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Gone, but not forgotten: The Imperial

When you think of the vanguards of American luxury vehicles, the names Cadillac and Lincoln likely come to mind – maybe even Buick if you discount the 80s and 90s – but if it was the mid-60s, the name Imperial would likely be said in the same breath as these domestic standard bearers. This brand was the Mopar group’s attempt at taking a slice out of the luxury market that was dominated by Cadillac and Lincoln during the 50s and 60s. While Caddy and Lincoln were among the oldest nameplates on the American market, Imperial was arriving to the party late and had a lot to prove when it came to competing to marques that already boasted an impressive heritage.

The Imperial name wasn’t completely new to the market, however, as it was one of the first trim levels to appear on Chryslers. The Chrysler Imperial was introduced in 1926 at that year’s New York Auto Show, and Walter P. Chrysler himself, the company’s founder, took to the stage to promote the model. His goal was to take the luxury market by storm with the model, and, considering the brand’s relative youth compared to the competition, they made a pretty big splash in the industry.

With Dodge and Plymouth at the bottom of the totem pole as the company’s economy lineups, the head brass at Chrysler wanted to increase market share even further and establish an even more flashy brand than the already premium Chrysler line. This is when Imperial got it’s own badge, starting with the 1955 model year.

The 1955 Imperial Newport shared a lot of components with the Chryslers of the time, but the styling, which was overseen by legendary designer Virgil Exner, was more flashy and flamboyant than anything in the Chrysler Corporation. This first model had a split grill that was bisected with the brands new Eagle logo. It featured many unique technologies and characteristics that set it apart from the pack, including a unique push-button automatic transmission system located in the dash of the car called “PowerFlite,” which was an industry first.

It boasted power steering and brakes as well as Chrysler’s first generation Hemi V8, but it was luxury features like air conditioning that gave the Imperial mark the edge over the competition. In 1956, the Imperial was even the first car to feature an all-transistor car radio, a technology developed in conjunction with the carmaker and manufacturer Philco. All in all, these first Imperials offered great looks and top-tier technology in a package that was less expensive than the competition, at least at the outset.

Imperial would eventually get its own platform and further distinguish itself from the Chrysler brand, with even more eye catching designs and fewer shared parts. However, by the 1970s, Imperial was yet again folded into the Chrysler family, becoming a trim level for many of the brand’s premium models.

Do you have any fond memories of the Imperial brand, whether it be witnessing their high fins and wide stances driving down the road or actually getting behind the wheel of one of these bad boys? Leave your thoughts below:

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