(first posted 12/4/2014) In 1992, Lee Iacocca practically had to be dragged out of his office at Chrysler. Presumably he got shoved into his Imperial, and told never to come back, although he tried once or twice. He had folded, spindled and mutilated the K-car platform that he inherited upon his arrival in 1979 into every possibly permutation, and this Imperial was the last one, a cynical and desperate last-ditch attempt to rekindle the old Iaccoca-mobile magic as well as that storied name. It was the end of two eras, both for the Imperial and Iacocca. And not a very pretty one for either of them.
In 1926, Walter Chrysler proudly announced his new Chrysler Imperial 80, designed to take on Cadillac, Lincoln, and other luxury cars of the time. The “80” stood for the speed it would comfortably and quietly attain; quite the accomplishment for a car in its price class at the time.
The very first Chrysler, a brilliant all-new car had only just appeared in 1924, and was the most successful launch of a new automobile brand. Now two years later, the Imperial was the crowning achievement of Walter Chrysler and his new company. The Chrysler Imperial was off to an auspicious start.
We’re not going to recap the Imperial’s whole long, rough ride through the decades here. But from 1955 (above) though 1975, Imperial was elevated to a brand of its own, but it just couldn’t compete against Cadillac and Lincoln, never mind the import luxury brands. The name was put to rest, presumably forever.
But not once Lee Iacocca showed up in 1979. In 1981, he staged his first Imperial comeback, which turned out to be an embarrassing dud on many levels, most of all because of its electronic fuel injection.
Lee had pushed the Imperial hard, and when it blew up in his face, he was embarrassed and angry. And he killed it pronto. Later, Lee even had the gall to claim that he wasn’t responsible, even though one of the Chrysler execs has quoted him as saying: “where the hell is our Cadillac/Lincoln entry?” right after he arrived,and ordering up the Imperial. Anyway the ’81 Imperial has all Iacocca-mobile hallmarks. JPC’s full ’81 Imperial story here.
You’d think he’d had enough egg on his face from that debacle. But Lee was utterly addicted to his perpetual formula for success: the classic “Ford-Iacocca face” that first appeared on the 1968 Lincoln Continental Mark II, with a faux-classic grille flanked by hidden headlights, half-roof padded vinyl tops, chintzy wire wheel covers, opera windows and carriage lights, and of course, bordello interiors. It had worked so well at Ford in the seventies, right? Ummm, yes, until it eventually took Ford to the brink of bankruptcy. Oh never mind that…Lee was lucky to get fired by HFII just before all that shit hit the fan.
Chrysler was a perfect fit for Lee: finally he was now the real boss, and quickly burnished his image as the One True Savior of the company. And just as soon as Lee got the government loan guarantees to see Chrysler through its near-death in 1979, thanks to showing the key members of Congress pictures of the K-Cars, he set himself to creating a steady stream of K-based genuine Iacocca-mobiles.
It’s come to be known as the Kreation story, and goes like this.
In the beginning was the letter K, and that letter K was with Chrysler’s engineers. And then the great Savior Lee arrived, just in time to take credit for it. And the letter K was made steel, and drove amongst us, even if rather modestly. And Lee said: “It is good, but it reminds me way too much of the 1960 Falcon. I must do something about that”.
So on the first day (1982), Lee said “let there be the LeBaron”, something that I need not be so embarrassed about”. But it was just a start, and looks almost demure compared to what was to come. Of course it was bestowed the ubiquitous Iacocca “cap” and of course the other trappings of Iaccoca-mobiles.
On the second day (1984), Lee said “that’s just not ambitious enough”, so he kreated the New Yorker. Still mostly the same basic K-Car body, but now with a 2.7″ wheelbase stretch for a bit of rear seat legroom, a more flamboyant “cap” along with a crappy little carriage light on it, and fake louvers on the front fenders. Lee had gone on a shopping spree at Pep Boys, and lavished the New Yorker with every cheap little trick in his holy book.
On the third day (also in 1984), Lee said: “What’s a proper American car company without a proper limousine?” So he waved his cigar at a Lebaron coupe, its front and rear ends parted, and a middle section appeared magically to unite them. Lee was impressed. Nobody else was.
On the fourth day (1988), Lee said “It’s been seven years of plenty, so let the the top-tier K-Cars have a bit of freshening up, but not enough to ruin their basic boxy proportions. Ford’s new potato-cars, the Taurus and Sable, are destined to be a huge flop. I, and only I know what Amerikans really want.” Thus was the 1988 New Yorker and Dynasty, the K-Cars Reinkarnated.
On the fifth day (1989), Lee said: “Let there be…a Maserati of K-Cars“. And as odd as that decree seemed, it did come to pass, although not nearly as quickly as it was supposed to. Was his power slipping a bit?
On the sixth day (1990), Lee said: “That 1988 New Yorker is just not long enough; let it henceforth be stretched even further. And let it bear the storied ‘Fifth Avenue’ name. Yes, that’s better; longer always is.” The TC fiasco certainly proved that.
In the creation story in Genesis, God called it quits after six days and took a well-deserved break on the seventh. Not so Lee; he was now feeling so expansive from all of his kreations, and was now ready for the ultimate expression of his swelling powers. So on the seventh day (1991), his krowning achievement arrived: the resurrection of his second most beloved name (after Mark), the Imperial. Here was the chance to redeem himself, after having to kill it back in 1983.
In typical Iacocca-mobile fashion, the Imperial’s cost benefit equation clearly favored Lee, not the buyer. What exactly did one get for that massive 30% premium over a New Yorker Fifth Avenue? Some different plastic and plasti-chrome on the front end, obviously. Imperial badges.
To put the Imperial’s price in perspective, in inflation adjusted dollars it cost a mighty $55K. For a dolled-up K-Car. That’s actually even more than the 1981 Imperial coupe, which had completely unique styling and sheet metal, as well as interior. This Imperial’s pricing is right up there with the Cadillac Cimarron in terms of unabashed cynicism.Comparing the Imperial’s interior to the New Yorker’s, it appears that the plasti-wood on the doors was rearranged, and that elegant door pull added. Hey, that’s got to be worth a couple of thousand right there. Other than that, it looks mighty similar, inside and out. But it’s wearing that Imperial nameplate.
In gold, no less. Not surprisingly to anyone except Lee, sales were decidedly mediocre. The first year (1991), the just barely topped 10k. Then it was down to 7k for each of the subsequent years. In 1994, a very different New Yorker/LHS replaced the Imperial.
One might think that after the 1981 Imperial fiasco, Lee might have been willing to let it go. But that was just not in the nature of the man. Just like he couldn’t let the boxy neo-classical flim-flam go, and just had do it one more time, forever sullying that once-storied name, so could he not let his power at Chrysler go. The Imperial is an almost perfect analogue to Lee’s career at Chrysler. The Iakokka Era was over, thankfully. It was an ordeal at the time, and it’s becoming one again reliving it in writing. Enough.
The only question is this: did Lee see the light and drive himself home that day in 1992, or did he have to be tied up and thrown into the trunk of his Imperial?
What am I doing up at 4am local time? Reading CC, of course. I was completely unaware that there was an Imperial after the bustlebacks, or had expunged it from my memory. I do recall how chintzy the plated plastics of the era were, and how the tarted up “luxury” K-Cars seemed too small for their wheel covers. The Reliant had a lightness about it that suggested economy. But add the glitz, and the look of light becomes insubstantial. Somehow Lee seemed to be courting a questionable segment of semi rich folk who were semi obsessed with gas mileage. Small market.
I always thought this to be one of the most aesthetically challenged cars of its time, and the passage of time hasn’t done it any favors. Glad this wasn’t a big seller, it was a very cynical car. Around 2007 there was a 300 based Imperial concept going around that was a beauty and would have been a proper heir to the Imperials of the 60s.
You mean this “beauty”?!
Well, beauty is subjective… I like it, anyways!
I remember that car. To me, it looked like a cartoon-inspired 3-D model of a gangster’s car.
Call me weird, but I almost like this. I like the shape of the body, but that vinyl top needs to go. It makes the back end look too heavy. Also, the interior. If you’re buying an Imperial, why not make the inside more interesting?
I remember that! Wasn’t it brown, though?
A huge problem is the name itself. It may belong with “Dictator” in the pantheon of embarrassing monikers that have slipped out of the social consciousness.
I remember that! Wasn’t it brown, though?
A huge problem is the name itself. It may belong with “Dictator” in the pantheon of embarrassing monikers that have slipped out of the social consciousness.
“How about this: Lee Iaccoca presents the new Insideral LeRobberbaron – Teapartier Edition”
Start with Imperial, end with Imperial.
There was an old guy from Chrysler ( with few happy memories of Highland Park and cable lines between Highland Park and Modena ) gave a lecture about how to be successful in a modern cooperation. I noticed he was in Chrysler during the ’80s, and was responsible for the Lamborghini Formula One engine program. I couldnt help asking about his attitude about Chrysler TC by Maserati ( especially after owing a $700 New Yorker Fifth Avenue for a short while) and he was really enjoying thinking back about it, proudly saying it was one of the best time in his carrier, and, pathetically at the same time a rather naive girl asked him if in a big cooperation, would there be many chances to travel globally. He answered firmly yes, talking about how happy he was going back and forth between US and Italy busy about the exotic Maserati ( I think the girl really likes the answer ) Then, he was all talking about how proud he was about the various sports K car, luxury K car and K car ( among a group of late teen early 20s young fellows it’s not a good topic, not helped by the number of girls more interested about exotic Italy. Well, I know those cars and I have miserable experience with them and surely I wont forget, the old fellow was quite happy I knew what he was talking about. I bet he just didnt imagine how hard I knew about them though ) and on… until Dr Fletcher kindly reminded him time’s up. Now I know why he gives a lecture about how to be successful in a modern business, he must know every trick!
In the parking lot of the university, there is a same Imperial in a similar condition.
The headlights cover still works, but the crystal is missing. I can get a dozen in self service junkyard until my hands get too sore.
For years the old adage was “longer, lower, and wider”. When this came along, only the “longer” portion was followed.
At the time I remember reading a review which likened it to a pack of Virginia Slims cigarettes – very long and very thin. When these came out, I had viewed Chrysler of the ’80s as possessing a certain degree of admirable audacity; this Imperial was certainly full of audacity, but it was of the crass variety.
I once read a memorable line, think it was about the Spirit/Acclaim, in which they were described as “having about the same dimensions as one of Iacocca’s cigars”.
Thank you, John.
I’ve been keeping track of an odd house-car harmony in Niedermeyer pictures. Very often the house roofs repeat the shape of the car exactly. Here in picture #7 the house is imitating the covered-headlight wink that shows in several of the cars.
(If there’s a list of worst car-design ideas, covered headlights are #1 by a long shot.)
Covered headlights when done right like late 70 s t bird or Lincoln of Marquis is a great idea. They look good and protect the lights and the horrible lights of today would not oxidized if they were covered.
That’s a great write-up of the rise and fall of the K-car, at least how Iacocca tried all he could to fool the luxury consumer. Frankly, the comparison of the final Imperial to the Cadillac Cimarron is particularly apt. The only difference is the Imperial at least looked quite a bit different from the pedestrian car from which it sprang (unlike the Cimarron which looked way too much like a Cavalier).
It’s a shame Iacocca went out on such a sour note. It’s worth noting that the Chrysler minivan came from the K-car chassis, as well. Of course, a nice, practical, two-box wagon wasn’t really flashy enough for good ‘ole Lee and I suspect his heart never really got out of the seventies’ brougham-tastic era. In one of his final acts at Chrysler, Iacocca was also supposedly responsible for one of the original Neon’s most noticable styling features: the round headlights.
The worst thing of all was how much a guy like Bob Lutz (who was just as brilliant as Iacocca but had his own demons, too) and Iacocca were at odds at Chrysler. It was so bad that when the search was on for the (finally) retiring Iacocca, it was code named ‘ABL’ as in ‘Anyone But Lutz’. This resulted in the fiasco known as Robert Eaton which culminated in the disasterous sale to Daimler.
One can only ponder the ‘what if’ scenario had Iacocca and Lutz’ styles not been so different, and it had been Lutz who had been handed the reigns of Chrysler when Iacocca rode off into the sunset, instead of Bob Eaton.
I guess it was a good thing that Lutz and Iacocca didn’t have more similar tastes. Can you imagine Chrysler of the 1990’s with even MORE roof caps and faux Rolls-Royce grilles?
OTOH, I think Bob Lutz was his own kind of dreamer, as evidenced by the Viper and some of his projects since his ‘retirement’ from GM. I really like the idea of stuffing a Corvette drivetrain into a Fisker. It looks dead-sexy and really should have been something either Buick or Cadillac offers on the lots.
Of course, Bob Lutz went (back) to GM and had to wade through the bureaucracy there to get a few cars instigated, which took a lot of time. I wonder if he’d been able to assume control of Chrysler (as Iacocca had), with it’s flatter organizational structure, what kinds of things he’d have been able to accomplish. Some of the cars of Chrysler in the 1990’s were quite nice in concept, but the reality was a lot different.
This Imperial is indeed very similar to the Cimarron–it may be better distanced from its pedestrian K-car roots, but it is barely changed from the Fifth Avenue (as noted in the article). Much like the Cimarron was barely changed from the Seville and the Versailles barely changed from the Granada.
(In the “some people never learn” category we have the 1st-gen Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ, which looked just like a Fusion with a different grille, despite the body panels actually being different.)
With 20 years hindsight, many of these EEK’s look cynical, and to some degree I agree with that view. Maybe not so much the models planned for release until about 1984, we were *really* expecting $3/gallon or more fuel prices when these cars were in the planning stages in 1978/79. When gasoline was $0.75 in 1978, $3.00 seemed like a fortune. Hell, even $1/gallon gasoline WAS a fortune in 1980/81. I guess it’s lucky that it never happened that way. The Reagan Recovery could roar on, unhindered.
But by 1991, when the last of the EEKs, this Imperial was introduced it was truly cynical. At that time almost the whole car fleet was some sort of K car variant. Which is to say it wasn’t all bad, but it was hardly the stuff you wanted your “luxury” car to be based upon. Chrysler went on a buying spree in the mid 1980’s, not unlike Ford and GM,and bought up AMC, Lear Jet and Lamborghini, among other companies. IIRC, by the end of the 1980’s Chrysler was in a bit of a cash flow crunch, which explains the constant reliance (heh!) on K car recycling.
I was selling cars at that time and briefly worked on a Chrysler/Plymouth lot. I really don’t remember anyone coming in to look at those cars while I was doing my duty there, but the real action was minivans anyway. In a weird sort of way, I like these things but I don’t know that I would want to devote driveway space to one. If I had to backtrack to the K-car years, I’d rather have another Lancer Turbo or one of those Sten-gun like Shelbys instead.
RIP Imperial. Like Oldsmobile, Mercury and Pontiac, your final iteration was a sad parody of your former greatness.
Paul, very unique tie-in with the Creation story.
I’ve always liked the styling of this final Imperial, even if it was far outdated and mediocre all around. I think it is the complete backwardness of this car and Lido, with no cessions to industry trends, that makes me like it so much.
Had the car been built on a more suitable platform for a full-size car and produced this car on it say, in 1983, then I think it actually would have been a relatively successful luxury car. That platform of course didn’t exist, but if Chrysler could have built this car with RWD, V8, and similar dimensions to the B-body/Panther cars, it should have sold well in “spend it” mid-1980s before the 1990-1992 recession.
This is an excellent article! Well done! I have to be a lover of these Le Barons’ and New Yorkers’, et al. Oh, poor Imperial. They had such high hopes for you. In sales, to be specific. However, the market, and buyer’s interests were changing. Only odd people like me still crave for cars with “neo-classic” design touches. Your poor example in white, with it’s half-open/closed headlight doors, looks half-drunk! Let’s see what the future holds for Chrysler in the true luxury car arena… (here’s a nice 1990 example in burgundy).
Just looks like it needs to be half a foot wider.
Yes the one way stretch doesnt really work, he should have had a look around the world at what was being done, Mitsubishi Australia widened a Japanese Sigma with moderate success, GMH widened a Vauxhall/Opel and it worked well.
I have some shots of one of these, but have never been able to gin up the enthusiasm to write something on it. I think you hit it dead on. I have long wondered if people actually thought these would appeal to their market or if it was a “let’s make the best of what we have” kind of job to try and mop up some cash from the upper end of the market.
I suppose that these have their charms. I once drove the smaller New Yorker and it was really not bad. A K car with a 3.8 V6 has at least some appeal.
In fairness to Iacocca, development of the LH cars and the new Ram pickup were underway at the end of his tenure, as well as the Grand Cherokee. All three of these would vault Chrysler out of its “one trick pony” era and turn it into the most profitable car company in the world. I think he also deserves credit for putting the company’s managerial systems and financial controls in order, things that were in complete shambles when he arrived.
How about the 2006 Imperial (concept)?
This is the car that gave me my screen name, and gave me the new obsession with everything Imperial from Chrysler.
Mine was a 1992, had a red velour interior, but dark grey metallic paint and gold landau roof.
I’m now a 30-something, but even farther from the target demographic for this car by getting mine when I was 19.
My first car, a 1990 Mercury Sable, had been forcefully retired by a semi truck on I-94, so I needed something right away to commute to the local community college and the job.
In the Kalamazoo Gazette classifieds, I saw a used 1992 Chrysler Imperial, 110,000 miles going for $3400 (this was in 1999). Dad and I drove out to see it, and I was impressed right away with the car. Great condition, everything worked well, seemed really to be a steal for the price. Had enough on hand to pay for $3000 of it, and hoped the seller would accept. Didn’t budge. Had to go get the rest from my credit union.
I thought that car would just be my get-me-though-college transportation. Nope, it saw me through several girlfriends (including my wife-to-be), my first real world job, our first place together, and the birth of our son.
The amount of money I put into maintaining that car-I’m better off not ever knowing the final amount.
Owning that car further solidified a life-long obsession with cars-I really became a darn good shadetree mechanic. Pride in my workmanship and abilities grew as I made necessary repairs and maintenance by myself. I was proud to not have a car payment to make. I was proud of saving money by doing the work myself. I was proud of being self-sufficient.
That car would still be in my driveway if I hadn’t have gone too fast on an icy Michigan road. She was pretty tired though, spent her entire life in the rust belt, and at 267,000 miles, the tinworm had really taken to the body and frame.
I couldn’t bear seeing her at the local LKQ (which I am a regular at), so I made sure to sell the broken hulk to an out-of-town scrapper.
I’ll always have a soft spot for these cars.
Great story Mr. Imperial.
I like this story too. It is a COAL in short form.
Thank you, T Type, 73Imp, and Wofgang 🙂
My grandmother had a white ’93 just like the one pictured. I remember when she visited from upstate NY she always let me drive the car to school. Even at age 17 I knew that car was nothing more than a flashier version of the 1990 Dodge Dynasty it replaced. (I remember the Infinity stereo system sounding pretty good though!)
Still, I think she got a good 10 years (winters) out of that car in sodium chloride-enriched Buffalo, NY so I guess that is worth something…?
A little consistency, please! This from a business culture that assumed customers didn’t care about camshafts or suspension design. Electronics are only marvelous when they work properly, in the background, with no hassles. An ideal I’m still waiting for, at least at home & the office.
Good ol’ Iacokehead. He certainly deserves credit for some of his accomplishes at both Ford and Chrysler, platform milker extraordinaire, but he is fun to make fun of!
Indeed, in an industry of bland gray flannel executives, Iacocca was a *showman* first, foremost and always.
Which may be why so many of his signature cars resemble movie sets – looks great from the angle you see, but without a lot behind it.
If this Imperial styling had been applied to the rwd 1979-81 R-Body platform, introduced in 1983-85, priced versus Lincoln Town Car, it would have been a success. Perhaps even a stretched M-platform would have done the trick. But, by this time, it was a cynical marketing ploy intended to drain a bit more profit out of the K platform. Those few thousands of Imperial sales tells us there still was a small percentage of the buying public who’d fall for the old Iacocca neo-classic K flim-flam. No doubt a few “Cimorrons” were traded-in on these!
The M body New Yorker was the last traditional Chrysler luxury car that didn’t seem awkward to me for a long time – and I really like traditional luxury cars. But the doo-dads, 4 banger New Yorkers, and Imperials with a decade old take on Chrysler styling ques didn’t work very well for me. They looked like cars for someone two to three times my age at at the time (20’s to 30). If I had been just a bit older, I could see myself driving a Dynasty as a family car, and in fact drove my father-in-law’s Dynasty a few times, and it seemed like a nice enough car.
It took a wholesale change at Chrysler to draw me in, and at the age of 31 I bought a Chrysler Concorde, followed by a Town and County and a Dodge Durango (which is still in my fleet).
The M bodies were originally F body compacts, or Volare’s. They were not true full size luxury cars. Easier to park, but can’t compare to Town Car or Fleetwood.
Great write up Mr N.
The Imperial concept looks as bad as that Russian Studebaker you featured earlier. Just let the name die. It’s best sales year was 1957 ! It’s been sullied by being a warmed over New Yorker, a glorified Aspen/Volare and a K Car derivative. Let it rest in peace. I hope no one at FCA is considering exhuming the name for a future run at a “premium” product.
That shot of the one eyed Imperial recalls the leering wink of an aging streetwalker, still wearing her glitzy but fading Eighties finery but now plying her trade in a downmarket neighbourhood. Sad.
Good way to put it…
While no fan of these, if they really did sell over 20,000 of these and made a few thousand extra over the basis model while only changing the front and end caps and some interior bits, they may in fact have done OK cost-wise.
The thing that always bugged me about these cars were their narrowness. Make it about 8 in wider and the shape would be much more proportional.
I have the same issue with the new Impala and XTS, too narrow to make the overall shape harmonious.
Agreed – these were very much in the mold of the GM fwd C body cars in most metrics, other than width. I knew one guy who traded an 86-ish Park Avenue on a 90-91 New Yorker and liked the Chrysler quite a lot. With more width, as you note, these would have been quite competitive.
These did hit with a certain buyer, though there were less and less of them, I remember my grandmother finding these quite attractive when the first ones hit the street, and she was even a bit impressed at the Imperials, though she would have never jumped ship from Buick, as an addition, I’ll point out that she didn’t like the Taurus or any of those “round” cars.
The good thing about narrow cars is they’re easier to park in today’s narrow parking stalls when you have SUVs and minivans on either side. Of course I always try to park in a far corner of a lot to protect my vehicles from door dings.
Sad, sad,so sad.The end of the line for a once proud luxury brand. This fiasco sort of reminds me of the “Packardbaker”, the last ditch attempt to keep the Packard name alive on a Studebaker built car.Chrysler should have just given up the ghost and let the Imperial die with some dignity.
I owned a Dodge Dynasty (nicknamed “Da Nasty” because it had never been washed by it’s previous owner), purchased for next to nothing from a co-worker who had moved on to a new Town & Country mini van and was sick of seeing it parked in front of his house.
After a thorough fumigation, multiple washes and detailed with white polishing compound, the car blossomed out nicely. The V6 and Aamco life time warrantied Ultradrive tranny gave quite peppy around town performance. The interior was kinda “plain jane”, though. It was a reliable and roomy car, the perfect “back up”/loan out car for me.
I kept looking for the upscale button & tuck interior leather seats & door panels pictured in this article to swap into this car. Pity Mopar never had this combo on the market.
What is it with people who never wash their cars? I had a buddy who bought a loaded used Corolla and then never washed it under the reasoning that people would be less likely to steal it if it looked dirty! Seriously, WTF?
To add insult to injury, “Da Nasty” was parked in a grain elevator everyday before I bought it (the previous owner worked 8 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week). Grain elevators are (in)famous for their fine dust & chemical fall-out crappppp. Often I cannot see out of my back window when leaving work for the day!
That the white paint “cleaned up well” after I bought the car aft was a source of amazement & amusement for many of my co-workers.
I Love this Kreation Story! My uncle had a 1981 Dodge Aries K company car and that car was able to withstand my uncle’s lead foot and abusive treatment to cars in general. It was still much more reliable than my aunt’s 1981 Oldsmobile Omega. That Omega was a real lemon.
I will say I actually like the nose styling–the sharply raked waterfall grille is nice, I’m a sucker for hidden headlamps and the low wraparound parking lamps look great too–but it’s seriously let down by the rest of the car. A pretty “face” on an out-of-date, out-of-shape body.
Also, great write-up as usual, Paul. “In the beginning there was K…” Well done!
Walter P Chrysler was an automotive engineer all the way through, Lee Iacocca not so much he was style over substance every time and it worked for a while everywhere he went but you can only stack bullshit so high.
Though from what I recall, Iaccoca did study as an engineer, graduating with a degree in industrial engineering, started in engineering at Ford and then moved to sales, where he really took off.
I never knew that and appreciate you sharing. Iacocca has been branded a marketing guy, like that’s such a bad thing. I happen to think he was a car guy too.
One of the more bizarre doo-dads on this car was the stupid wreath on the Pentastar. Could anything look more forced?
That’s actually one of the better things about the K-Imperial; the ersatz wreathed pentastar means this isn’t a real Imperial since those have the eagle inside the wreath.
In late 80s, when these cardboard boxed were intro’d, Lido went on and on about how “all the old guys in Florida” were going to buy these stretched K cars. As if Mopar was going to shoot to #1.Totally ignoring the growing import car market. Typical “old fart think” in Motown. Never mind new tech, only thing that matters in ‘old timey looks’ and soft ride.
Then, when the LH cars finally arrived, Lido acted as if he solely whipped them up out of his ###. Glad he got the hook. But never mind what happened in 1998.
“Yes, that’s better; longer always is.”
Let’s see which one sounds better: “Iacocca-mobile” or “Lido-mobile”.
Exactly. Let’s keep it at “Iacocca-mobile” to do the man some justice.
I do like the K-car in it’s basic form and as station wagon.
A Chrysler deadly sin for sure
Any ex-Chrysler employees out there? If so, do you know what became of the Chrysler Imperial Lamborghini Edition? Mr. Lutz or maybe Tom Gale may know what happened to it. Mr. Lutz outines its construction in “Icons and Idiots”. He may have driven the car to work for a while as well. In the book “Behind the Wheel at Chrysler”, it talks about him driving a customized Chrysler to work regularly. This car would surely be the ultimate CSC find. Hopefully, it’s sitting in the forgotten corner of some warehouse covered in an inch of dust.
I was the proud owner of a 1963, 1972, and 1975 Imperial LeBaron and wish I still had them. I always viewed them as the most bang for your buck. The early models even down to my 1963 were used as small limousines and have seen magazine ads showing chauffeurs opening doors for their employer. I take offense to the comparison of the interiors to bordellos. That was part of their appeal and brand of luxury. I prefer opulence over restrained conservative interiors. Next, I owned a 1981 New Yorker with the rare 5th Avenue option so the interior had the same tufted loose cushion leather seats along with what they called a carriage roof (half roof, small formal rear window, opera lamps, and stainless steel roof panel). It was on the order of the Imperial but a 4-door model (1981-1983 Imperial was only 2-door).
I was working in the automotive industry when the last wave of Imperials appeared so saw them brand new off the trucks and have the sales brochure I collected on them. I did not like the last ones, looked cheap, made cheap, and was only a glorified K-Car.
The earlier models like my 1963 were hand built using lead for body panel joints so they looked seamless, handcrafted interiors, etc… and each car test driven before loading onto the trucks. Their slogan at the time was “America’s Most Carefully Built Car”. Then the frames and heavy gauge steel body were substantial and banned by demolition derbies since they are virtually indestructible.
On the other hand I wouldn’t mind a 1983-86 Chrysler Executive Limousine based on the K-Car. A nice small personal limo and not many made.
My ’63 was a gem. I had it in the mid oughts and what a great handling 5k lb, 40 year old car it was.
Surprised no one mentioned the Chrysler E Class, which was the same as the Dodge 600, which was the same as the New Yorker Turbo, but without the landau roof and formal backlite. The Chrysler E Class was eventually phased out, and in it’s place the Plymouth Caravelle was born.
There was also the very popular sport coupes, the Chrysler Laser and the Dodge Daytona. These were also K cars under their flashy skin.
Or how about the LeBaron GTC and Dodge Lancer 4 door hatchbacks. These were very nice looking cars. Where these also based on the K car? I’m not sure.
T.. that is because we are talking about Imperial’s here and not other Chrysler makes. The K-Car came up because the last incarnation of Imperial was basically a glorified K-Car. Imperial was a separate brand since 1955 and not a Chrysler so-and-so except for the seventh generation of 1990-1993 models which did fall under Chrysler as their flagship model. But take into consideration that this was an era of downsized cars and most based on the K-Car derivative. Even the New Yorker in 1990 was on a C Platform (mid-size K Car platform).
But all the others you mentioned have nothing to do with the Imperial, the theme of this thread 🙂
Does the front end remind anyone else of the Zimmer Quicksilver (based on the Pontiac Fiero)?
You know, it sort of does. Good catch there.
Also, another car that has a strong, stylish “face” and then sort of goes off the map.
I love and I hate it……to my knowledge sunroofs/moonroofs were not offered according to factory brochures…..nor was alloy wheels
however multiple car phone options were available
My favourite- the rare and elusive visorphone
Thee visor phone is a new one on me. I don’t think I ran across this on any car I’ve worked on? CB radios and car phones were popular then but mainly console or under the dash installs.
very rare option- I dont think they realized the design flaws with this type of system… I assume it was also crazy expensive which hurt sales
Way to tell a story about cars I could never tell apart.
Consider yourself lucky. Some of us had to live through this drawn out saga, wondering when and how it would ever end.
Paul, I was a floating manager and a professional auto detail expert (everything from grocery getters to exotic and antiques) for nearly 20 years about 15 years ago and definitely lived through this era having to prep them straight off the haulers to the showroom and lots. It wasn’t my favorite time either as I prefer, and still do, my larger than life land yachts of an earlier time including the 1975 Imperial (mine was white on white in white (leather) ) 4-door LeBaron. It also had 4-wheel disc brakes and believe the first on a luxury car? The rear ones were problematic having a miniature brake drum in the middle of the disc with mini brake shoes for the emergency brake. They always dragged and wore out quickly.
Wasn’t some consideration given to calling the ’94 LHS an Imperial? It might have worked had they not destroyed all equity in the brand with this K-fiasco.
The LHS was a replacement for the Imperial in 1994 but not sure if it was supposed to be the “Imperial” as introduced in 1990?
I use to want to own an LHS until I saw how fast they deteriorated. I always liked the wide rear door treatment.
After the “Aspen-Imperial” of the early 80s, are you sure there was any equity left in the name?
Personally I thought the 300 derivative in ’06 should have been brought forward. Essentially hand crafted, $200k…they would sold better than the Maybach at least…
The rope on the trunk makes me think “Anchors aweigh!”
Of course, this isn’t a true boat like Alan Petrillo’s. Maybe a launch?
Great tale about a car I never knew existed. Having seen it, I’m glad we didn’t get any of that era’s Chryslers in my country.
Let’s face it, there aren’t many Johnny Carsons or Jerry Seinfelds out there; quitting when you’re on top is unusual. Lee was human….
I wish I read this earlier for it explains a lot. All of that and no mention of the minivan, or how he saved Chrysler, or how he made platform sharing something that seemed smart, at least on the investment and material cost side. He did the best he could with what he had to work with and put the team in place that gave the company the LH and cloud cars.
Poor Lee. He did save Chrsyler for better or worse. But the full-sized cars were not much wider than the economy-K-cars they were based on. Side by side with a Caddy or Lincoln, it was painfully obvious.
For those of you who don’t remember… here is the commercial for the 1990 Imperial:
I actually remember Chrysler “magic wagon” minivan ads featuring the visorphone…The built-in analogue cell phone was a “thing” for a while. My 1997 Benz C280 had one (never activated, at least by me, and by the time I sold it phones were all digital….)
So, I well recall the late Lido era, and it is worth remembering Chrysler had one of its perennial near-death experiences in the run-up to the 1993 LH cars, and probably would have gone under if not for the minivans and, as always, highly profitable trucks. I remember looking at an Imperial at the 1991 Montreal Auto Show and simply being shocked at the sheer crumminess of it…and joking with my friends about Chrysler’s Cimarron. In Canada, this thing listed for $40,000, an absolutely insane price. And I don’t recall ever seeing one on the road.
Definitely not the greatest time for Chrysler. After a decade of popularity the bloom was definitely off the K-car rose, the “TC by Maserati” was a debacle from the outset, volume Dynastys and Acclaims were clearly new bottles with the same old dreary wine, and Lido was still slapping whitewalls, a padded roof and a crystal-plastic hood ornament on anything that would stand still, scaring away anyone under 50 from the showroom. These cars were seriously old at the time (as, presumably, were most of their customers).
I don’t understand the hate. I own a ’91 in Black Cherry, which shows the chrome really well. Replaced air suspension with Strutmasters. Use Chrysler ATF with Slick 50 additive; no Ultradrive troubles. Like a Town Car or Brougham without the bulk, and distinctly unique. As lush an interior as you could want. Smooth, torquey, quiet engine. Only “modern” car with real chrome bumpers! A certain “jewel box beauty” (to quote the 1957 Packard brochure).
To compare the 1990-93 Imperial to the 1982-1988 Cadillac Cimarron is just wrong . Maybe in theory but in execution the results are completely different The Cimarron was not even a bad attempt to make a compact luxury car it was a horrible attempt. It is just a Chevy Cavalier and it looks like a Chevy Cavalier ! No attempt to disguise this car at all. Now the Imperial although on the K car platform is a completely different exercise in styling . Again I have been in a 80’s Cavalier and the Cimarron and there is no difference even the interior trim is almost the same. And I have been in the K-Car (1982) Aries great little car and the 1991 Imperial th two are completely different animals. The Imperial although stodgy and in a dated body style is quite a car the interior alone was excellent , the leather seating compared to a similar year of Lexus , Mercedes Benz, Cadillac, and Lincoln still looks better than its competitors. To compare the Imperial to the lowly and I mean lowly Cimarron is fundamentally wrong !
I found myself wondering what Exner would have done with K-car styling.
Now theres an interesting idea.
Of all the K cars I actually liked the Executive Limo – it seemed like something logical for the early/mid eighties. Of course I was one of the few who thought this stretched K was a good idea. I remember a former co-worker bought a nearly new K limo dirt cheap.
I drove a ‘new ‘90 or ‘91 Imperial, the only thing I remember was how the crystal hood ornament shined from the street lights. I had no idea how expensive that Imperial was.
I think the Imperial bookends are a fitting tribute for Iaccoca’s chairmanship at Chrysler.
I don’t think Lee had any illusions of the Imperial being at all relevant in the ’90s. It’s just he knew there were some (mostly older) people out there who liked the way American cars were a few decades earlier, so figured why not throw a carrot to them. These same sort of people would buy a 300 or Charger today; they’re the throwback cars of 2019. The Imperial did seem a bit redundant though – the similar NY 5th Ave already had this market covered, and it looked nicer inside and out (though still rather malproportioned, but with a beautiful interior IMO).
The ultimate Imperial would be the Lamborghini Edition. Bob Lutz talks about it’s creation in his book “Icons and Idiots”. I think he drove it for a while. “Behind the Wheel at Chrysler” mentions him driving a similar vehicle – I’ll bet it’s the same one.
True, but oddly enough no one has ever managed to produce a photo of it – or even an eyewitness account of having actually seen it – despite Lutz’s claim to having driven it for awhile on public roads.
I don’t deny it existed, but also wouldn’t doubt if the story has been embellished.
What we have to remember is that this wasn’t intended to be a show car, or even an “official” styling excercise. It was just something to placate Lee Iaccoca, who wanted to leverage the Lamborghini brand. I’m trying to dig up more information on this car.
Somehow I’d managed to miss that this thing ever happened. Typical of what happens when the guys in charge don’t see the changing times, and don’t realise that the cues people responded to once are now passe. An old man building an old man’s car.
I was almost cut off at low speed by one of these – a white New Yorker – one day in the late ’90s when the elderly driver made a left turn having moved all the way to the right side of the road before swinging the turn, slowing from 20 in a 25 to 10 in a 50 (this was right at the edge of a small town). No signal, of course. If I had been driving something with more power than my Geo Metro I’d have T-boned him but I was in mid-downshift to 2nd when he cut across me.
Lamborghini Editions for old men ? Where do I sign up ?
The first pic looks like Rocky Balboa when he says “Cut me, Mick.”
So many K-cars. So much blah. I didn’t know much about cars mechanically as a teen in the 80s, but my opinion of the Ks was cemented early because they were always putting out blue smoke at the stoplights, or broke down on the highway. I mean, you couldn’t not notice it. It was ALWAYS a Reliant, Laser, or Lancer.
The featured car does have very comfy seats, I will give it that. But so did my ’79 Accord.
That Imperial looks like it has plastic bumper fillers recycled from fifteen year-old Cadillacs…
the ‘K’imperial, and a sad,sad ending to a once fine car,But at least it had that wonderful late `80s-early `90s ‘can`t live without it’ gimmick-the electronic voice warning system.’ Passenger door is open’. Yeah, I know.
Lee should have had the RWD Fifth Avenue M platform stretched in the rear compartment, plastered on the Imperial styling hallmarks, spec’d the old standby 318 and cleaned up once more on the theme. While the cars wouldn’t have been anything great, livery companies would have had an alternative to the Lincoln Town Car.
Pffft, y’all are bashing on this car way too much. Tomcatt630 Mentioned a quote from a C/D article stating that Lido said all the 50 year old rich guys in Florida are going to buy this thing. Lido was right. Never has a car been so unpretentiously and directly targeted to one particular audience. No pretense was made that anyone except for senior citizens would love this car, no attempt to market to younger people, no ridiculous farce as in modern cars, o, this thing can climb rocks and go off road when it is going to spend its life in drive thrus, mall parking lots, Starbucks, etc. This car was NOT meant to be all things to all people, it was meant to be loved by a very specific audience and it was honest about it and loved for it.
I think this has to be, along with any FWD Century/Regal, the car that most appears as a last car/first car for many people. My Grandfather bought a off rental New Yorker Fifth Avenue in 1993 after my Grandmother passed away. She wouldn’t let him buy anything fancier than a Reliant because wire wheels were too difficult to keep clean and he certainly let loose when she passed away and ditched the Reliant in favour of this.
Granddad was a member of the Greatest Generation, the people who lived through the Depression and fought on the beaches of Calais and Dunkerque and Iwo Jima and in the jungles in Burma and thousands of other long forgotten places, and sweated and froze and died in far away, remote, nameless places which are today not even worth visiting by adventure tourists. They weren’t buying a car from people who killed their buddies not all that long ago. These were people who, as my Grandmother put it, had nothing to eat but sweet potatoes and snuck into restaurants to get ketchup packets during the Depression. They didn’t want something hard and spartan because it “handles well,” like a BMW. At 70ish, who cares about handling, and especially in America? You’re headed down flat, well paved, straight concrete highways with the cruise and air and Bix Biederbecke on the stereo. You want comfort and luxury, meaning lots of fun electronic buttons and glowing electronic instruments and plastiwood and leather and rich velour. You had all the spartan you wanted growing up.
Remember, too, this was a generation of “convenience foods.” Spam in a can! Canned soup casseroles with frozen vegetables! TV dinners! Jell-o molds! The whole concept of taste or variety didn’t happen with them, it was filling, reasonably nutritious, quick and easy, and they didn’t know better.
This car is a little like that, like a Golden Corral Buffet. Boy! You get steak and salad and 167 entrees and 1134 choices of dessert and so forth and it’s 11.99! It wasn’t, at all, the BEST available, but it got the job done very effectively and made Granddad feel cosseted plushly in his fancy car.
Oh, but they took economy car bones and tarted them up, how cynical. Pffft, I say, Mercedes are taxicabs in Europe. Countless awful humble Japanese econoboxes were made to put on stiletto heels and evening gowns and trotted out as “sporty” cars, the Paseo, Pulsar, Cordia, etc, etc, and now those awful humble econoboxes are putting on stilts and butch wear and being made to masquerade as Rambos.
In a marketing maneuver Chrysler apparently invented and goes on to this day, the sticker price bore no relation whatsoever to the actual out the door price. I dimly remember newspaper ads selling the things for something like 20K for the perhaps less fancy versions, but the Imperial wasn’t a whole lot more expensive. Sure, the ride was a little unsettled and cheap, it was narrower than the GM competition, but it offered possibly even more plushness than the GM competition at cut rate prices. My Grandmother had frozen milk when it was on sale and baked meatloaf in a turkey mold for Thanksgiving as turkey was expensive. Value meant a lot to them, and this delivered.
I don’t know what the sales figures were but I’m wondering if this wasn’t the most successful Imperial in terms of sales. The imperial had always been a distant third in sales and price to Cadillacs and Lincolns, but this was properly priced.
Granddad LOVED his car. This was the ne plus ultra of cars to him, and delivered EXACTLY what he wanted in a car and exceeded his expectations. It wasn’t cynical to anyone but the automotive press. The Greatest Generation deserved a car tailored exactly to them, the luxury at a knockoff price, and this was it.
@SavageATL, you said it right!