Technically speaking, the car you are looking at is not a Chrysler Imperial. It comes from a period in the model’s history when Chrysler was trying to better differentiate its top-end luxury model from the rest of the Chrysler lineup, and Imperial became its own brand, with no Chrysler badging to be found on the car. This met with limited success, with most people still referring to the cars as Chryslers. But, the cars still sold, possibly not in the quantities that they could have, but certainly in a high enough volume to be profitable for Chrysler.

The Imperial nameplate had been around since 1926, and was created in order to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln. It might never have had the 12- and 16-cylinder engines offered in other top tier American luxury cars at the time, but it did a good job of competing with entry level models by being something a bit different from the competition. In 1934, it adopted the aerodynamic bodywork of the Chrysler Airflow, and became the best selling of all the Airflow models. In 1953, the Imperial was the first postwar production car to get air conditioning. But, this still wasn’t enough to set it apart, and the Imperial became its own brand in 1955.

When the second generation of the dedicated Imperial brand was launched in 1957, it set a record for Imperial sales that Chrysler was never able to break. But in 1964, the year of the car you see here, Chrysler came closer than any other year. Exterior styling had a lot to do with this, as it represents a major departure from the styling of the 1963 model. There is a good reason for this too. Chrysler had just hired the designer Elwood Engle away from Ford, the man who had just redesigned the 1961 Lincoln Continental and given a much more modern look. Chrysler wanted to give the Imperial the same kind of update, but it should be noted that the 1964 Imperial is still considered a second generation model, since it was just the bodywork that was changed.

Continue reading to learn more about the Chrysler Imperial.

Exterior

1964 Chrysler Imperial
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The body of the 1964 Imperial is dominated by straight lines, and it has a look that brings it more into line with the industrial and architectural design trends of the day. It is, truth be told, quite similar to the 1961 Continental, but a case could be made for the Imperial being the more attractive of the two. The most noticeable of the changes to the body are on the rear end.

The body of the 1964 Imperial is dominated by straight lines

On the 1963 model, the trunk would slope down towards the back, and there was a bulge in top that was meant to look as though there was a spare tire in it, even though there wasn’t. The trunk was leveled out the following year, and the fake spare bulge was moved to the back. It was also squared off in a way that made its claims of housing a spare considerably less convincing. All trims of the Imperial were now offered with a vinyl roof as well, although this is perhaps not one of the cars finer qualities.

Interior

1964 Chrysler Imperial
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One of the big advantages of the Imperial was the sheer size of the thing. It was not only long, but it was the widest non-limousine American production car ever made up that point, only losing that title when a number of GM models in the ’70s grew to be even wider. The padded dash, power seats, and head rests became standard across all trims and body styles in 1964. The automotive critic Tom McCahill went so far to say that the 1964 wasn’t just the most comfortable car he had ever been in, but the most comfortable vehicle of any type, even comparing it favorably to a private train car.

Drivetrain

1964 Chrysler Imperial
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1964 models came with a 6.8-liter (413 cubic inch) V-8 with a pair of four-barrel carburetors

A few different engines were used in second-gen Imperials, but only one was offered in any given year. 1964 models came with a 6.8-liter (413 cubic inch) V-8 with a pair of four-barrel carburetors. It produced 375 horsepower and 525 pounds-feet of torque. That was a good amount of power, but then, it had to be. The Imperial was unique in the Chrysler lineup at the time in that every other model had switched to a unibody construction by this time, but the Imperial was still body-on-frame.

This made it very heavy, with some versions of the second-gen car reaching 5,500 pounds. At the same time, while most big, heavy American cars at the time had almost comically soft, wallowy suspension, the Imperial had a torsion-bar suspension system that made for a low center of gravity and surprisingly competent handling.

Prices

1964 Chrysler Imperial
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The Imperial was a reasonably pricey vehicle when it was new, but original price usually has less to do with pricing on classics than rarity. No second-gen Imperial is going to be rare, but with 1964 being the second-best year for sales (23,295 units sold), it is anything but rare. Pricing obviously varies by a lot, with pricing ranging from a few thousand dollars to a few examples going for in excess of $100,000, mostly rare examples of European-market versions.

But, most examples that are in good shape fall in the $20,000 to $35,000 range. Really well preserved examples can push past $50,000, but that is usually the most you’ll pay for an Imperial unless you go looking for one of the rare ones.

Competition

Cadillac De Ville

1964 Chrysler Imperial
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Cadillac debuted the second generation of the De Ville in 1961. The styling was more modern and restrained than that of the previous generation, but a few very ’50s touches, such as tailfins, remained. Cadillac tweaked the styling several times before bringing the second generation to a premature end after just four years. But it was still a huge hit, making up 43% of Cadillac’s total sales during those years.

Lincoln Continental

1961 Lincoln Continental
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The fourth generation of the Continental, made from 1961 to 1969, is probably the most classic form the car ever took. It’s a defining vehicle for this era in American cars, immediately recognizable by its rear suicide doors and just the fact that its one of the only postwar four-door convertibles ever made in America. By the mid-’60s, it was vastly outselling its competitors by a huge margin.

Read our full review here.

Conclusion

1964 Chrysler Imperial
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The Imperial was a car that was almost constantly beset by problems that were entirely Chrysler’s own doing. First, there was the problem with brand identity, or rather the almost complete lack thereof. Just prior to breaking the Imperial off from Chrysler, the Imperial hadn’t had a dedicated platform, in fact, it was barely more than a top trim for the New Yorker. Then Imperials didn’t get their own showrooms, something Lincolns and Cadillacs had, and this just added to the confusion when Chrysler tried to differentiate the brand.

Build quality issues plagued the early years of the second-gen dedicated Imperial. But by 1964, the Imperial was a really likable car. It’s no wonder that this year sold such relatively big numbers, it’s just a shame that Chrysler so badly mishandled the nameplate or else it could have been even more popular.

  • Leave it
    • * Slightly bigger than most small yachts
    • * Looks like a Continental knock-off
    • * Everyone will still call it a Chrysler no matter how often you correct them

Source: Barrett Jackson

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