1959 Chrysler Imperial

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This is a ’59 model, which means that this Imperial was produced at the same time as the iconic ’59 Eldorado. But why everybody remembers Cadillac even today – (it even became a symbol of all cars with huge fins), and Imperial is remembered only by its owners and rare enthusiasts.
Back in ’55, Chrysler made Imperial a separate brand, which was to raise the prestige of the brand and give the opportunity to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln. This move seems quite sensible, and a few decades later, it was used by some Japanese companies. The most successful example of which is Lexus. But in the case of Imperial, such an idea did not work out completely. Yes, – technically it was no longer Chrysler’s flagship model. But Imperial cars were sold through the same dealers and in the same showrooms, which sold Chrysler. To some extent, this influenced people to continue to see Imperial as the flagship Chrysler rather than as a separate brand.

So Lincoln and Cadillac were selling their cars in separate showrooms where they didn’t stand alongside Ford and Chevrolet. Such an omission may have been more significant than it first appears. Especially since the Imperial was built as a really high-quality and expensive car. Notwithstanding the fact that it wasn’t built by hand, it was assembled on an assembly line (it was a competitor to Cadillac, not Rolls-Royce), but the emphasis was placed on the quality of assembly, and control was carried out at the Imperial’s assembly line. Partly to improve the quality of the cars produced, production was moved from Detroit (where it was located on Jefferson Avenue) to Dearborn on Warren Avenue.

Only 1959 Chrysler Imperial cars were assembled at the new production facilities. The shops were equipped with not only temperature but also humidity control. Such equipment seems familiar today, but in the ’50s it was an aspect that not only worked to improve quality, but could also be mentioned by the dealer when showing a car to a showroom visitor.

The sale and price of the 1959 Chrysler Imperial.

At the time, you could buy a 1959 Chrysler Imperial in hardtop body for $5,670. There were 4,714 of these cars produced. Convertibles sold for $5,774 and only 555 of them were produced. The Imperial in coupe body could be bought for $5,403 and 1,728 such cars were produced. A total of 17,769 Imperials of the ’59 were produced. Among them were seven exclusive limousines which were assembled from American parts by the Chia company in Italy. The cost of the limousine was 15015 dollars. Which of course was a very considerable sum. For comparison, the average American house in those years cost $12,400.

And although the Imperial initially appealed to Americans not as much as the Eldorado, it still seems strange that even today they are sold relatively cheap. A car in no better condition can even be bought for $3,000. Which is very cheap for a premium car from that era. Good condition examples sell for $15,000 to $20,000. That said, finding an Eldorado cheaper than $100,000 may not be easy today. Often the price of these Cadillacs exceeds $200,000.

The Imperial was available in three trim levels; – Custom, Crown and LeBaron.

Appearance and photos.

As we said above, the Imperial was available in three body types (not counting the exclusive limousine); hardtop, coupe and convertible. A little reminder – a hardtop is a four-door body, visually similar to a sedan, but without a central pillar between the front and rear.

A little later, the Imperial logo was an eagle, but in ’59 the distinctive emblem was the crown. You can see it on the front fenders, just above the headlights. In this place, the crown is placed inside the eagle, which is shaped like a beech V (which refers to the V-engines). In other places, the crown is placed without the eagle. From the eagle logo along the whole front wing there is a chrome molding. Also chrome molding stretches along the bottom of the car, from the front to the rear bumper. You can notice the Imperial lettering above the radiator grille, or on the front fenders. The bumper itself on a ’59 car was massive and new. It consisted of five chrome ribs.

In what car have you seen stainless steel bodywork? The well known DeLorean is not taken into consideration now – it came much later and is quite a unique car. A Silvercrest Landav package was available for the Imperial, which included a one-piece stainless steel roof. Stainless steel was also used on the front roof pillars and window frames on the side doors.
Note the stamping on the trunk lid. It’s shaped like there’s a spare tire right underneath it, but it really isn’t. This car has fins. They are much smaller than those of the Cadillac, but still – very big. The taillights are in the form of a rocket flame. On the ’59 car, the gas tank hatch is located under the left fin. Although at the time, most automakers hid the hatch under the rear, license plate.
The side mirrors were not mounted on the doors, but on the front fenders. This solution was carried over to subsequent generations of the Imperial.
The 1959 Chrysler Imperial hardtop had a body length of 5748mm and a wheelbase of 3277mm. The wheelbase of the Chia limousine was 149.5d (3737mm). Curb weight of the hardtop is 2270kg, ground clearance – 178mm. The drag coefficient is 0.6. From the factory, the car from Chrysler was equipped with 15-inch tires, which were put on 6-inch wide rims.
The mufflers can be fitted with nozzles that direct the exhaust gases downward.

Interior and equipment.

In ’59, this car was equipped with a self-dimming, interior mirror. The mirror is not mounted on top, but on the baffle. Such a solution is found in classic sports cars.

As an option, the Imperial had separate front seats. Probably the main feature of the Chrysler’s interior is connected with the front seats. The thing is that with the help of a mechanical lever the seat can be turned towards the doorway (it is shown on the photo). Of course, the front seats have electric adjustments.

The inscription Imperial is present on the metal plate on the sill, which immediately emphasizes the isolation of the car. This model does not have a gearshift lever – automatic transmission modes are changed with the buttons, located a little to the left of the steering wheel.

The shift lever is back only in ’65. Below these buttons is a toggle switch that turns on the turn indicators. It seems Chrysler decided to remove all controls from the steering column.

On the crossbar of the steering wheel you can see the logo – the crown, it is also applied on the carpets and on the backs of the seats. The steering wheel itself in the logo area is covered with soft material.

Pay attention that there are stainless steel elements attached to the thin rim of the steering wheel. This solution can hardly be considered as safe today, but it adds charm to the car. For safety purposes, the front panel was covered with foam rubber pads not only on top, but also on the bottom. The safety belts here are lumbar type, which was normal for that time.

Under the speedometer, a clock was prominently displayed. Chrysler seems to have decided that it was the clock that needed the most readable place.

There are ashtrays in the rear doors. They are interesting not because under their lids were installed cigarette lighters (it was the norm for luxury, American cars, those years), but the way to open the lids of ashtrays. They are not lifted up, and shifted inward. The Imperial’s door armrests had recesses for stuff.
The luggage compartment of the hardtop can hold a fantastic 900 liters! The spare tire, despite the stamping on the trunk lid, lies on the floor and is fixed by a special lock.

Engine and Specifications 1959 Chrysler Imperial.

With a cylinder diameter of 4.2d (106mm) and a stroke of 3.8d (95mm), the petrol V8 has a cubic capacity of 6.8L. The compression ratio is quite high for an American vehicle, at 10.1:1, which contributes to the power output. The maximum power of 350 horsepower is reached at 4,600 rpm. The maximum torque of 637N.M is available already at 2800 rpm. These are very high horsepower figures. Even if to take into account, that these values are taken not from wheels, but from flywheel, anyway it is very powerful car. Certainly, the engine block is made of cast-iron. The cooling system holds 16 liters. The huge engine is powered by a Carter AFB carburetor.

In spite of its weight and a three-range, automatic transmission, the rear-wheel drive Imperial is able to accelerate from a place to 100 km in 9.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 197 km.
The 1959 Chrysler Imperial hardtop could go a quarter mile in 16.8 seconds. The average fuel consumption was 24L per 100 miles, or 11.8 miles per gallon.
Limousines were powered by a 6.4-liter Firepower V8, which was available on last year’s model.
The hardtop had a 2.93:1 main axle ratio.

You can notice from the photo that the valve covers are decorated with Imperial lettering. The air filter housing is very thick here – it was thinner on later models. Also from the photo you can see there is no traditional washer reservoir under the hood – the “rubber bag” is replacing it. Vacuum booster brakes have a very unusual shape.
The brakes on both axles are drum brakes. And Chrysler said the brakes were better than Lincoln’s. The Imperial drums actually have a different arrangement, which provides more contact area.
Imperial’s front suspension is torsion, the rear suspension is leaf spring and can be supplemented with optional, pneumatic elements, which should provide stable ground clearance even when the car is heavily loaded.
Also, unlike Lincoln and many other cars of the time, Imperial’s brake pad linings were not riveted but glued on.

Like the Imperial of other years, the ’59 car was, in my opinion, severely underpriced. It was a very comfortable, powerful and fast car with gorgeous interior trim. There were many indications in both the body and interior trim elements that this was a new and unique car that was not a Chrysler model. Perhaps the final separation from the parent company, in terms of image, failed because of the common dealer network, in which Chrysler and Imperial were sold side by side. Probably the fact that Cadillac and Lincoln existed as separate brands from GM and Ford for a very long time since the beginning of their history played a role. Whatever the case, Imperial was a very worthy competitor for both of them.

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