Doane Yawger: Dreaming of an Imperial, even if it is a land yacht

June 23, 2012 

Doane Yawger, Sun-Star reporter

MERCED SUN-STAR

Counting sheep in the middle of the night can have its fun moments. One such session had me fantasizing how great it would be to own a 1957-59 Chrysler Imperial.

It would be so much fun taking an Imperial for a spin around town, maybe spending some time at a cruise night. Washing or waxing a big baby like an Imperial could be an all-day chore, given its immense size.

These luxury land yachts are about the ultimate in upscale motoring. Imperials simply are cool, and I'd love to have one. Two-door or four-door, it doesn't matter.

It could be a little like inheriting an elephant. But as unmanageable as a pachyderm would be, I think I could handle an Imperial.

National Geographic magazines from the late 1950s featured full-page advertisements for Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials, presumably the vehicles of choice for those more affluent readers.

Imperials oozed style, but it bordered on quirky, and that's not necessarily a criticism.

Both the 1959 Cadillac and Lincoln Continental also sported a number of quirky design elements. In fact, these unique features are what is endearing about the cars to me. They have personality that's lacking with contemporary vehicles.

Late 1950s Imperials had a landau half-top reminiscent of 1920s and 1930s classics; the trunk had a faux spare tire cover and the taillights jutted out from the modest tailfins in bullet-like fashion.

It sported a refined, space age look that was popular at the time. The dual headlights protrude from the grille from rounded chrome pods. Front and rear bumpers are massive; the rear bumper has oval eyebrowlike pods. The 1959 Imperial has five imposing vertical grille teeth.

To add to the charm, Imperials typically had push-button shifting for their automatic transmissions. In the early 1960s, Imperials had a rectangular-shaped steering wheel that's definitely different from most.

Proportions for all of the big luxury cars are more than generous. I'm sure a family of six could travel comfortably in a big Imperial without rubbing elbows. The trunk holds about as much as some small pickup trucks.

An Imperial would look dazzling in factory-fresh condition but even better with some mild customization. Its Hemi-head V-8 engine is coveted for many applications, including street rods and custom cars.

Recently, someone converted a big four-door sedan into a single-seat roadster that is making the rounds of the custom car shows and turning heads wherever it goes.

I can't recall seeing any vintage Imperials at local cruise nights, but I'm sure they are out there. Imperial sales numbers were modest compared with Cads and Continentals; that may account for their relative scarcity.

One of the first car model kits I built in 1958 was a Chrysler Imperial convertible. As an 11-year-old, I didn't do a very good job with that Imperial but it's one of my most treasured possessions now, poor paint job, glue blemishes and all.

Like feeding an elephant, I'm sure the weight and size of its engine would make an Imperial a gas-guzzler. But who can put a price on fun, especially when an Imperial is involved?

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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