Kenyon Wills' 1955 Imperial Sedan


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from Kenyon Wills

This car came to me as a victim of cruel and unusual Incompetence. A buddy owned it and sent it to his mechanic for repairs, which were to consist of a tune up and brake job, but not before having the car totally repainted and most of the chrome replated.

Anyway, the mechanic had various Old Cars about his lot, including a prewar Bentley, so I figured that if he can work on older English cars, well, heís probably qualified to work on an Imperial.

Boy was I wrong.

Things took a turn for the worse after I met him and offered the use of my drum puller, as this is an important tool required for most pre 1963 Imperials. He politely declined in a way that made it clear that he Knew What He Was Doing and didnít need help from some guy that was a buddy of the owner.

OK.

Well, after he tried to SAW the drum off the rear end and damaged the rear axle, resulting in the purchase of an entire rear end, he was a lot more interested in borrowing the drum puller.

Iíd lost interest in loaning tools to him by that time and passed.

I found out about all of this saw business because the car had been at this guyís shop for a good 6 months at this point, and I figure that a tune-up and brake job should go a little faster than that. After hearing this story, I immediately started lobbying to get the car yanked and relocated to someone else that I know who was qualified and who didnít use saws to do brake jobs. I was voted down due to a long-standing relationship that my buddy had with the guy, and I told him that no good would come of it.

About 2 months later, I got a call from a very depressed and unhappy Imperial owner.

The car had been moved about and in the process, Reverse had somehow disappeared, but that wasnít the bad news. The shop closed for a 3-day weekend, and one of the employees put the car into the shop and rolled the door down. Upon return, a lift that had a SUV on it had let go and dropped onto the Imperial, which had been parked partially underneath it.

This resulted in pushing the top edge of the windscreen near the rear view mirror down in the direction of the dashboard.

The best part of this was where the shop-owner explained that he did not have any Garagekeeperís Liability Insurance, and begged my buddy to let him have a pal repair the car so that this didnít suck up his savings. I figured that the "savings" were all the money that heíd saved by not having insurance, and didnít feel bad. The car had coverage, and they paid out, totaling the car in the process.

I bought the Salvage title to the car and it was mine. I proceeded to get quotes for up to $9000 to cut all of the roof pillars and graft a new top onto the car. That was pretty expensive, and I decided to try my hand at repairing the car.

I used an engine hoist, and mounted a large steel bolt in the end, making it look like a rhinoceros. I placed the end of the engine hoist in through the front window opening, and used the lift to reverse the bends in the metal. The opening gradually returned to its original shape, and I began to hold out hope that I might pull this off.

The metal just behind the lip was horribly stretched, and after a certain point, lifting it caused more wrinkles than it removed, so I got 70% there by bending metal, and brought it the rest of the way by simply putting large globs of filler in. First layers were Metal2Metal as a base, which is the strongest, hardest available, and I used this as a base to get good adhesion to the metal body, which I had ground with a grinder to give the metal texture and "bite".

The next layer was Kitty Hair, which has fiberglass strands in it for added strength, and final top layers were conventional Rage filler, used for final shaping.

I got a bit of a surprise the first time that I drove the car. Reinstallation of the trim and chrome had also been part of the job that Mr. Sawz-all had to perform, and the first pothole made the car sound like it had pots and pans hanging off of every body panel. The chrome and trim had been reinstalled, but had not been tightened down - everything was thumb-tight at best, so I spent the better part of 2 days firmly attaching all of the loose trim and bumpers.

I sprayed the roof in an off-white in an attempt to mask the fact that the roof has an ever-so-slight raised area in it at the front/center where I was unable to get the metal to lie down as it was supposed to. Nobody has spotted it without it being pointed out, so I think that I did pretty well, and I'm quite pleased with the results, and at just under $200 for materials (not including replacement trim, chrome, glass, etc.), the repair came off pretty affordably. That roof-area has to be the least-scrutinized spot on the entire body, so I got off pretty lightly, I think.

Otherwise, the car is in top shape. We drove it to Yosemite, and was one of only 3 pre-1980 cars that I saw on the road during the entire 500 mile trip.

Highlights include new tires, new chrome, new paint, a rebuilt engine & transmission, new brakes, and new exhaust. The interior was redone in the recent past, and is in good shape. The only flaws at this point would be an inoperative dash-clock, a crack in the windscreen, slightly balky drivers window, and reverse lights that don't illuminate.

Oh, I'm also missing the plastic "shield" coat-of arms medallion for the front eagle, so if you have one, I'd be VERY interested in it!

The car is easy to drive and has medium power in comparison to later cars - the 413 and 440 engines really were considerably more powerful, and this car has a 2-speed power-flight transmission, so does not shift nearly as smoothly as a Torque-Flight, as found on subsequent year cars. The main difference being that the transmission will hold first longer, and "wants" to be prodded to be shifted via a lift of the foot off of the accelerator, where the later units just kick down in a more automatic way. The earlier cars that had the Fluid Drive transmissions operated in a way that although shifting was done in "automatic mode", the driver was still expected to have some shifting input in the way that the gas-pedal was operated - a gentle lift of the foot when it was time to shift.


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