Imperial Home Page -> Mailing List & Club -> Member Spotlight -> Dick Benjamin
Here is an interview we recently had with IML member Dick Benjamin All the pictures displayed on this page are from Dick's impressive collection.
Question: When did you purchase your first Imperial?
Answer: I bought my first Imperial, a 1969 LeBaron 4 Door Hardtop from an estate sale in 1975. The car was in excellent condition, the champagne gold color with a leather and cloth interior, with every available option and 58,000 Miles.
Picture to right is of this car taken when I first saw it, forlorn in the county yard where the probate court hauled it for storage The missing wheelcover was in the trunk, and the open windows didn't damage the interior (it never rains in Southern California!),
Q: Do you still own it?
A: I wore that one out in about 4 years (at that time I was driving about 100 miles per day going back and forth to work). I sold it and started looking
for a 1967, which I preferred then and now.
Q: What, if any, restoration did you do to that car?
A: The car needed nothing, other than new tires and a few minor accessory repairs. I did discover that a bad motor mount would cause the #4 spark plug to short out against the frame on hard acceleration - I chased that intermittent miss on hard acceleration for many moons until I realized it only happened in the forward gears!
Q: What is your favorite year Imperial?
A: 1967 is my favorite, hands down!
Q: Why is it your favorite? What do you find appealing about that particular year?
A: The boxy, straight line, almost Danish styling appeals to me, and the front grille and especially those beautiful park/turn lights are just the cat's meow, in my opinion. The wall to wall tail lights are another high point for me. The car just oozes quality of workmanship and materials.
For pictures and description of my current project, see Dick Benjamin's 1967 Refurb.
Q: Do you have a favorite Imperial gadget or styling feature?
A: I can't think of anything in the way of gadgets that is exclusive to Imperial that is especially desirable to me. The "door stretcher" on the 2 door '67-'68 models is a neat gadget, and that may be exclusive to Imperials. I do like all the gadgets, but since most were copied or even bought from other car makers, I really can't claim they are exclusive to Imperial. I suppose an exception is the EFI system on the 81-83s, and even this is not exclusive to Imperial, although it was certainly the most advanced and best performing system on the road in those years. I have owned 4 of those cars, (3 with EFI) and am still very impressed with that system. On the 1967s, I really like the wall to wall taillights, and of course those delectable front cornering lenses.
Q: Any other automotive gadget or styling feature that you like or would like to own?
A: I have always thought a retractable steel hardtop roof would be a major attraction, given that the reliability, wind noise, and structural strength could all be improved to equal the fixed roof cars. It hasn't happened yet, I don't think.
Q: What does your Imperial collection consist of?
1981 with EFI
I have two 1967s, a 35,000 Mile 4 Door Hardtop Crown that is currently undergoing a complete restoration and an 84,000 Mile convertible that is in excellent mechanical condition, but needs some help in the cosmetics, especially in the interior trim items. I am the second owner of both cars, know the history since new.
The Hardtop is shown in the above pictures, the convertible is here, along with the Gold 68 described below:
I have two 1968s, both are 4 Door Hardtop Crowns. One is Gold with the black "gold dust" leather interior, very clean and in near perfect condition with 130,000 miles. I have used this car as our family trip car for 13 years, and maintained it as needed during that time. The second one is a 68,000 mile White one which I have never driven, as it needs a new ring gear for the converter and I haven't gotten a "round tuit" yet. This car has an excellent interior, but needs a new vinyl top and some paint work to make it show quality. I am the second owner of both these cars also.
This is a shot of the Gold 68 with me, taken by Tony Lindsey on the occasion of the 1996 IML get-together near Tony's home:
The white 68 is shown in the background of one of the "Barn Fresh" pictures of the 67, see above IML posting.
Q: What other collector cars do you own today?
A: These show most of my "collection" - the rest are scattered around the property and are generally just parts cars or walking wounded at best. This is not intended to be an ego trip, just a response, finally, to all the folks who keep asking me how many cars I have! One or two of these have been sold (or given away), but I'm afraid I still have most of them.
A 1947 Packard 8 Passenger sedan, very dark blue, 275,000 Miles, which I have owned since 1967. I restored the exterior and the mechanics in 1967-71, and have just driven it since (including today). This is a 149 inch wheelbase Henney bodied car, built for the limousine trade. A 1948 Packard "Custom 8" convertible, pale yellow, with unknown miles, which I have owned since 1973. I drove this car back and forth to work on nice days for the first few years I owned it, but since retiring I haven't used it much - I'm really not a convertible type person. I completely rebuilt it mechanically in 1990, but the cosmetics are sort of marginally presentable. A 1955 Packard Patrician Sedan, two tone blue, with 115,000 Miles, 100% original, no work ever done except that I had to rebuild the transmission when I got it in 1984. This car was formerly owned by well known early Imperial owner John Lloyd of Los Angeles, who loves it about as much as I do. It has the extra cost brocade and light blue leather interior that is still showroom new in appearance and comfort, and is probably my most rewarding trip car to drive when I don't need AC. Those who are very long term subscribers to Special Interest Autos will recognize this car by its license number as the car used in the 1955 Luxury Car Shootout way back in the 70's, when John Lloyd still owned it. A 1955 Hudson Hornet Hollywood Hardtop, Red and White, with a Red leather and black cloth interior. I bought this car in 1985 with 70,000 Miles on it, but decided to do a complete restoration, which was completed in 1988. Since then I've driven it about 30,000 Miles, mostly on long trips, as it is my wife's favorite amongst my old cars. It has power everything including windows, and factory AC which works very well. It also has the seats which make up to a bed, but I have not yet enjoyed that feature! Since this is a rare car, few will be aware that it has the Packard V8 engine and Ultramatic transmission. It looks like a giant Rambler, "Continental" spare tire and all! A 1956 Packard Patrician Sedan, charcoal Gray, almost 100% original except that I rebuilt the engine and transmission when I got it in 1985, and have since driven it about 40,000 Miles. It now has 110,000 Miles. This car has AC, so it is often used on trips in the summer, including a family reunion trip to Tennessee and Mississippi a few years ago in the heat and humidity of the deep south - 7500 miles in cool comfort, at 18 mpg and no other fluids added for the whole trip! The first picture is from the Milestone Cars Calendar for 1990, in which my car was "Miss July". The second picture is a gag picture of me "pushing" it up to the summit of Pikes Peak in July 1988 - the car is very dusty in this picture, of course, and made it to the 14,000 foot top of Pike's peak in fine fashion, and in air conditioned comfort!. I'll quit here, except to add that I also have Lincolns, Cadillacs, about 30 more Packards in various conditions from parts cars to walking wounded, a Hudson or two, a few "Packardbakers", and a few trucks and some heavy equipment. Oh yes, and a Daihatsu gardener's truck, which is what I drive every day.
Q: What other collector cars (at least 20 years old) have you owned in your lifetime?
A: Oh, MY!. Let me just list a few. If they had to be 20 years old when I bought them, that eliminates most of them, as all though my high school and college years (1947 - 1956) I was buying, fixing and selling cars to earn my way through life. These were not collector cars, just old used cars I could afford and could make a profit on using my "Mr. Fixit" skills. The only ones that were more than 20 years old when I bought them were the Model As (a phaeton and a sport coupe). There were about 10 additional cars during that time that weren't that old when I owned them. After college, I had to concentrate on making a living and raising a large family, so I didn't really get back into the hobby in a big way until 1967, when I started accumulating Packards, most of which are similar to the ones listed above. I would single out for honorable mention some cars I especially liked -these were the 1948 Nash Ambassador 4 door sedan, the 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser, the 1951 Buick, the 1958 Peugeot 403, the 1957 New Yorker Convertible, the 1957 Coupe deVille and the 1958 Cadillac 60S with air suspension, the 57 T'bird, the 1962 Lincoln Continental 4 Dr, the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, the 1967 Cortina, the 1967 Corvette, the 1969 and 1970 Coupe de Villes and the 1969 Lincoln Continental 4 Door. There were also a long list of cars which did their job, but were not especially well built or desirable. You want to hear about them? OK, a 1936 Pontiac, a 1939 Olds, a 1951 Chevy, a 1955 Chevy, a 1960 Renault 4CV, a 62 Rambler wagon, a 69 Newport Convertible, a 73 Newport 4DR HT, a 79 ElDorado, an 89 Continental, even a few other foreign cars. I could go on and one - all told, I have owned about 150 cars since 1947, and still own about 50. Of those 150, I bought 12 of them new, the rest were used bargains I picked up to turn for a profit in my younger days or since the 1970's, to add to my collection.
Q: Which car has been your favorite and why?
A: Oh, MY again!. How can I answer that - probably the 1947 Packard - it is the most comfortable car to drive I have ever owned, with it's chair height seats and the incredible silence at speed. It is also surprisingly capable on modern roads - 80 MPH is no problem at all (I've added an overdrive and a low ratio ring/pinion), and in 35 years it has never failed to start or to get me where I want to go without any worry. The second favorite is probably more interesting to this group - my 81 Imperial is superbly comfortable, very economical on the road and 100% reliable, so it gets the nod. The 68 Crown is the most feature laden, and is also a very capable road car, with superb AC - but I really prefer the looks of the 67.
Q: What are your future plans for your present collection?
A: I'm hoping the restored low mileage 67 will be as comfortable as the 81 or the 55/56 Packards - if that is the case, I'll be culling out some of the other cars - thinning the herd while I still can do it myself. I'd like to restore the 48 Packard cosmetically, and one of the Packardbakers (the one with factory AC). Then I think I'll be hard pressed to just keep them all in good shape, and I'll be starting to sell or give away the ones I'll never get to.
Q: Do you have any, "I can't believe I let that car get away from me" stories?
A: I haven't passed too many by, as you can see. But I miss most of the cars I've sold, as soon as they're gone. I miss the 64 New Yorker T&C wagon I sold this spring - it was such a nice car to drive. I miss the blue 81 I sold a couple of years ago - it was a very nice low mileage car - I should have put one of my spare EFI units on it (it had a factory conversion to carburetor, which turned it into a run of the mill "gussied up Aspen"). I should never have sold the 67 Corvette (although I would probably have killed myself with it by now!) I miss the 62 Continental - what a nice drive that was! My wife misses the 62 Studebaker GT Hawk - it was her car for over 100,000 miles, with factory AC and all the power accessories available - a perfect size, very quick, and to my eyes, as pretty as anything on the road then or now. I mourn for my 1939 Packard 12 Touring Limousine - both because I sold it after doing all the needed mechanical repairs, and because the new owner stripped it to use those mechanical parts on his convertible sedan. What a waste - I could strangle him! (I like quiet cars, and this one was incredible. You could stand on the curb while this one was idling and not know it was running, until it pulled away, when all you could hear was the hiss of the clutch disk as it engaged the flywheel. No engine or exhaust noise at all!).
Q. Do you have any funny or interesting stories about purchasing an old car?
A. Almost every one I've owned came with some kind of a story - don't get me
OK, just one:
When I responded to the add in the LA times for a "Packard Limousine" in 1967, I drove out to a small house in Covina to look at a car which had been sitting for 12 years in a garage that was too short for it, with the trunk sticking out in the weather, 4 flat tires - an inch of dust - you get the picture.
The widow lady wanted $300 for the car. There were two people there before me, one a dentist that had flown in from Phoenix in his private plane! They were trying to chew down her price! I got her aside and said I'd be happy to give her $300 for the car, and she sent the other guys away. They were ticked off, and I was happy.
During that discussion in her kitchen, there were a bunch of kids hanging around, and I later found out she had 7 kids. The family had bought the car from her uncle, (who ran a funeral home in Boston) for the move to California in 1954. She gave me a picture of the car, loaded with the 9 of them (it is actually a 9 passenger car, as the jump seats are full width, no gap in the center), towing the largest available tandem axle U-haul trailer, holding everything the family owned. They spent 3 weeks on the road, camping by the roadside, a trip from hell with 7 kids from 10 to 19 in the car.
Jump ahead from 1967 to 1983 or so, I'm driving the car down I-5 in San Juan Capistrano, a road I had never been on in that car before, and hardly ever in any car, when a car pulls up along side me blasting it's horn and pointing at my car. I thought Oh - fiddlesticks (or the equivalent shorter expression), I've blown a tire or something, so I headed for the next off ramp. The woman driving the other car follows me down the off ramp, her teenager in the seat beside her shrinking into his seat with embarrassment. I think - what is going on here? I jump out of my car and start looking for the problem ; the woman gets out and practically hugs me - says "that's my Dad's old car - I'd know it anywhere". I said, it's a rare car, for sure, but not that rare, and besides it is now blue (it was black from new until I painted it). She insisted and pointed out some marks on the headliner that her sister had made with the rear seat cigarette lighter about 19 years before.
How did she know the car? - I have no idea, but somehow she did. She had been one of the kids hanging around the kitchen the day I bought it. We traded names and addresses, and I forgot about it until two years ago. The phone rang, "this is Mrs. Dineen". I said hunh? She had to remind me who she was. The family still talked about the car every time there was a family get together, and they wanted me to bring the car up to LA to be used in her daughter's wedding the next month. Of course we were glad to do that - they made us and our car the guest of honor - we met all 7 kids, and restaged the picture I had from 1954 - 46 years later! I found out who marked my headliner too, and had some fun with the lady.
Q: Are there any other collector cars (besides Imperials) that you would like to own?
A: At my age, all such dreams are bound to be frustrated, but for what it's worth, I'd love to own a 1934 Deitrich bodied Packard 12 coupe, and a 1932 Pierce Arrow Sedan. A 1941 Packard 180 Bohman and Schwartz Sport sedan would be nice. In the Mopar line, a 56 Imperial or New Yorker sedan, black with the 3 speed torqueflight would be welcome in my garage. A 69 or 70 AMX would be a good run-around car
Q: Do you belong to any other antique car clubs?
A: I've belonged to many clubs over the years, but now I've cut down to just the CHVA and the Studebaker Driver's Club, plus the SCIO and the IML. Previously, I was in the Hudson Club, the Nash Club, the Chrysler Club, the Classic Car Club, both Packard Clubs - too much to read, it was a waste of time and money.
Q: What is the best car museum you have ever visited?
I suppose the J.B.Nethercutt museum in San Sylmar, CA
Also, the Petit Jean Mountain museum in Arkansas and the Blackhawk museum in California deserve mention. Also, IML member Bob McAtee and Bill Lauer's Grand Motorcar Museum in Durango Colorado is well worth the trip - for not only a superb collection of automobiles, but also many other collectibles - musical instruments, fountain pens, dishes - you name it, they collect it and they are all outstanding examples of their type. Then there are privately owned, "view by special arrangement" collections that I have toured, these tend to be even better than the publicly owned museums like the NAH in Reno, and the Petersen in LA. For instance, there is the Baker collection in San Diego, the Bob Pond collection in Palm Springs, the Long collectionin Santa Ynez, the Richard Carpenter and the Jay Leno collections in LA, the "Mohole" collection in Reno etc. These tend to follow a particular theme, so one sees a lot more of a particular type of car than one sees in a broader interest museum.
Q: What was the best car show you ever attended?
A: The Grand Classic at Santa Barbara in 1967 - hands down. This was back in the days before $MONEY$ took over the hobby, the cars were magnificent classics that had been restored by their owners, not some high dollar restoration shop, and the folks you talked to were the grease-under-the-fingernails mechanics who had actually done the work, with no pomposity or class distinction between the struggling poor young squirt and the wealthy old money families. I was definitely the former, and I met one fellow who seemed to know a lot about Packard 12s, which was what I was working on in my garage at the time. He spent close to an hour with me, telling me various techniques he'd used on his cars, and offered me a couple of impossible to find spare parts from his last restoration. I had no idea who I was talking to, until some biddy came up to us an fawned all over him, saying "Phil Hill! HERE you are - we've been looking all over for you to make a welcoming speech". As many of you will know, Phil was the world champion formula one race car driver for Ferrari, but also was a scion of a very wealthy family in Santa Monica. He did then and does now do all his own work on the cars he owns, and is a genuine nice guy and a car restoration genius!. He was showing a 1931 Pierce-Arrow Town car on that occasion, that his Aunt had bought new. It was one of the first 100 point Grand Classic winners. He still owns that car, and it still looks just as fine.
Q: Do you have a favorite car related book or movie?
A: I suppose that would have to be "M. Hulot's Holiday", a Jacques Tati movie from 1953, which features a Fiat Topolino of the 40s. Hilarious! I'll bet there isn't another member of the IML that has even heard of it, right?
In closing, a few more pictures: One of my tougher restorations
Before During After
We would like to thank Dick Benjamin for sharing his wonderful collection with us!! Please check back next month when we will be spotlighting another Imperial Club member.