperial in the way that GM did with Cadillac and Ford did with Lincoln.
What this meant was that Imperial was often forced to endure the same body shells for longer periods of time and share more in common with lesser Mopar vehicles. Over the years, Imperial would gradually share more and more with other Chryslers, first losing its dedicated assembly plant, then its separate platform, and eventually its own body shell. While this was unfortunate for the brand, thankfully Chrysler kept up with the annual styling tweaks that were once standard practice across the industry.
This 1963 Imperial Crown 4-door hardtop was the last of the Virgil Exner-designed “Forward Look” Imperials that first debuted as 1957s. Following Exner’s ousting, former Ford designer Elwood Engel took over as Chrysler’s design chief, and the 1964 Imperial would display his substantially different tastes. Engel’s personalization was already noticeable in the 1963 Imperial, with new squared-off rooflines for Custom and Crown series, and the removal of the “gun sight” taillights in favor of integrated units.
Aside from the aforementioned changes as well as a new grille, the 1963 Imperial largely made do with the same body which dated back to 1957. In that time, Cadillacs and Lincolns each benefited from two complete redesigns, with Cadillac now exhibiting a very crisp, linear appearance, and Lincoln going for a cleaner, more understated look with the Continental. The Imperials were still quite attractive cars in their own right, but with curves, flowing lines and a wraparound-style windshield, the design was beginning to show its age.
Engel would substantially redesign the Imperial for 1964, drawing heavy inspiration from his own 1961 Continental, though I’ve never found the ’64-’66 Imperial quite as attractive when compared to the 1957-63 and 1967-1968 Imperials, or the Continental for that matter.
Nonetheless, the 1963 Imperials were still very competitive cars in the areas of luxury and performance. A standard torsion bar suspension up front and rear leaf springs (in comparison to Cadillac’s front and rear coil springs) gave the car superior handling over its competitors. Brakes were 11-inch self-adjusting, power hydraulic front and rear drums, and for 1963, total effective brake lining was up to industry best 287.2 square inches, for better cooling and less fade. Imperial also boasted best in class standard power, with its 6.8L (413 cubic inch) V8 putting out 340 horsepower and 470 pound-foot of torque.
What buyers in this class cared most about though was luxury, and the 1963 Imperial certainly didn’t disappoint. This mid-range Crown hardtop model offered three upholstery choices: a standard check-weave fabric with leather trim, optional nylon fabric with leather trim, or the optional full-leather upholstery featured in this car in Alabaster. Imperial offered no less than eight interior color schemes: Alabaster, Claret, Cord Blue, Fawn, Formal Black, Holiday Turquoise, Madison Gray, and Mayan Gold.
Befitting of its luxury car position, Imperial Crowns featured standard power windows, 6-way power front seats, air foam padded seat backs and cushions, and illuminated front and dual-rear cigarette lighters with ashtrays, among other convenience equipment. Door panels were graced with beautiful scrollwork engraved on either stainless steel inserts for the Crown series or “select” walnut veneer in the LeBaron series. All Imperials also featured padded armrests, interior courtesy lights and storage compartments galore.
Also standard in all 1963 Imperials was Chrysler’s TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transition, controlled via push buttons (in their second-to-final appearance). A gripe among many reviewers was that like other Chryslers of this era, the Imperial’s steering wheel was not perfectly circular, making for a somewhat awkward steering experience.
These soft leather seats do indeed look supremely comfortable. Given the substantial leather wear and cracks, there’s no doubt in my mind this Imperial’s interior is all-original. Although there are no substantial rips or tears, some restoration might be something to think about in the near future to preserve its beauty.
This featured Imperial is painted in Glacier Blue (one of sixteen exterior colors) and one of just 6,960 Imperial Crown hardtops produced for 1963. What’s more is that this body style was Imperial’s most popular for 1963. Total 1963 Imperial production was a mere 14,121 units, compared to 31,233 Lincolns and 163,174 Cadillacs.
The reason why Imperial was never an astounding success unfortunately tends to be a chicken or the egg situation. Was it lack of substantial differentiation from Chryslers that caused a lack of substantial sales? Or was it lack of substantial sales that caused a lack of substantial differentiation from Chryslers? Imperial sales would typically jump in the first year of each significant restyle, but apart from the unusually high 37,593 for 1957, Imperial sales would never top 23,500.
At the very least, because of this Imperials of these years tend to have more of a “custom-built” feel to them when compared with Cadillac and Lincoln. Regardless of their imperfections, I’ve personally always found the Forward Look Imperials to be among the most beautiful and expressive cars of the late-1950s/early-1960s.