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Dan Martens's 1951 Imperial

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The Family Imperial

This is my 1951 Imperial named "Kitty" (veh# 7740811). She is in original condition and has 22,850 original miles. When I purchased her almost 10 years ago she had 19,700 miles. A Texaco Oil change sticker on the inside of the driver's door clocks in at 15,384 in 1974. The car is complete except for the front ashtray, which broke in my hand from age. The car is old, but runs very well, and shows some minor age-appropriate blemishes. Kitty is virtually rust-free except for some minor surface rust around the bumpers. Remember we are talking Korean War era chrome. Kitty has always been garage kept and the original owner applied rust-proofing, an extra at the time. The trunk looks as new, and the original wooden wheel chuck block is where in belongs next to the spare. The car has Fluid Torque drive and the shop manual states that the torque converter oil should be changed every 22,000 miles. (I should get on that when time allows.) The back seat looks like no one ever sat in it, except for one small telltale cigarette burn and ashes still left in the ashtrays. The back of the front seat and dash are not worn, but has a patina from age. The only wear appears on the driver's side front seat where the wool is frayed and the foam dried out. As one recent backseat passenger noted, "This is like being in a time capsule." I would say it's more like spending time with a very fit grandparent.

So here is Kitty's Family story as verbally passed down to me.

The car was purchased in Montana in 1951. I have the original Key Case, which reads: Parsnick Motor Company, Chrysler-Plymouth, Harrison Montana MU 5-2222. The original owner was also the owner of the car dealership and a farmer. He didn't purchase power brakes or power steering since he liked the feel of the road much like the feeling he got from operating his tractors. He did get the rustproofing, and we are grateful for his foresight. Unfortunately, the owner passed away soon after the purchase of the car and Kitty (to be officially named decades later) was stored in a family barn for 20 years. Time passed, and a daughter married and relocated to Connecticut. That family had a cabin on a lake near Branford and needed a vehicle to transport rowboats from the cabin to the lake during summers. The CT key chain reads: Branhaven Chrysler-Plymouth, Branford, CT 488-6351. The daughter made a deal with her mother in Montana and purchased the family Imperial for $1 and drove her to Connecticut. I would assume this was Kitty's longest journey, but I don't know for sure. For the next 30 years, Kitty faithfully served her new family during summers until their children were grown and Kitty's stoic service was complete. The car was sold to a man who wanted to surprise his father on a milestone birthday with an Imperial similar to one he had owned in 1951. This was definitely a gift planned with more thought and nostalgia than any father might expect from a good son. Remember, Kitty didn't have power steering or power brakes and at over 2 tons of luxury, the surprised father lovingly confessed to his son, "I'm an old man, I can't drive this tank!" So, the devoted son looked to re-sell the car. At the time, I was looking for a late forties model car, and through casual conversation found my way to Kitty. By Imperial admission, Kitty's styling was a late 40's holdover; not to offend any current Chrysler owners with the new, hipper bathtub design, but under Kitty's hood the first Hemi engine was king of the road.

I purchased her with 19,700 miles and now have put driven about 2,000 miles since. I named her Kitty based on a fictitious radio personality, and she has graced the silver screen in two indie movies filmed here in CT. The award winning "Bobby Dogs" and "Local Warming." Kitty has become a minor celebrity in our town and is often seen on Sunday morning—you guessed it—chauffeuring a few elegant little old ladies to church. Recently, Kitty surprised a local couple with a ride to their 50th anniversary party. They had driven across the USA in their first car, a 1951 Chevrolet, on their honeymoon!

I no longer get to drive Kitty as much as I would like, but when I do she is always received by passerbys with a smile and a wave. Someone usually get asks "How long since you had her restored?" And I recite Kitty's Imperial Family story as told above. In the world of antiques, it's often the untouched works that hold the most value, and I like to think that Kitty belongs to that class.

Dan Martens (Fairfield CT)

This page was last updated 19 October 2009.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club