My 1960 Imperial LeBaron Sedan
One beautiful spring day in May 1982 my friend Wayne and I were headed north on Highway 99. He was driving, so I was checking out all of the parking lots and used car agencies for the sight of an old Imperial. We were just entering the City of Lynnwood when I spotted a 1960 Imperial on the left side of the highway. It was parked a good distance off the road, but I could tell it was a copper colored LeBaron Sedan. When I announced this fact to Wayne he said “yeah Paul, I told you about that car six months ago!” he then added that at that time it had a For Sale sign in the window.
We quickly pulled over and ventured up to look at the car. I remembered that he had told me about it, but he had not mentioned that it was a LeBaron. I explained to Wayne how rare the car was and that I wondered if it was still for sale. It wasn’t long before a woman came out of the house and asked us if we were interested in the car. She said that it belonged to her husband’s mother, and that if we were interested, he was at the restaurant on the corner called The Hand Out. It turned out that he owned the restaurant, and his name was Russell Davis. He agreed to meet us back at the car so we headed off anxious to speak with Mr. Davis about the Imperial.
The car was obviously original with the usual “1960 LeBaron back window problem”. From the paint, it also was apparent that the window had been fixed once before and the paint had been blended in. The car had many dents but none serious enough to warrant any concern. The car was virtually rust free. Mr. Davis approached and agreed to open up the car. It had new radial white wall tires on it. He said that it ran well, but needed brakes and transmission work. Russell said that his mother had learned to drive in the car in the middle 1960’s after her husband had passed away. I had assumed that the man had bought the car new, but I never was told. It did have a Shriner’s Afifi Temple emblem stuck to the trunk lid, which indicated to me that her husband must have been a member of that organization.
Russell said that his mother had loved the car, and that when she was no longer able to drive herself, she would insist on her friends driving her around in it rather than taking their own cars. This was the reason that was given for all of the scrapes and dents in the car. His mother had driven the car to Reno at least once, but the total actual mileage on the car was 72,045. This seemed possible by the condition of the car, although the front seat had been reupholstered many years before with the incorrect material, but in the right pattern. Russell told me that his mother had always wanted him to keep the car as long as she was alive. At this point it was apparent that she would not be going out for any more rides so the car was put up for sale. Russell told me that he would not sell it to “just anyone”. A man that had been interested in the car was not able to buy it because he had mentioned the idea of parting it out. I assured him that the car would not be parted out. The price of the car was $1,250.00. I told Mr. Davis that I was interested and would give him a call to arrange to meet with the money.
Mr. Davis had insisted on a cashier’s check from the bank, so the following Friday afternoon I purchased one and arranged to meet Mr. Davis to buy the car. My friends Pet and Larry went with me and took pictures of the transaction, and our efforts to move the car. Although it ran well, it didn't stop very well and the transmission shifted erratically. The radio, dash lights, Auto Pilot, power seat, and many other things did not work.
During the summer of 1982 I was able to repair nearly all of the accessories. I even made my own reproduction front fender emblems, as they were not available at that time. They really turned out quite well! I rebuilt the brakes, and had the transmission serviced. The air conditioning needed a new compressor and still does to this day. Over the next few years I drove the car frequently and put about 20,000 miles on it. One year I drove it to Spokane, Washington where I met with Eric Ruud, who is currently a member of the IML. We had been friends for years, and Eric was considering riding back to Seattle with me for a visit. He did, and if he ever doubted his love for old Imperials, it was rekindled on the drive back to Seattle. The old LeBaron really was at home on the open road
In the summer of 1986 I bought my first home. One of my big projects when I bought my house was to build a new garage to house my five Imperials. I had the ’56 Southampton, the ’65 Crown four door, the ’62 LeBaron, my parents Alaskan White ’60 Custom, and the Powder Bronze ’60 LeBaron. Within a few months my new garage was built and I was able to bring my cars home from the storage facility were they had been kept. The new garage held four cars, and there was an existing garage that would hold one. This existing garage is where I kept the ’60 LeBaron.
One Sunday morning I came home from being out of town as my neighbor raced up to me and asked me if I “knew about the fire!” He was obviously excited and told me that there had been a garage fire behind my house. I ran back there to find that the garage across the ally from mine had burned to the ground. Also, the face of my small garage, the one that held the ’60 LeBaron had been badly burned. The garage door had burned though and I was able to see me poor car peaking out through the gash in the door. Luckily the fire department was able to put the fire out before my car was destroyed, but it did suffer some paint damage, and the garage had to be repaired. That day I took the car out, washed it, and drove it on a nice long drive. I nearly lost my 1960 Imperial LeBaron Sedan that October day in 1987.
I drove the car regularly until 1989. Since then the car had been parked in that same garage, until this past summer when I decided that I needed to either get my Imperials running or sell them. Thankfully, my friend Eric told me about the IML. Since joining the IML I have renewed my interest in the cars. The ’60 LeBaron had sat long enough that the fuel in the gas tank rotted and clogged the fuel line. In August of 2003 I was able to clean out the tank, and get the car running again. The car still runs great. I also replaced the old radial tires with some new wide white radials from Coker Tire Company. I plan to have it painted next year and will send a new set of photos to the IML to update this story when it is done.
While I was still running the car back in the late ‘80s some friends and I had an odd experience when one night when we all got in the car and went out for dinner. We were in West Seattle, which is an older established part of our city. While we were in the car sitting at a red light we noticed an elderly lady staring at us from across the street. She was with a group of others who also had noticed the car, and seemed to be talking about it. The lady was so fixated on the car that as they came toward us though the crosswalk, she kept staring at us, and dropped her purse. After that, she continued staring until finally she tripped on the curb on the other side of the street. We all wondered what had caused her to act that way. Did she recognize the car as the one that belonged to her old friend years before? Had she been one of the friends that drove Russell’s mother around in the car? I doubt that I will ever know.