2002: An Imperial Odyssey

by Kenyon Wills

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My name is Kenyon, and I have been addicted to things with wheels since as far back as I can remember. I have come to be quite zealous in my pursuit of a 1960 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron 4-Door South-Hampton. I had one in college, let it get away from me, and I've regretted it every day since, so I went out and found another one and am working my way to having a top-notch car to drive around in by taking it apart first for a complete restoration.

This is the story of how I got to where I am, and where I am in my story.

The 1960 Imperial was a special car in Imperial history. It has a body that is unique in its styling in a car line that normally saw body designs run for three years at a time with minor changes only. The 1960 is closely related to the 1961-63 cars in many ways mechanically, but its shape and form are its' alone.

Warren Avenue Imperial Plant
Warren Avenue Imperial Plant
1960 was an important year for Imperial, as this is the first year that the marque, a separate luxury car line that was distinct and separate from Chrysler (Imperial became a separate division, same as Plymouth, Desoto, and Chrysler in 1955). As a result of a great year in 1957, the brass decided that Imperial ranked high enough to deserve its own factory, and 1960 was the inaugural year for the Warren Avenue Imperial Plant. The press release for this factory's grand opening can be viewed here:

1960 Imperial Print Advertising
Imperial Advertising

Imperial Advertising
1960 was also a very special year for Imperial advertising. I have collected all years of Imperial magazine reviews and articles, but 1960 stands alone for the breadth and scope of ad literature that was to be produced for it. Click on the pink Imperial ad to see more.

Imperial Styling
The 1960 Imperial was part of Chrysler's Forward Look design theme, and was styled by Virgil Exner, a man who has quite a following amongst people that recognize his influence at Chrysler from the mid 1950's through to the 1963 models. The 1957 Chrysler, Dodge, Desoto, and Imperial designs were so unsettling to GM, that the 1959 Cadillac - now a cultural icon, is often said to be inspired by the Forward Look design themes of 1957 (it took 2 years for GM to show a reaction in its designs to Chrysler's banner year in 1957 and to get things into production at GM).

1959 Cadillac 1957-59 Imperial

I see strong similarities in the angle that the fin is bent at (earlier and just behind the door on the Imp), and in the character lines that come back from the headlights and across the mid-section of the car. The lines of the rear deck lid, Circular shapes in the bumpers, and bulging rocket tail light flares seem suspiciously similar to me, but perhaps I have a biased eye.
  Forward Look Advertising
Forward Look Advertising

The ad campaign for the Forward Look was a good one, and my favorite is the one with the fish, which on surface looks like it has nothing to do with fabulous Chrysler design, but I thought to be quite cute. Click on the fish to see the Forward Look Ad campaign.

The computer world (I'll assume that the reader is reading this on a computer) has the rivalry between Apple and Windows in regards to operating systems. The Apple people frequently cite better design and easier application of their machines to daily tasks (good engineering), with Windows famous for crashing and requiring a much longer learning curve, but being a triumph of marketing.

I feel the same way about Imperials. They are the product of great engineering, but somehow just never seemed to be destined for mass distribution. GM just really had it together regarding market share and sales numbers. Cadillac tended to outsell Imperial by 10:1 for most of their careers together from 1955-1975, so the Cadillac is the car that everyone tended to see driving around the streets, in the movies, and in their memories.

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