(first posted 2/17/12) What do you get when you cross the marketing savvy of Lee Iacocca, the star power of Frank Sinatra, and an attractive personal luxury coupe with tried and true Mopar mechanicals? You get a beautiful and intriguing car that became a failure of epic proportions. Is there a better recipe for a Curbside Classic?
Lee Iacocca is best known for the Mustang. His most profitable car, however, was probably the 1969 Continental Mark III, along with the Mark IV (CC here) and Mark V (CC here) that followed in the series. An off-the-shelf platform which was dressed up in its country club finest turned out to be the next thing to gold for the Ford Motor Company during the 1970s. The Marks were priced high and sold in numbers that finally made Lincoln a contender in the luxury market. Although the big Continental never caught its traditional Cadillac rival, the Lincoln Mark series owned the personal luxury segment during that decade.
When Lido came to Chrysler in 1979, the company was in worse shape than anyone knew. It had fled the luxury market after the 1975 Imperial (CC here) finished its annual drubbing in the marketplace by selling fewer than 9,000 cars. Lee certainly knew that there was no money available for another full frontal assault on Cadillac. But why not skip the meat-and-potatoes sedan and go right for the sweet, creamy dessert that was the personal luxury coupe?
The starting point was there – the new J-body platform of the 1980 Cordoba and Mirada could provide a modern midsized coupe platform, that was really a pretty nice car. So, the decision was made to authorized a fresh, stylish new suit, plenty of expensive trimmings. And, because everybody knew that Chrysler was an engineering company, there would be a brand new electronic fuel injection system that would appeal to buyers in the demographic that Iacocca craved.
Make no mistake. The 1981 Imperial was nothing like the cynical Super K that would pretend to be a luxury car a decade later. This one was a serious attempt at a premium car. First, the price. The new Imperial would come fully equipped and would be priced at over $18,000. The only option was the power sunroof, which added about another $1,000. This was serious money in 1981 (≈ $45k adjusted). Second, the car would be built on its own assembly line, and would use an extra-thick gauge steel in the bodies. This car would be the first available with full electronic instrumentation, including a trip computer. Genuine Mark Cross leather would be available for the seats at no extra charge, and the hood ornament was a pentastar made of genuine Cartier crystal. This car was meant to go head to head with the Continental Mark VI and blow it into the weeds.
The Imperial was the car that should have hit the target smack dab center. Several of the people involved in the design of this car were veterans of the Mark program at Lincoln and knew what was expected in this segment. The lush carpet, the jewel-like trim details and wide choice of exterior and interior colors (six in velour and six in leather). You want a designer edition? How about the FS, named after Frank Sinatra and painted blue to match his famous eyes.
Old Frank himself crooned for an ad for this car and was prominently featured in the promotional materials. His fee? As a personal favor to Iacocca (and possibly out of his lifelong tendency to root for the underdog) he charged Chrysler $1 plus one of the first new Imperials off the line.
The timing seemed right, too. By 1981, this market was ripe for the right car. The 1980 Continental Mark VI was an abomination. Its ungainly proportions certainly never massaged the brain’s pleasure centers the way its predecessors had done, and the sales showed it. The King was dead, and the throne was open to any luxury coupe that could win over those trading their Mark Vs. Over at Cadillac, a perpetual also-ran in this market, the 1979-80 Eldorado was a legitimate contender, but it was quite conservative and hardly the kind of car that set a luxury buyer’s heart aflame.
In sum, this was an attractive, sumptuously trimmed, well built and well appointed car that did everything required of a car in its price class in 1981. So what could go wrong? Only one little thing. All too often, it just wouldn’t run.
Flashback to 1958. Chrysler adapts the Bendix Electrojector in the first American application of electronic fuel injection. Epic fail. The crude electronics available in 1958 were simply not up to the job of providing a reliable fuel metering system. There is a fascinating article at Allpar on this system and the single known example of one in operating condition, that can be read here.
But by 1981, shouldn’t all of those lessons have been learned? Evidently not. The system was designed and built almost completely in-house by Chrysler’s electronics unit in Huntsville, Alabama. Lee Iacocca was undoubtedly proud of this system. He had spent a career at Ford being envious of Chrysler’s engineering prowess. Chrysler had been his favorite target for poaching engineers during his Ford years. Now he had the keys to this kingdom and was ready to make the most of Chrysler’s latest technological breakthrough.
But then the calls started coming in. Sometimes the cars would not start. Other times, they would stall at random places, often the victim of electromagnetic interference from wires, signs and other fixtures of modern life, much like the Electrojector-equipped cars of a quarter century earlier. People in 1981 who could afford a car that cost in the neighborhood of twenty grand were not people who would quietly accept such a shortcoming. These Imperials resulted in a lot of unhappy customers, one of whom was reportedly FS himself.
So, after several attempts to fix the injection systems, Chrysler did what it did with the Electrojector cars – it provided a kit to dealers to yank the injection and retrofit the car with a carburetor. But the process in 1981 was so much more complicated than it had been in 1958. According to Allpar’s extensive piece on this car, the retrofit kit cost $3500 and the job required 50 man-hours of labor. The process involved replacing the fuel tank, the exhaust system, the instrument cluster, and a host of other things. All in all, it is reported that the 1981-83 Imperial cost Chrysler $10,000 per car on warranty expenses. It soon became clear that the new Imperial was an unqualified disaster. To this day, Chrysler has never made another attempt at building a legitimate premium car.
By the time the 1983 models were out, the decision had been made. Far from the splash of 1981, color choices were down (this car’s Manilla Cream was gone, some would say thankfully) and interior color choices were now down to four leathers and two cloths. After about 7200 were made in 1981, it took the final two years to bring the total to about 11,000 cars. Then it was over.
This is a hard car for me to write about. I have shared here before that during my college years, I was a huge Mopar-head. When this car came out, I fell for it, and fell hard. The Imperial featured some really high-tech stuff in 1981, and we Mopar faithful reveled in Chrysler’s re-emergence as a technological leader in its flagship car. To me and others like me, the re-born Imperial screamed “Chrysler is BACK, baby!”
I have always considered the car to be drop-dead gorgeous. The English bustle-back look is certainly the most controversial feature. This fad was riding a wave in the early 1980s, and this Imperial did the look as well as anyone. It was a graceful, expensive looking car. More than once, I sat in one in a showroom. Every time I did so, I would furtively look around, fearful of a gruff salesman turning to me and declaring “Hey, Kid – Get out of that car. That’s an IMPERIAL, you knucklehead. Let me show you a Horizon or maybe a nice used Duster.” The car seemed that special to me.
If anyone ever wonders why Lee Iacocca spent the rest of his career at Chrysler building K cars and their variants, this Imperial is probably the reason. This is pure supposition, but I would guess that there is no car ever championed by Lido that earned more of his scorn, bitterness or even hatred than this one. He pushed it. He gave it every chance. He backed it in a very, very public way. And it embarrassed him. Badly. Is it any wonder that the entire platform was killed by the end of 1983? I would not be surprised if Lee personally pushed the big red button to crush the tooling and kill this cruel, cursed car (and everything else that shared its platform).
As I was finishing this piece, I stumbled across a nice piece on this car at Ate Up With Motor (here). In it, Aaron cites evidence that Iacocca denied the Imperial’s paternity. Iacocca evidently claimed that the Imperial had been authorized by his predecessor, John Riccardo, and that by the time he took over, the car was too far along to stop. I’m not buying. Lee arrived at Chrysler in the spring of 1979, about eighteen months before its introduction. When an expected disaster in the making is already rolling out of the station, you let the car appear, then watch as it slowly sinks below the surface. You do not plaster your face all over the ads and ask Frank Sinatra to put his star power behind it. The Old Chrysler may have first conceived the idea of the J based Imperial, but all evidence suggests that Iacocca is the guy who enthusiastically ran that football the rest of the way downfield.
For all their failings, I still love these cars. I consider it one of the best looking “traditional” cars of the 1981-83 time period. When I was driving my daughter home from a friend’s a couple of weeks ago, I immediately recognized this Imperial as it sat at a gas pump. (How fitting.) It took some traffic maneuvering, but I caught up with it, idling unattended. I waited for the owners to come out as I snapped pictures. They never did, and I had to go. Even in this car’s dilapidated condition and in this least-flattering of colors, one thing kept running through my mind: Frank Sinatra singing “It’s Time for You.” And for just a moment, I imagined that I was the guy he was singing to as he tossed me the keys. But back to reality, because instead of it being “Time for Imperial”, it was really time for a Honda Fit. Which, fortunately, is not pale yellow and missing a window.
Wow, this car looks best in dark colors. Why is it that so many examples pictured (thus means a lot of the surviving examples) are in light colors? Or do the majority of these came in lighter colors?
Looks like Chrysler should’ve equipped the car with reliable carburettors if they can’t make the fuel injectors work reliably enough. Seems like that’s the primary cause of the car’s failure.
You raise an interesting question on the colors. I agree with you that the car looks best in dark colors. I checked the brochure and out of the 11 colors offered, it looks pretty even between light and dark, with the tiebreaker going towards light.
I have a real nice imperial , The interior is like brand new , and i havent had to put much work into it, maybe a new battery and a new alternator and starter but it runs the greatest like a newer car runs i suppose , its a great car and a real head turner ! there still out there !!
JP and KA – you both are correct. Once the fuel delivery system is fixed, the mechanical objections fade and the aesthetic beauty shines through. My Father-in-law has had one since 1990 – already modified by the previous owner and still today with only 60k kilometers. He also has owned it in sub-arctic Calgary, where it has lived its entire life. Except for the difficulty and cost of obtaining a windshield, only normal costs for upkeep. It even has been named by the family – what better tribute to a device?
What have they called it?
They did, after the fuel injection was shown to be problematic. My 1981 still had the fuel injection on it when I got it. Unfortunately, the tank was rusted out and the fuel pump was rusted up and covered in gas tar, not to mention i had trouble keeping it running, so in went a holley 4bbl setup. I still have all the stuff, minus the fuel pump.
Testing does not always find the problems. the system was tested extensively before release, yet as the old adage goes, “No battle plan has ever survived contact with the enemy”.
Lets just say, don’t put anything less than 91 octane gas in one, or else it will cough like a teen smoking his first cigarette. the injectors in the engine are ridiculously small, and the computer is a little slow on the draw. If its well maintained, and you always run at least 91 octane, it runs just fine. That’s most likely what Chrysler did, and failed to consider the average person sticking crap gas in it. If the fuelie system worked right, even on crap gas, they would have had a massive hit on their hands.
also, the injector is a giant spark plug shaped unit, with two rediculously small lines coming from it to two positions on the intake. A glorified throttle body setup, if you will. the entire unit sits inside of the air cleaner, computer and all. an interesting setup, really, but i would be worried about a backfire taking it out. they should have went with a modernized rail setup, like the bosch setup used on the European market Volkswagen Golf at the time.
If you are interested in disposing of the fuel injection components, I’d like to have spares for the still operational fuel injection on my Imperial.
Shoulda just had Bosch supply the fuel injection system!!
Agreed, in 58 they were blazing new ground, in the late seventies after a near bankruptcy one questions the wisdom of investing into a costly and unproven EFI system when working solutions were available.
Man, I hope I’m not first in this thread, as I generally know just enough to be dangerous, but here goes – and I’ll do my best to stay on track…
These cars were stunners in the day – a local radio host in St. Louis referred to the Imperial as a virtual “custom-built car” and he was very close to the truth because the Imperial LOOKED like a true custom-built car!
I also recall how, during one of my visits to our local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer where we bought our K-Cars from, one of these in white, just like in the top photo was sitting in the showroom. I couldn’t get over seeing this, and sitting in the driver’s seat, imagining wifey and me going out to a fancy restaurant on our anniversary, decked out in our best, out-classing everyone else! A nice dream, to be sure, but going out to our humble Reliant, my dreams went “poof”! Back to reality – and the fact I would never own something so pretentious – I was an out-in-the-woods-camping-and-hiking type of guy, wearing jeans and flannel shirts – just wouldn’t do a car like this justice.
Now? Oh, yeah!!!
Please pardon my hang-up, but for the life of me, why would anyone buy any luxury coupe like this or any other and having that fixed quarter window?
Back on track…
This car had some of the cleanest lines I have ever seen. Still beautiful over 30 years later. If I see one of these – and I haven’t in years, I would still say: “WOW”!
I recognize the photo location – Indianapolis near the state fairgrounds.
I had a friend in Indianapolis who had one of these. He was an electronic technician and spent a lot of time dealing with the electronic instrument cluster.
A very classy looking car in its day and still looks very substantial. Sometimes when you push state-of-the-art you end up with failure – this car pushed electronics a bit too far. Ahead of its time electronically.
It resembles an 80s Thunderbird at the back. The funny thing is that the Thunderbird didn’t need a bustle-back.
To me, the back looks like an 80s El Camino or a Monte Carlo with the tail lights in the wrong place. And the front looks like an 80’s Toronado. I love the beat-up Fury from the other day and most other Chryslers, but that is one ugly son of a bitch.
C’mon Szy- tell us what you really think.
Maybe the pre ’83 Aero-Bird.
“In it, Aaron cites evidence that Iacocca denied the Imperial’s paternity”
Good ol’ Lido. Every at bat was a home run, never made a mistake in his life.
The car stinks of Lidos lincolns he couldnt deny paternity
Allpar suggests this Imperial was Iacocca’s suggestion:
“Burton Bouwkamp wrote:
I remember the 1981 Imperial well because I was Director of Body Engineering from 1979 to 1983.
The 1981-1983 Imperial two door model was by command of Lee Iacocca after he asked, “where the hell is our Cadillac/Lincoln entry?””
I don’t see many of these in the wild anymore, but I recently spotted a light blue Imperial parked at a strip mall a few miles from my house. From the colour it may have been a FS edition, but I don’t know how to positively identify a FS from a distance. The Imperial was still somewhat striking looking, but it was amazing how small and low it seemed compared to the modern vehicles parked next to it.
If Iacocca showed up 18 months before the Imperial’s introduction then he should have had plenty of opportunity to abort the program. Remember that this was the point where Chrysler was in a financial free fall.
By all rights the Imperial should have been unplugged before it hit market. Chrysler had never been successful in that market segment. Why would it in the middle of a punishing recession?
That said, I wonder if the Imperial scared Ford into moving its Mark series onto the T-Bird platform.
Or maybe not completely ditch that program (I’ll only scrap that electronic system but instead studying some other avenues, that J-body could had been stretched a bit to a wheelbase around 115″-116″ going against the B-body Caprice and the Ford Panthers while a revamped M-body could go against the G-body Cutlass.
Good question about the Mark series, however once Ford beginned to work on the “Aero-bird”, I think they decided to include a Lincoln version as well.
Actually the design of the Mark VII inspired the Aero-Bird, although the Aero-Bird came out first (’83 for the Bird, ’84 for the Mark VII).
Hindsight is always 20/20; and aborting the Imperial would have kissed off almost all the development costs, with no return. That close to market, why not just play the hand they had? Chrysler could ill afford to write off any more money, or any more market.
Nobody knew which way the market would go. I don’t think anyone saw the SUV taking off, ten years later, the way it did, either…the automobile market is always volatile, ideas that failed are later adopted as raging successes a decade later.
I’d guess that the sophisticated electronics were seen as a selling point. Again, obviously nobody knew how troublesome they’d be – or how well they’d work a generation later with just some fine-tuning.
Looks like Robocop could have used this for the 6000 SUX.
“This is a hard car for me to write about.” I feel for you, JP. I kind of dreaded reading this, knowing how it would end, but I enjoyed every excruciating word!
I’d like to see a “photochopped” 4-door version of this car or its Cordoba cousin. I think it would have been handsome, and maybe a more fitting top-of-the-line 80s sedan than the Fifth Avenue. I assume the J-body has a longer wheelbase? Although, looking at those overhangs, maybe not…
I will do you one better – the real thing. I came across af few pictures of these Imperial stretch limos but did not do any investigation. But there seem to be a few of them out there.
I believe that the J body was 112 inches in its wb, whether Cordoba or Imperial. Is there any doubt that if this car had been profitible, the J platform would have survived into the boom years of the mid to late 80s and been a really nice car.
That’s bad ass.
I could see Lido riding in one of these when he was in charge at Chrysler, I could believe that more than him riding around in one of those little K-car Limos.
Or maybe this snazzy 5th Avenue Limo?
That would have made one mean-looking sedan/limo.
Was the limo version of this car from the factory or a coachbuilder? I remember seeing Cannonball Run II as a kid and thinking of all the cars in the movie, I prefer the Imperial Limo, in drab green!
I do not believe that it was factory.
There is some screenshots (and video) of that Imperial in Cannonball Run II at http://www.imperialclub.com/Movies/Cannonball/index.htm
I think it was a coachbuilder who did it, perhaps ASC who did some stretched K-car LeBaron Executive limos. http://www.allpar.com/eek/k/limo.html President Richard Nixon owned one of these LeBaron Executive http://forum.chryslerkcar.com/viewtopic.php?f=42&t=5156
Beautiful cars and I guess the answer to the question “Why didn’t Chrysler adopt fuel injection for the 318V8 in the Diplomat/Gran Fury/Fifth Avenue before killing the car?”
Sometimes I want to cry for Chrysler because they used to be THE engineering company, I’d love to see them take the lead in that again in the hearts and minds of the American public.
“To this day, Chrysler has never made another attempt at building a legitimate premium car.”
I would argue that given the correct options the RWD Chrysler 300 fits the bill, but the problem I guess is that the 300 (especially during the Diamler/Cebrus years) was available with rental grade equipment to a rip snorting Hemi and decent interior appointments. When Lee finally kicks the bucket, Chrysler should do a 300 Iaccoca Edition with pillow tuffed velour interior, designer leather optional.
Naw, Ford will do a “Pinto, Death Trap Edition” for Iaccoca.
Here’s the LWB from Cannonball II-
Jim, It’s a good thing you shot this before I could track down the one around here, a FS edition in about the same shape as this one. I followed it in traffic to a sex/peep show shop, but I didn’t have my camera on me! It would have made such a perfect backdrop for the car!
Anyway, the reason it’s better this way because I would have ripped it: Chrysler’s Deadly Sin indeed. Or Lido’s DS. Let’s just say my reaction to it when it appeared was the exact opposite of yours. I’ll leave it at that, and not spoil the party any further.
Well, Paul – I still hope that you find that blue FS model. Those are really rare, maybe less than 600 if I remember correctly. And while I succumbed to the fanboy treatment on this one, I have to acknowledge that there are probably more of you than there are of me out there, as poorly as these sold.
There is more than one way to skin an Imperial, and I look forward to your more critical take should the opportunity arise. Hey – I liked Mopars in the 70s, so I am tough enough to take whatever you can dish out to it. 🙂
Id love to read your take on this pukemobile Paul it deserves it
Re: electronics in cars. In the mid-to-late 70s I worked for a couple of semiconductor companies in the SF bay area. Forgetting the fiasco of the seatbelt interlock chips (my company wasn’t responsible for the field failures–they were so awful that the auto company rejected the entire lot and banned us), we were providing builds of components for electronic engine control (at a different company–both names deleted to protect the guilty).
My semi company built for both Chrysler, and (I think) Ford. Both were tough customers, but Chryco was in a league of its own. Temperatures harder to deal with than the military used, very high reliability expectations, and an aggressive cost structure. Hard to do. One thing that troubled me was that Chrysler put its engine controller in the engine compartment, while Ford put the EEC IV on the other side of the firewall. A mil-spec part was guaranteed to work at 125 degrees C (257F), but Chrysler asked us to build parts to 140C (284F). I don’t know if they kept this; I left in ’79. As a rule, the hotter a chip runs, the faster it fails. At the state of the art in the late 70s, Chrysler was probably paying with plutonium…
I had to replace the EEC IV computer in my 84 Ranger, but the ignition module under the hood quite literally cooked itself to death once or twice.
It wasn’t just their fuel injection system that had electronic gremlins. Chrysler introduced an electronic ignition system for carbureted engines in the late 70’s called “Lean Burn”. The ECU for this system was in a box attached to the side of the air cleaner. It is universally reviled for being so failure-prone. Unfortunately, lean Burn used many specialized parts which need to be replaced to rid the engine of this abomination.
Ah, lean burn! That must have been the system we were providing parts for. The name sounds right.
The tradeoff for location was between the horrible temperatures involved, and the difficulty of controlling devices at a distance. With the electrical noises involved, getting engine control electronics to work at all was a miracle given the technology of the day. (Mom said, “don’t count on miracles”. Too bad she never worked for Chrysler.)
In electronics, heat is the enemy & cool is good. I’ve always wondered how carmakers could use anything less than Mil-Spec parts since engine compartments are a thermal nightmare, yet commercial doesn’t want DoD prices, red-tape, or volume.
This is a rare find. Thanks for the great write-up.
When these debuted, I had two reactions. One, Chrysler’s interpretation of the bustleback trunk was far better than the one used by Cadillac on the 1980 Seville. (It was also better than Lincoln’s interpretation on the 1982 Continental, but that car debuted the next year.) I particularly liked the Imperial’s slender, full-width taillights.
And, two, hardly anyone was going to buy this car, because the new-car market in 1980-81 was absolutely awful (high gas prices, high unemployment rates and double-digit interests rates on new-car loans if you had a GOOD credit history), and sales of domestic full-size cars, in particular, were in the dumpster.
The Imperial almost seemed pointless, and a hangover from the “Old Chrysler Corporation” that Lee Iacocca kept suggesting was so bad in various news articles and advertisements.
In retrospect, between the fuel-injection issues with the Imperial and the terrible engines in the Seville (Oldsmobile Diesel, 4-6-8 engine and 4100 V-8), the 1982 Lincoln Continental was the best choice for someone looking for a little “neo-classic” luxury.
If they were really that desperate. I’d say this batch of cars is what really killed that golden goose, pretty much forever (thankfully). Talk about assisted suicide; right at the time when the import luxury cars were already on the dramatic upswing.
And how do you like where they put that rear license plate holder? Makes the rear end look like a monkey’s ass 🙂 Someone should have been shot just for that alone.
It would have looked a lot cleaner if they had put the license plate down lower, recesssed into the bumper.
I have only seen one or two of these cars in person, and it was 20 years ago when they were still in much better condition. I really wanted one badly! Electrical gremlins or not, I really like driving something that is so unique. That’s probably why I drove a 1969 Cadillac ambulance around for ten years!
But alas, reality has intervened – wife, job, mortgage, old house, yard, kids, chronic lower back problems. I keep up on my oil changes but am lucky to get a coat of wax on the minivan once per year. Now I have to live out my automotive dreams on the internets . . . so thanks for making that possible!
Toyota cribbed the rear for the late eighties Corolla Seca.
Chrysler seems to have more of their fair share of odd ends. See the ‘dog taking a shit’ Crossfire.
Oh, I agree that the placement of the license plate holder is definitely awkward. It really mars the trunk lid.
I don’t know if the Imperial really sold in high enough numbers to negatively influence the public’s perception of “neo-classic” luxury cars. I remember these as being incredibly rare even when new.
The Seville was the really big flop, as I recall, between the ungainly proportions and lousy engines. It just looked ridiculous, and the performance was bad even for the times.
But a 1984-87 Lincoln Continental with the 5.0 V-8 would still be a guilty pleasure. It is on the Fox platform, after all!
I’d rock an 84-87 Continental. In my opinion it is the last of the real Continentals. The FWD Continentals that followed were not real Continentals but a Taurus in a suit.
I owned one of those FWD Contis for 10 years (a 2001). Tried to replace it with an MKS. Seems Lincoln doesn’t really want to sell those; the dealer had exactly ONE on his lot. If they offered the ’01 as a brand new car, I’d snatch it up in a heartbeat. Great car. Only problem I had with it was the torque converter seal let loose and it took a dump of about a gallon of tranny fluid all over the driveway. Then again, my ’68 Polara did the same thing. So, I guess it’s just “one of those things” if you keep a car long enough.
I’d love to find one of these bustleback Imperials. But, I want one converted to carb. I have an EFI manual that was given to the mechanics sent out by Chrysler to fix these things. In the margins on one page, the mechanic wrote, “This system is going to be FUBAR by dealer mechanics!!!”. How right he was!
One more vote for moving the license plate down into the bumper.
It looks like it could be a “what are we going to do now?” change for the sake of change facelift – how’s that for an insult?
i always wondered what kept that huge nose from falling off. That overhang is HUGE I’m sorry but it is!!
One detail about these cars that really gets to me is the thickness of the header panel. There’s a full foot of plastic filler and then some on the side after the bumper starts and before the sheetmetal kicks in.
I like most of the lines on this car and always have, except for the rear license plate placement. WTF? Hideous.
The nose is maybe the best of any of the personal luxury type cars from the era. Just perfect.
I know they were on different platforms, but an M-body Fifth Avenue with the Imperial’s nose would have looked good, especially the hidden headlights.
At the same time, the Fifth Avenue’s taillight treatment and license plate location would have improved the Imperial.
The M body fifth avenue in 1981 was also scheduled to get Turbine power. Too bad that never happened.
I remember reading the writeups in either C/D or MT that the car’s driving dynamics weren’t all that great either.
It was always beautiful from the front and side views, not so sure about the rear. Funny how the Big 3 each had their own version of the bustleback and all 3 kinda sucked. I was never a Chryco fan whatsoever, but I was rooting for this car. I particularly remember a magazine ad for it in midnight blue which was really nice.
Also, my personal pet peeve – and another problem with these cars I think – was the interior treatments of the Imperial (and all Lincolns) which were near identical knockoffs of their lower-cost bretheren. Same dashboards, same steering wheels, and in the case of Chrysler, same dated, cheap looking AC controls. None of that is fitting a car that cost as much as an Eldo. That was the one good thing about GM, they had enough money to give Cadillac unique interior treatments.
What was Ford’s bustleback?
That would be the four-door ’82-’87 Continental. Here’s a photo of an ’86 from http://www.lov2xlr8.no, a great vintage car brochure website.
The whole car screams Iacoca style instead of substance its like he tried to fit a silver wraith on a Cordoba its ill concieved and ugly and using Franky boy to advertise OMG that sure wouldnt work any place out here FS proved himself a complete asshole and ran for his life. Just like the Mustang Iacocca used his reverse Midas touch and turned it to shit.
That episode was turned into the move “The Night We Called It A Day” with Dennis Hopper as FS
I Knew someone who had a 1983 I Believe it was, Not The 81 for sure. It Was Gold, Goldenrod Yellow Interior Leather IIRC…. But Totally UNRELIABLE
He Could Always Blame That Car. Often When I Would Meet Him , Hood Was Up, And He Was Pouring Liquid Into His Imitation 2 Door Seville – Which Was My Project in a Marketing Class 1980 Spring. That Was The Product Type “NICHE ” that I chose.
Luckily I got Graded an A before the Charms Went short upon Production,(Never)…
I Love The Bustle Trunk Look On This Car. Does It /Can it Hold 4 Golf Bags? 4 Passengers, Comfortable, as The Car Dies On The 101 in rush hour overheating?
Ive Said Before My Pontiac 1985 Grand Am Could Barely Go To SF, make it back to la was asking a lot of the 3.0 v6
You don’t need to capitalize every word.
I spent much of the 1980’s working at a “10 minute oil change,” and one time someone brought one of these in, and I sold the customer an air filter (it was pretty black). Finished up the service, car would not start. Tried a few things, then hit upon the idea of digging the old air filter out of the trash and reinstalling it. Started right up. Wow.
Would you believe they used these in NASCAR?
Not only used in NASCAR, but there’s at least one of these that was used in NHRA. drag races. A few months back, my bro-in-law and I drove up out to a place outside Eustis Florida to look at an old Ford parts truck for sale. Turns out the guy with the truck was an old drag racer that specialized in 318 Chryslers. He showed us around his barn and there was an old Plymouth station wagon drag car he said won at the Gatornationals long long time ago and one of these in immaculate condition decked out with a bad sounding 318 ( he fired it up for us ), open headers, big slicks and lots of decals. Very interesting looking drag car.
Doesn’t do a lot for me – even the concept of personal luxury coupe; so you want to go out for dinner with friends and two of them have to do gymnastics to get into the back?
The car itself – I’ll leave it at saying the glued-on nose looks like a Packardbaker and the overhang would challenge modern cars. On the other hand it sort of works for the limo version, being quite modern compared to the usual upright box.
I suppose the assumption of the class was either that you’d call for the Town Car if you wanted to take passengers or that your friends would be driving their own personal luxury car. Wouldn’t want people to think you hung around with riffraff, now.
I’ve never seen one of these in person (probably because they are rare and I was born two years after the last one rolled off the line in ’83) but I think it’s, uh interesting looking. I like the front and side treatment but, well, the rear, yeah. I can’t see how it flows with the lines on the rest of the car.
This is pure supposition, but I would guess that there is no car ever championed by Lido that earned more of his scorn, bitterness or even hatred than this one.
How about the Chrysler TC by Maserati?
As to the ’81-’83 Imperial, imagine if Chrysler had went back to the future and put a 440 in the engine bay (instead of the horrendous EFI 318). Abysmal gas mileage, sure, but it’s not like anyone paying the steep asking price is really going to care (and the legendary Mopar big-block would have fit the Imperial’s mission perfectly).
I love these cars so much it hurts, so I won’t begin to try and explain it. Chrysler TCs are another sick obsession. I coveted one on ebay just yesterday.
Adding to my obsession of the “JIMP” I have seen photos of a one-season-only(?) NASCAR version, along with Miradas rounding out the MOPAR presence in the early 80s. The NASCAR version’s very existence always seemed a bit surreal to me. (edit: Even more surreal, the car was sponsored by Schlitz beer.)
Although I’m also a Ft. Wayne resident, I recognize the “futuristic” BP across from the IN State Fair. My only question: which way was the suicide lane allowing traffic to flow when that picture was taken?
nibbles!!!?!: imperial nascar photo: http://www.imperialclub.com/Yr/1981/Buddy/04-imperial.jpg
Hooray for Fort Wayne. Although I have lived in Indianapolis for about 30 years, I grew up in Fort Wayne. I haven’t had a decent coney dog since I left. 🙂
As for the road, Fall Creek Parkway consists of 5 lanes. The middle lane changes direction – inbound to downtown in the mornings, outbound to the suburbs in the afternoon. Which way was it on the day of the pictures? I was so busy being 4 lanes away from the gas station, making my left turn to go farther away, doing a U turn in an entry to the State Fairgrounds, then getting back through the light hoping that the car would still be there, I forgot to notice.
That lane always freaked me out. I never trusted it.
I was neighbors with the Choka family growing up–Coney Island was frequently visited. Russ, the owner, recently died, and the funeral procession was the longest I’ve ever seen.
For the record, I do think the Imperial was certainly Iacocca’s kind of car, whether it was originally his idea or not. The press coverage at the time does indicate that he at least made a show of being chagrined about it, but it’s worth noting that the car had already received a LOT of negative reaction from critics. The Imperial appeared right after the second energy crisis, and many of the period reviews crowed that it wasn’t the sort of car that Chrysler (or Detroit in general) ought to be making. So, some defensiveness would be understandable — particularly considering Chrysler’s tenuous financial position and the federal bailout.
Besides the lambasting the general media gave the car on principle (i.e., a Chrysler on the verge of bankruptcy should not be building cars like this), the car itself wasn’t well received by the enthusiast magazines, either.
A review I distinctly recall in Car and Driver was sub-titled, “Return with us now to those glorious days of yesteryear”. Needless to say, they weren’t impressed, and flat-out stated that it was a car marketed to “short-armed, fat people”.
One of the photos in the article vividly illustrated how Chrysler employed a rather sleazy trick to make it appear as if there was more leg room than there really was, i.e., they had made the seat cushions shorter than normal, lowering thigh support significantly.
Youtube video of a drag racing Imperial here:
I like the 69-73 Imperials that are in the wrecking yard photo
Weird that this injection didn’t work since the same company was making injection for Cadillac Sevilles…
I have a near perfect one in red low mileage and the EFI works perfectly. Sunroof and CB radio make for an extremely rare version of an already extremely rare car.
I figured that you would eventually find this piece. Have I told you that I love your car? Keep the Cadillac, this is the real luxury ride!
Thank you, I picked it up partly on a whim because I like big American cars especially two doors personal luxury coupes. I am a mechanical engineer by trade, semi-retired now as of the end of 2012, so I have more time on my hands to explore the web. Being on mechanical side of the business, I have always been facinated by automakers first attempts at technology and how that technology affected the future. Some cars, like the Imperial, bombed and gave a lot of trouble. Others did well, but in the end, they all marked a turning point for something. The Imperial represented everything that Chrysler could have thrown into a car in that time period. Fortunately, my car runs well and I have largely eliminated all of the various quirks and problems associated, so much that it is one of the more pleasant of my cars to drive. This particular car came from Palm Springs area of Southern California and now resides in Southeast North Carolina, so it not been subject to bad environment. As expected, it turns heads, partly because it is a large red car that occasionally is mistaken for a Rolls Royce coupe, and from others who have never seen an Imperial or haven’t seen one in ages. They only made 459 of these in that color and with the sunroof only appearing on about 1/3 of the first year models and CB radio accounting for only 7% of 1981 sales you can imagine that combination is probably in the single digits or less.
The burgundy paint suits it nicely.
Your car looks to be great i have three and have collected them for years please let me know what it will take to get yours in my Garage…
Definitely an old thread, but why not chime in…
As an admirer of “neo-classic” American coupes, I can say that the ’81-’83 Imps were one of Chrysler’s best. Ever since I got my driver license when I was 16, I told myself that if I ever came across a fairly clean ’81 model in Daystar Blue with a dark blue cloth interior, aluminum snowflake wheels and the power moonroof, I would purchase it. 10 years later, that combination finally appeared on Ebay Motors. Fortunately it was not too far away.
When I got it, the thing was prettty gnarly. I guess it had been parked for 13 years and the guy that sold it to me neglected to clean out the bird and wasp nests under the hood. A good cleaning, a new carb and some TLC brought it back to life. 6 years and 40,000 miles later, she’s still on the road. Great car for long road trips (cruise control was standard). The late ’70s Continental Mark V was a close 2nd. I snapped this pic when my car was in for service. The Lincoln was parked next to me so I just had to take this comparison pic. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of driving it. The original paint is faded and pealing off, but people still stop to ask about it. The 318 starts up every time and purrs like a mean kittin. This is one Imperial that won’t be a resident of the local scrap yard anytime soon. Kudos on a well written piece. For some Mopar nuts, it “will always be time for Imperial.”
You have a great car. That Daystar blue was always my favorite color on these. With you and CraigNC, we are getting quite the club of Imperial owners among our readers.
I’m sure we’ll have more owners soon. I passed on an F. Sinatra just before I got this one because I thought the “locking tape cabinet” took up valuable floorspace. I’m glad I waited because this one sure needed some help. Apparently the original owner passed away in the early 90’s and it sat outside behind a barn for over a decade before the kids had to get rid of it. The guy at the tow yard who bought it put new gas in the tank and it miraculously started. I bought it for 1/10th its original value ($2,000), put a new fuel filter in it and drove it 600 miles back home without incident.
It could’ve easily ended up in the above-pictured junk yard, but I like to think I gave it a 2nd chance on life. I had no idea that there were so few made until I researched it. Production figures were almost the same for the ’90-’93 Cadillac Allante before GM pulled the plug. I had one of those too, but I sold it so I could buy the Imperial. I don’t regret it one bit and look forward to saving enough money to give it the factory paint job it deserves.
i need parts as showing in the attached picture please send email for more details
Hi. Several auto dismantling yards here in California have or recently had this vintage Imperial on the lots. I would check the inventory of your regional junk yards until one shows up. It’s your best bet. Another source is Ebay Motors. I’ve found everything from those red jewel center wheel caps to the always breaking-plastic wiper retaining disc at my local Pick-n-Pull. Good luck, I know you’ll find them.
I had 25 of these imperial in most color ,condition,with e.f.i. and without and here.s the color brake down of how they look in my opinion.All light colors like white,cream make the car looked dull.and all dark color like blue,black,brown and red hide the lines of the bustle back making look like a t bird from the distent.
But the best paint to enhance the lines of this car because of it’s angler shape is the metallic like silver.lt silver.day star blue glaecir blue,spice tan.golden rod.begia crystal charcoal grey.and last but not least iiiiis the lt sea spray green,lt mahogany for 81 and alburn for 82 this color when the sun hits it it look like pink and on a brite day or glooming day its tan and because of the shape the sun reflex the front end into your eyes the same for the side if you notice closely there is a flare running along the side of the car to the point of the small window it also glare in your eye.
You could call this car a moving jewel or rolling gem that sparkle because it catches your eyes i could go on about these beautiful car———
Another shape that I’ve always loved. Rare, so rare that I can only once remember seeing one on the road. And, yes, the license plate location is unfortunate. But other than that–man. Love it. Takes the classy, upright look of cars like the Mark V and final “waterall” Imperials, and gives it a modern (well, modern for 1981) touch with the sloped nose and the bustleback.
The lovely shape makes the trouble-prone engine so much more tragic. Of the surviving examples, I wonder how many are still using the original EFI?
I love these cars especially the limo. What a great interior. So beautiful. Shame about the furlinjection issues. If only the had gone with a carburated police spec 360 and built a 4 door too they would have owned the 80s luxury market. This could have been the best luxury car so easily but Lincoln beat them on reliability. I still want one.
Few weeks ago I went to Fredericksburg auto salvage which is a real old style junk yard. I remembered that like 20 years ago there was one of these in there. I was looking for some Lincoln parts. When that imperial was junked it looked new. Well I saw it and was amazed at how good the interior and body still looked. Very little rust and the inside still was decent. Chrysler must have really used premium materials.
I still want one. They even made the bussle back look good. The baby Lincoln and Seville were hideous.
If anybody still visits this thread, there’s a good article in this month’s (July ’14) Automobile magazine about the collectability of these cars on page 94. I still have mine but it’s slowly falling apart. If you don’t mind fixing things as fast as they break, this could be the car for you 🙂
I must be one of the few who like/still lust after a 1980 Mark VI. I consider it a rational alternative to the overblown barges that predated it.
I also had (and enjoyed immensely) two Town Cars of this vintage also.
OK, I’m weird…….I also lust after a ’60 Valiant and a ’62 Fury.
You may want to seek help for that condition. If you add the ’61 Fury to your list, it’s time to admit you have a problem.
I like this a lot despite the problems( CCer Craig in NC has a sorted one which is used regularly)
This thing totally went under my Radar – did not know it even existed…
Little did anybody know and realized nor care that the chassis used by the Imperial was basically derived from the stretch version of the YES 1976-80 Plymouth Volare’ and Dodge Aspen and yet this Imperial was still slightly shorter than the older 1975-79 Dodge Coronet/Monaco/St. Regis based Dodge Charger/Magnum or 1975-79 Chrysler Cordoba?
The Cordoba this car was based on, with it’s 318 carbureted engine and always excellent 3 speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission and non-digital dashboard, was a quite nice car. Prolly the accumulation of all the experience Mopar had accumulated up to this point in time.
Such an awesome car. Iacocca should have gotten the bugs out first. My only quibble with the styling is the recessed tailights (they should be flush) and slightly too long front header panel.
An elderly gentleman in my town has one of these Imperials, along with an early 1980s Cadillac Seville as part of a pair of rotating bustle-back daily drivers. As a result, I have had ample opportunity to see what these cars look like in clean but parked outdoors condition, and they really are attractive and better looking than in photos. The proportions look right from any angle, both the slant-nose front and bustle-back rear are well executed, and both the interior and exterior seem quite durable. If I had an opportunity to purchase one for a reasonable price, with budget left over to drop in a warmed-up 360 or some other improved LA engine, I would definitely take it.
Ah, back in the days when mentioning the space program or using the term “space-age” (particularly when paired with “polymer”) was code for Very Cutting-Edge And Extremely Prestigious. Never mind that “engineered in the labs that started the space program” is about as vague as a movie poster saying “inspired by (vs. “based on”) a true story,” or about as prestigious as living in Darwin, Minnesota, home of the World’s Largest Twine Ball.
1985 was about the last year when mentioning the space program had positive connotations, for reasons that should be obvious.
I don’t know if it had been mentioned (and didn’t feel like going through all of the two year old comments), but isn’t this the car where one of the biggest EFI issues was interference from overhead power lines because the engineers failed to properly insulate the components?
Or was it the placement of the components in the engine compartment (rather than under the dash against the firewall), where the engine vibrations and temperature wreaked havoc?
Either way, the last ‘true’ Imperial was a nice looking car that deserved better.
while I don’t really see anything special about this car FOR IT”S TIME, it’s a real beauty now. Something that no longer exists. A large TWO DOOR personal luxury coupe. I have always had a thing for 2 door luxury coupes, and as a teenager back in 1974, actually wanted a 1974 Pontiac Grand Prix above a Camaro. I find it very sad these cars no longer exist, but I would have no problem at all driving an older one over any of today’s generic four door sedans. This would not have been my first choice for a car back then, but I would rather have it now more than anything else I can currently buy.
Oh, they still exist. Head down to your local Mercedes dealer and have a look at an S-Class coupe (formerly CL-class until 2015 MY). That’s a real two door personal luxury coupe. Of course, the price of entry is somewhere around $120K, so bring some money along.
You’re right that the 2-door personal luxury coupe no longer exists from any American manufacturers though. I think the last one was the 2002 Cadillac Eldorado ETC. If you disqualify that for being FWD, then you move back to the ’98 Lincoln Mark VIII, a personal favorite of mine.
A couple of years ago I test drove a 82 imperial that was for sale locally .
Though the cars exterior wasn’t in the best of condition, its leather interior was surprisingly intact and comfortable.
More surprising was that this Imperial still had its original EFI and it was still functioning.
The Imperials only hitch was that there was a slight hesitation from a dead stop when accelerating. Otherwise quite smooth.
I never did make a offer on the Imperial because if its EFI had developed any sort of problem, I would have been lost as how to repair it.
Aside from 4 doors, which in my opinion relegates a car to taxicab status, another one of my strong dislikes is EFI. As a retired former fleet services mechanic for 36 years, it’s about the only thing I worked on for the past 5 years or so, which had a lot to do with my decision to retire early at 55. I grew up working on carburetors form a very early age, both cars and motorcycles. I learned everything there was to know about them times ten. Then I got thrown into OBDII, and life went downhill fast. Cars were no longer cars, they were computers on wheels. There was no fun in working on them, and you could no longer tinker with them. It took a very expensive computer and vehicle specific software to find out what the problem was, and the cheaply made parts cost a fortune to replace. I no longer have access to all that computer diagnostic equipment. I’ll stay with my old cars.
I’m still drag racing a ’93 S10 with a well built 383 four barrel V8 in it. No computers, no emissions, none of that crap. Might as well be a ’73.
Larry Peternel raced an Imperial-bodied Pro Stocker in the 80s.
I wonder if anyone with an “FS” has the full collection of Sinatra recordings on cassette, and the blue velvet carrying bag. Certainly Chrysler’s most interesting freestanding accessory since the lipstick-handbag-umbrella combo on the Dodge LaFemme
Something I’ve always wondered about these J-Bodies. The body was a re-work of the F-M Volare/LeBaron, but the instrument panel looks like a straight lift from the ’79 R-Body. But these cars are narrower, so how can that be?
it was definetly an interesting option, I have the included “Mark Cross” branded umbrella that came with my 81.
Nice write up on an interesting but ill fated car. From some views, the side and front quarter, it is quite attractive. The back view does not work at all, and the license plate seemed shockingly like an afterthought at the time. I suspect that the busy but attractive side sculpting is the same as the Cordoba, and that the fenders and doors exchange with the Cordoba. The derivative styling potentially sharing showroom space with the Cordoba, and the too similar Dodge Mirada, could not have helped this car. Really a shame about the engine electronics. The similar and far less pricey Cordoba did much the same job as this car, but was more reliable and had less controversial styling.
I’ll give Chrysler second place for its attempt at the bustle back. The Seville was a cohesive and successful look and takes first place. The bustle Continental was just odd in many places and ways and takes third.
I was told back in 1983 that the Imperials were being built with carburetors, but it could have been the dealers were replacing the fuel injection units even before the cars were being sold. Too bad it didn’t work out. Ironically, the 318 finally did get fuel injection in 1988 in Ram full size trucks and vans (but not the M bodies from some reason). The system used in the trucks was a very satisfactory Holley throttle body unit.
The 1981 Imperial was a pretty car, much nicer looking than the Continental. The only domestic luxury car that I though was more attractive at the time was the Eldorado, particularly triple black examples.
The M-Body cars were about to die. Chrysler wouldn’t have had the money to give them EFI.
Plus, the next generation New Yorkers were coming. Why give the older cars EFI? Make them buy the shiny, new version!
Now with Ultramatic!
I had no knowledge or interest in these Imperials but this article held my attention from start to finish. Had no idea about the new plant, unique platform, $10,000 FI -> carb replacement and my favorite tidbit of all the thicker sheet metal! Well done!
I’m certain they blew all money on the digital display, or plain forgot the digital tuning Radio and high tech electronic push button/display Climatron. Hope they had instant MPGs etc a la Seville. Also the Aspen’s steering wheel and column are hard to swallow. But asides, these did have massive presence and dignity, though the trunk’s problem is it seems to be designed more in cubics space demanded by the marketing people or committe, than by the designer. Also agree with above, re rear plate display, as a kid, I scratched my head on that.
One of the main reasons I kept hearing people promising to rip out the fuelie for carbs, through the 80’s. I think Olds almost forever use of carbs on their tradition models, was due to certain a Grandpa demographic who though carbs were non new fangled perfection And I pity the skinflint who bought an Imperial with issues, centain an old intake manifold rebuilt carb would be everthing needed for running on the cheap in style.
This only hearsay from a Mopar guy from years ago, but it gave the impression some dealerships coverted them to carb from new, claiming they were already bad. This was to keep the comeback levels lower and their shops higher scores with successfully completed jobs.
the A/C controls are nothing special, the only differences from the standard Mopar controls are the attractive silver finish and the temperature markings below the temp slider. Almost reminds me of the “AutoTemp II” system used in 1973 Chryslers, with the dial marked with the temp on it, like a home thermostat.
The dash does contain a mileage computer, accessed via a row of silver buttons above the radio. it can tell you how much gas is in the tank, the (Approx.) miles you can travel before empty, and the avg. MPG you are getting, the measurements can also be read to you in metric, along with everything else, with the press of a button!
“Over at Cadillac, a perpetual also-ran in this market, the 1979-80 Eldorado was a legitimate contender, but it was quite conservative and hardly the kind of car that set a luxury buyer’s heart aflame.”
Not sure how the 79-80 Eldorado could be considered quite conservative, especially in light of the contemporary Mark VI and Imperial. Mechanically it was far more advanced with front wheel drive, four wheel independent suspension and 4 wheel disk brakes (which the others also had). But compare it to the leaf springs and live axle of the Imperial, or live axle and conventional coils on the Mark.
And by ’80, the Eldo was exploring digital electronic fuel injection, (presumably to better effect than the Imperial) and by ’81 they offered the variable displacement V8-6-4. Unfortunately, much of this advanced technology wasn’t ready for primetime, leading to reliability issues and numerous warranty claims that damaged the brand. We won’t even mention the HT-4100.
But the point is the Eldorado of this era was among the most mechanically advanced domestic cars, and at least attempted to offer engineering on par with BMW/Benz etc. As for not setting luxury car buyer’s hearts aflame, the 1980 model alone set a new sales record at just over 67,000. The Imperial sold about 17,000 for the entire 3-year run. Lincoln shifted about 64,000 Mark VIs, total.
The most depressing thing about the ’81-’83 Imperial is it was just another case of the typical Chrysler woulda/shoulda/coulda. Most seem to agree that it was an attractive car and if they had only put a much more reliable (and powerful) carburated 360-4v in the engine bay, it might have cleaned up, ironically, from the newly downsized Lincoln Mk V.
But gas was expensive, so a big, traditional engine was out of the question and the effort to extract the most fuel mileage from the old 318 had to be made, I suppose. A real shame the EFI system turned out to be so troublesome. Apparently, it was so bad that the Imperial occasionally winds up on ‘worst cars ever built’ lists.
There is one 82 imperial in good condition for sale in mid europe
The writer of this article commented “Lee Iacocca is best known for the Mustang. ” But Lee Iacocca himself is most proud of his achievement of introducing the Front-Wheel Drive Mini Van into the automotive market in 1984, the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager.
The `81 Imperial FS edition was probably the only car named after a singer, though it was called FS, not Frank Sinatra, Not too wild about the car, even less about the singer.
I would prefer an Eldorado from the 1879-1981 period with touring suspension and alloy wheels in black with maroon interior from this time era. The Imperial was a decent looking car plagued with EFI and Lean burn woes and it’s suspension was rather archaic and flaccid betraying it’s Volare’ roots. A 318 4BBL conversion with suspension upgrade would make for an interesting ride however.
Hey, If you don’t like these cars; I could care less. For those of us that do; kudos to you.
All I can say is, this one is perfect! Eat your heart out!!! And it’s all original!!!
Hope the picture shows up!!
There is a man in NC that drives one all over the place we see it regularly here in Ohio at the parts store I work at. It is original and nobody knows what it is except an old Chrysler guy who used to work at the dealer.
I bought one here in Sweden, imported 2014 and only been driven 19 700 miles and the leather seats and all inside is like new! I just love it!! It´s a very rare car here in Sweden, only three of them is here!! The injection system is working just fine and it has a low fuel consumption compared to other cars with a 318, V8!!
Wow. Interesting thread. In 82-84 my Grandpa owned an 81 Imperial….and despite my being 17-18 years old back then, he had me drive him everywhere. I ended up with lots and lots of quality time with my Grandpa behind the wheel of an Imperial. I also did a fair amout of maintenance work on the car. As a teenage mopar nut, and someone who learned to drive in an M-body, i just adored the Imperial. And looking 35 years back now I find that the car looks better and cooler than ever.
This was a relatively rare car – I barely saw a handful of them back in those days. I am astounded at how many people here have something useful to say about the car as well as those who still have them running! Very impressive.
A couple of things vividly stand out in my memory of driving the car. It was not a drag car – it was 4k+ lbs heavy – but it had PLENTY of power and an OUTSTANDING over the road manner in complete silence. It also had a pronounced delayed tip-in a la a Merc of the day. The EFI was cool but very finicky…and the controller board and pump were replaced once. The factory would not cover the cost, and my Grandpa got pissed and bought a K-body new yorker in 85–which was in a vastly different league. K bodies are another subject altogether.
That Imperial was and is such a great and underappreciated car. My hat is off in honor of all of you that still have one in running condition.
They are becoming very rare even in barely fair condition. I have a survivor, I’m told I am the 3rd owner, the first having it for 16 year, and the second, the same. The last owner was a Cadillac fan, supposedly, and was aging, so his collection needed to be thinned out.
It’s time for Chrysler Imperial FFS?
I recall seeing one of these once at my high school being driven by some kid around 1997 or so, haven’t seen any since then.
Ah, yes….the Imperial. When these came out, I thought they were a bit tarted up and couldn’t warm up to the bustle back. They were way beyond my reach, anyway.
A few years back, a guy who was a Chrysler dealer tech when these were new mentioned the warranty EFI-back-to-carb repair. He didn’t have much good to say about them in light of the plethora of quality issues, but said those that came in for work kept him occupied.
When they came out, I vaguely remember reading that the bumper mounts were engineered so NVH could be damped out by the bumpers.
Sad that Lido went in-house on EFI when Bosch had perfectly functional systems across several Euro lines. Trying to keep it all American, I guess.
Glad to see there are still a few on the road these days.
I cannot remember the last time I saw one of these, on the road, or at a car show. Nice looking cars, certainly the bustle-back is remindful of the Seville, but in a good way.
Since they had to spend ten grand doing the retrofit, they should have opted instead to swap out the 318 for a proven configuration of the 360 engine, leaving the rest of the fuel system bits (tank, dash) alone. If it would have mated to the transmission of course.
I like this car much better than the 1990s edition of the Imperial.
I believe that what keeps this from being a Deadly Sin was its market failure, preventing thousands more from destroying Chrysler’s reputation.
I’ve admired the Cordoba/Mirada second generation cars and was baffled at its brevity – but after reading this information about the Imperial, I believe Iacocca killed it with fire.
I’ve been pondering why the ’81-’83 Imperial doesn’t get a Deadly Sin tag, and I suspect it has to do with the fact that, while all the costs involved (including the monstrous warranty claims to replace the troublesome EFI) didn’t help Chrysler’s bottom line, it didn’t do all that much damage, financial or reputation, either. By the late seventies/early eighties, everyone knew that chances were less than 50/50 of getting a good Chrysler product that had been developed in the seventies. It was only when the K-car came online that things began to turn around a bit.
In effect, it’s sort of like citing something from British Leyland as a Deadly Sin. With some auto manufacturers, products were generally so bad, labeling one of them as a Deadly Sin is rather pointless.
Interesting example of how times have changed..a really expensive car then fully loaded is $45-$50k in today’s money…and Frank is an old legend at the age that say Eddie Vedder is today. 🙂
Keep in mind that Frank Sinatra had a Top 40 pop hit just months before the Imperial was introduced (“New York, New York”); he was very much still in the public eye and not just a historical figure in 1980.
I seem to be in the minority, if not the only one, but the styling… Often what seems garish at first will age to just less than memorable. But the trunkline on this and it’s Caddy counterpart look just as laughably absurd today as they did when they came out. I had no idea the car was such a mechanical disaster, but to my eyes it’s just stunningly ugly. I guess it fits the old line, beauty may be only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone.
CC Effect! This is posted on Barn Finds: https://barnfinds.com/?p=406099
With working EFI and the Moonroof, currently @ $3750
Wasn’t there some sort of fix for the EFI, something about moving it from the vibrations of the engine to a much calmer location on the firewall?
A few months before graduation, I bought a new 1983 Imperial, which I’ve kept since then in its original condition. She still has her EFI system that works well.
The early EFI systems seem to suffer from poor component quality. The RCA COSMAC 1802 CPU was pretty solid, but the other semiconductors, capacitors, etc. weren’t up to the task. Sometime in the later 1980s Chrysler pulled back as many cores that they could find and rebuilt them, this time with better quality control. I have one of those CCCs and HSPs on my car and it’s perfect with them.
The second problem was that, unlike today’s cars with OBD-2, the Imperial’s EFI can’t tell the tech what to fix. Today a mediocre mechanic can usually make a lucky guess that results in a correct repair, but diagnostic computers didn’t exist in the early 1980s. In an era where the guys in the shop were mechanics and not automotive technicians, they lacked the skills to correctly diagnose and therefore repair the car.
Troubleshooting can be non-trivial. But with comprehensive understanding of the system, it isn’t impossible to keep the EFI system working well.
I just had to comment. Back in 1980/81, I was living in Orange Park/Jacksonville, FL, and went in to a Chrysler dealership and saw this beautiful car. I was leery of Chrysler products although my grandfather was big on them. My mom had a used 53 plymouth, and it was good and 61 valiant my brother had–the door handle fell off during my driving test…that’s another story.
Everything about the car screamed beautiful, the seats everything, and then I got in it and the door handle fell off. I still debated getting it but the door handle falling off in the showroom made me even more leery. I stuck with Olds Cutlass I had for a couple more years.