Chapter 1: the Search
Long ago, as a boy in Virginia, I built many plastic car models. I dreamed of being a car designer when I grew up. The powerful, sophisticated designs from Chrysler, with curved glass, long, low, fliteswept sculptured bodies seemed a generation ahead of the tarted-up GMs and boxy Fords. I built a beautiful 63 Imperial model when they came out, but there were none of the 1961: the car that brought together all the voluptuous power and grace of postwar Americas youthful ascendancy in curvaceous, glittering metallic form. I resolved to have one one day.
Fast forward to 1998. I am a mechanical engineer by training, an inventor by nature, and a businessman by necessity. Maybe thats why I have never been financially successful. OK, weve had only a few really tight times, but there hasnt been spare for an Imperial or any toy car for nearly twenty years. House, family, company have all had higher priority. Now I have a royalty income. No retirement fund, but enough to count as real pin money on top of some good years in the business. Its time for my Imperial.
I want a four door hardtop. I want a 1961. I want a light color. I want lots of options. I have no idea where to begin. I know nothing more detailed about Imperials than the history of the designers: Exner and Engel (then who?). I know what I want. I have seen an ad in Car & Driver for a perfect 61 LeBaron for $7000 and figure I can get the Crown I want for less!
The Teaser: Surely I can Afford an Imperial: but not this one. Not this color.
I began by buying the ad rags: Auto Trader and Hemmings. I began to search the internet and found Classifieds2000 and Trader Online. I set a net for 1960-1963 Imperials, recalling the 63 scale model I had years ago. Very quickly I was rewarded with a 62 downstate, near the City (thats New York City for you outlanders), just $2500. I stop in the next weekend. Its running & registered, but its a low-line (Custom) and loose all over. The doors dont quite fit, everything looks and feels worn. No bad rust, but an unappealing medium green and very few options. No thanks. This is just the first one.
I find a car in Saskatchewan (thats a bit far from Melrose, NY). It sounds just right! Coronado Cream and all options, only $1500. OK< it will cost another Grand to get it here, but thats still affordable. Look at the picture:
A promising candidate!
After some discussions, I get some closeups that tell a more accurate picture: SEVERE rust out in the quarters, once-bondoed, now re-emerging. NOTE for future: GET close-ups!
See those Brown-edged Cracks? Rust Emerges Triumphant
While Im still considering how to rescue the Saskatchewan car, Auto trader posts a cream Crown 4dr in Cincinnati- loaded: $4400. We exchange emails. I get pictures. It looks good, except, isnt it odd that it has a 62 grille, and isnt that right front fender a little misaligned? Still, there are LOTS of pictures. Looking back I see I never got a straight answer and the photos were all from too far away, but, My! It looks lovely there.
A Lovely-Looking Candidate with an Unusual Grille
Shiny-Looking Isnt It?
What the hey: cash in some freq. Flyer miles and off we go, cash in hand. Rent a car at the airport. Drive a Bit. Neighborhood Fair. I see it as I approach. Its out in the driveway. Im excited. The house is a homeowner rework special lots of panelling and folk carpentry. As I get within 20 feet, I see the car is a budget dream, too. The rockers are not-so-solid bondo, soon to depart in large chunks. The paint is a hand-sprayed recoat- mostly. After some cursory inspection I knew it was a parts car. The guy had a copy of the Old Cars Price Guide page taped to the window, with the #2 price highlighted. I said, "thanks. No thanks" and went home.
Bummer! My first posting to the IML for help:
well, this AM I got up early (NOT my normal weekend modus operandi), flew from Albany (NY) to Cincinnati and drove up to see a 61 crown 4dr advertised as good,solid car. I knew it had a 62 front end, but had received photos that seemed to show the chrome was good, etc. I have REALLY wanted this model for a LONG time, so I was pretty well fired up. The photos showed a soft yellow-cream with shine. It looked great. Well. when I got within 10 feet I knew I had blown the day. The entire lower edges, bumper-to-bumper, had been bondo'd in & badly, and not recently, as some chunks were starting to fall away. All the chrome was pitted, window edgings rusted. The windshield was scratched from dragging no-rubber wiper arms. The front end was only 2/3 '62, with a crude weld patch midway through the left side of the grille. The surviving 61 fender was about 5 degrees out of line with the rest of the body. And the paint! Oh, sure, it could shine in a sunny photo, but it had obviously been applied with a spray can: orange peel, flakes,and drips, plus overspray everywhere the rust wasn't. Lots of the power items didn't work. The engine ran, but was dripping coolant. The owner had a blue book page taped to the window showing $3700 as the low end of the range for this model. I tried to explain gently that this wasn't up to that low end. He claimed ignorance of most of what I pointed out. I concluded it was a beater, thanked him for his time and took my leave. It may be that he'll get his price from someone, but it didn't feel right to me.
Now the support request: am I out to lunch here or was I right to walk? I've wanted one of these a LONG time, and this one was the exact spec., so walking wasn't easy, even as I contemplated puting $$$$ into this one. But the rust, the front end damage, the general condition scared me off. Any advice? I'm new to this game (old cars generally, + Imps) should I offer him $2500? Run away and forget it? What should one expect to pay for a reasonably original, low-rust runner with decent chrome? What constitutes reasonable rust levels? Does anybody have another one for me (61 Crown 4 dr)? I am SOOO disappointed. :(
The general response was great. Run, dont walk. I feel a little better. This is going to take a while.
After the first few candidates appeared within weeks, I was SURE the right one would pop up any day. I continued to monitor the usual suspects for online ads AND I hunted Hemmings and other old-car websites. I found lots of leads and collected lots of images. When possible, I travelled to see candidates. I saw cars in NY, NJ, CT, PA, GA, FL, OH, MN,NM, AZ, CA, UT, OR, WA (& Canada). More than 20 in all (1960-63). Heres a few of the more interesting ones:
Norms BEEYOOTIFUL 63, but I REALLY want a 61
A Beauty: Needs Window Rubber, etc. but a SOLID #3. They want$14,600! (NO)
Kerry Pinkertons Potential Project. This is a good Buy, but I want Light Color
I even went to Rosens (this ones NOT all it looks to be in this photo!)
Heres a shot of 2 of a trio that was offered for $9000! They all needed a lot of work, but it was a fair price and he got it from someone a little closer to Washington State (lets see, figure $4000 just to haul them ). Im still after the red one!
Lambsons Trio (2/3): Too Much Project for Me, but O, how I would have liked to!
Heres a pair from Utah: Two LeBarons! Who put the Vinyl tops on??? (One has swivel seats). Still, even at $3000 the pair, with hauling and restoration: Too Much!
A Pair of LeBarons in Utah. They may still be There!
I found these two at one house in NM. The prices started out in the high teens (each). We had come to low teens before I went to visit. They are very good amateur restorations, but WHY didnt they remove the chrome before repainting?!?!?
Two Nice Amateur Jobs in NM. Overpriced and no A/C. And Painted at Scheibs
I was beginning to lose hope for a workable project at a workable price. I had been looking for nearly 6 months. I had cancelled one visit during the trip to NM. A car in nearby NJ, but with no pictures and a less-than-promising verbal description from an older fellow selling off his collection .
To BE continued Back to Front Page On to the next chapter