Thursday, October 24, 2013

1954 Chrysler Custom Imperial Sedan



"In the Imperial for 1954, Chrysler stylists and designers have combined smart styling and conservative beauty to create a car that has a distinguished appearance, quite in keeping with the distinguished performance for which the Imperial is already so well and widely known and respected. With the distinctive new grille and bumper design; the long, graceful, perfectly blended lines, from front to rear; the wide, one-piece curved windshield; the Clearbac wrap-around window; and the exclusive Diving Eagle and the Chrysler winged-V on the hood, there is little likelihood anyone would mistake the Imperial, by Chrysler, for any other car."

In the picture it doesn't look like much. Yet, in reality, it was the sheer size of this car that instantly grabbed our attention: the Imperial, Chrysler's top model for 1954, measures a whopping 223.8 inches (5685mm) from bumper to bumper. When new, it should compete with America's best: Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard. The Imperial was more expensive than any of them, but trailed them in sales numbers. Out of 5,758 Chrysler Imperial in total, just 4,324 Custom Imperial Sedan left the factory in 1954: not many compared to 96,680 Cadillac, 36,993 Lincoln and 31,291 Packard in the same year.

The reason for the customer's rejection: the Imperial looked too much like a lesser Chrysler. Yet, technically, it was a showcase of Chrysler engineering: the biggest "FirePower" Hemi V-8 engine, "PowerFlite" transmission, "Full-Time Power Steering" and "Chrysler Safe-Guard Hydraulic Brakes" all came standard. The majestic Crown Imperial 8-passenger limousine even had Lambert-Ausco disc brakes — an absolute novelty in the early 50s. On other Imperials, these brakes were available as an option, but the steep $400 price tag meant very few takers.

Juan Manuel, the owner of our pictured Imperial, is a retired pilot and a chatty man: "My career began as a military pilot, but when I became too old for the job, I became a pilot for Cubana airlines. I flew everything on Cuban skies, from Russian MiG-21, Antonovs and Iljuschins to American Cessnas. This Chrysler Imperial is mine since more than 40 years. When I got it, it had still its original Hemi-engine installed. Chico, this car was quick! But, you know, we all get older and, just like me, it drank too much. We all had to shift into a lower gear. Now, the Imperial runs with a Mercedes-Benz Diesel and I just have my occasional traguito".

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