The name Imperial had been used by Chrysler since 1924 representing their top models. These models were more expensive, larger, faster, and more elaborate than the base model Chryslers. Two years later the Imperial became its own series. The 1926 version, dubbed the E-80, was powered by a 288.7 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine capable of producing an astonishing 92 horsepower. Its impressive looks matched its 80 mph top speed.
In 1928, the L-80 series was introduced. With a 309.3 cubic-inch engine and more than 100 horsepower on tap, the Chrysler L-80 was faster and more powerful than its predecessor, raising the luxury performance bar even higher.
The early 1930 Imperial's continued the tradition of beauty, luxury, and impressive performance. They offered a gentle ride that was soft yet able to keep the car level in turns. The 51 percent front and 49 percent rear weight distribution amplifies Chryslers advanced engineering genius of its time. Under the hood was an enormous 384.8 cubic-inch straight-eight cylinder powerplant. The 'vee' shape radiator grill and fenders were courtesy of Chryslers Art and Color staff employee Herb Weissinger, patterned and inspired after the front-wheel-drive Cord L-29. The windshield was split and slanted. Spare tires were mounted in the traditional location, on the side close to the engine.
The early 1930's were tough times. Unemployment was at an all-time high. The stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression meant the shortlist of individuals capable of purchasing a luxury automobile was dwindling. The competition was stiff, filled with famous marque's such as Cadillac, Marmon, Auburn, Packard, and more. To stay in business, manufacturers need to remain competitive. Chrysler responded in 1932 by shortening the wheelbase by ten inches and slashing the price by $800 and offering the Imperial CH. The straight-eight cylinder was retained. The goal was to provide moderately priced cars that could sustain steady cash flow and keep the company in business. The result was a phenomenal car for the money and brilliant manufacturing economy for Chrysler.
The big-image builder automobiles were retained. The 145-inch wheelbase Imperial Custom Eight, Series CL was still available. These machines were identical to the 1931 versions except for the elimination of the traditional cowl. The hood reached from the windshield to the radiator in one unbroken line, a design courtesy of LeBaron. Mechanically, the chassis received modifications that gave it extra strength and lowered its center of gravity. The steering ratio was reduced from three turns lock-to-lock to four. The result was a vehicle that was more stable at speed and easier to park. New for 1932 was the vacuum-operated automatic clutch and vacuum-assisted brakes. The automatic clutch made it possible for the driver to switch gears without de-clutching. Since it was a new system it did not always work properly. The vacuum-assisted brakes were a welcome change and provided superb stopping power. For 1932 only 220 examples were produced.
For 1933 the Imperial was basically just a name slapped on a Series CP Chrysler Eight. The wheelbase was 126 inches and the engine displayed 298.6 cubic-inches and rated at 108 horsepower. The Custom Imperial, however, continued unchanged. The CQ was introduced in 1933 and became apart of the Imperial line-up. Standard equipment included automatic vacuum clutch, Delco Remy ignition, Lockheed hydraulic brakes, free-wheeling, dual wipers, taillights, and external chrome trumpet horns, and a covered rear spare tire. Styling was similar to the 1933 vehicles with sweeping fenders, vee-type radiators, single bumpers, and a slanting windshield. The Imperial CQ convertibles had 'suicide' hinged doors. There were six body styles to select from in the CQ model range. The least expensive was the $1275 two-door roadster with seating for two/four. The most popular was the four-door sedan with seating for five. In total, there were 2,584 examples of this body-style sold. For the 1933 production year, 151 examples of the Customer Imperial models were produced.
The Custom Imperials were easy to drive, fast, full of style, and superb automobiles that represented styling and mechanical advancements in the automotive community.By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2006