I just have to know the story behind this Chrysler Executive, photographed by William Oliver in the London neighborhood of Belgravia. This is a part of London brimming with embassies and consulates but surely this downsized limousine couldn’t be an official vehicle of one of them. Surely! And yet, as peculiar as this Chrysler’s location may be, the story behind this foolhardy flagship is even stranger.
This Executive’s age alone likely precludes it from being in active diplomatic service. Nevertheless, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility a consular corps somewhere in the world might have thought an Executive would make for good diplomatic transport. Though the Executive seems comically narrow, being a stretched K-Car LeBaron, it’s no narrower than, for example, a Volvo 200-Series and those were used in official capacities.
An Executive might have seemed less puzzling on the streets of London but in the US, it was profoundly bizarre. It was introduced in 1983, entering the scene as the flagship Imperial was being shown the door. Though the rear-wheel-drive Fifth Avenue would remain until decade’s end, the switch from Imperial to Executive atop the range was symbolic of the transformative change Chrysler was undertaking. But for trucks, rear-wheel-drive was out. Front-wheel-drive was king and Chairman and CEO Lee Iacocca wanted to prove just how flexible Chrysler and its new K-Car could be in adjusting to an era prophesied to be plagued by high fuel prices.
The Executive came in two variants: a five-passenger sedan with a 124-inch wheelbase and a seven-passenger limousine with a 131.3-inch wheelbase. For comparison, a FWD New Yorker used a 103.3-inch wheelbase, while the LeBaron had a 100.3-inch span. All these K variants, however, had the exact same width – 68.4 inches, or 5.8 inches narrower than the RWD Fifth Avenue. The Fifth Avenue was based on the 1976 F-Body platform which, at launch, was considered a compact platform. Despite the elongated wheelbase, total length of the Executive was just 4.7 inches longer than the Fifth Avenue. To an American audience, this was some kind of funhouse mirror limousine.
Less amusing was the price. At their launch in 1983, the two Executives retailed for $18,900 and $21,900. In comparison, an ’83 Imperial cost $18,688, while a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham stickered for $19,182. Sure, a Cadillac Fleetwood Limousine cost a significant $8k more than an Executive Limousine but what titan of industry would want to be chauffeured in a stretched K-Car?
Another pertinent question: just who would want to drive an Executive limousine? The sole motivation for both Executives was a Mitsubishi-sourced 2.6 four, producing 101 hp at 4800 rpm and 140 ft-lbs at 2800 rpm. The only transmission was a three-speed automatic. Although the limousine weighed only 3250 pounds, that was still a lot of metal for a small four to haul.
ASC handled the conversion, using the front half of a LeBaron sedan and the rear of a LeBaron coupe and putting a lot of metal in between. They also employed bigger front brakes and tweaked the front suspension. The limousine’s cabin incorporated two fold-down, rear-facing jump seats sans seat belts. In comparison, the downsized Cadillac Fleetwood 75 used larger “auxiliary” seats that faced forward and doubled as foot rests. Most notably, the Executive had a power, sliding glass divider – just like a real limousine!
Executives came fully-loaded. That included power accessories, cruise control and a digital instrument cluster. The limousine even came with opera lamps, the ultimate in so-cringe-it’s-cool exterior gingerbread. The only options were an upgraded stereo and different 14-inch wheel designs. The color palette was quite limited – in 1986, for example, it was only available in black, white, silver and two different dark blues. What is this, 2019?!
Just two limousines and nine sedans were produced for 1983, though production was only beginning. The following year, ASC produced 196 sedans and 594 limousines.
The Executive Sedan was cut for 1985 and ASC produced 759 limousines. Remarkably, Chrysler and ASC produced more than Cadillac did of the Fleetwood 75 in ’85. Though the downsized Cadillac was also criticized for looking dinky and being underpowered, it was three inches wider and its anemic V8 produced more power and torque (thankfully!) than the Executive’s four.
In its last year, the Executive was belatedly given the gift of power. The Mitsubishi 2.6 was replaced with Chrysler’s turbocharged 2.2, producing 146 hp at 5200 rpm and 170 ft-lbs at 3600 rpm. That was more horsepower than the Caddy’s 4.1 V8 but still 20 pound-feet shy. A three-speed automatic remained the only transmission. Alas, the Executive experiment was over after a small run of just 138 limousines in 1986.
It’s easy to make fun of the Executive for the hubris of its creators and for how much it pales in comparison to its ancestors, but perhaps there’s another way of looking at this. Think of the Executive as an experiment, a means by which Chrysler could prove the flexibility of its new FWD platform. Consider that, when it was conceived, industry analysts were predicting drastically higher gas prices. Weigh the price and features of the Executive against the downsized Fleetwood 75 which wasn’t dramatically larger but cost almost $10k more. If you still think the Executive was an utterly bone-headed idea, then just think about it as a collector’s car. Wouldn’t this get your attention if it rolled past you at a Cars & Coffee?