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February 15, 2006

Please Don't Build This Car

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

There are run-of-the-mill local automobile shows and then there are Important Automobile Shows such as those that take place in Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Detroit.

Important Automobile Shows are where experimental cars, dream cars, show cars -- whatever cars -- are introduced.

Some of these cars are exercises to keep automobile company styling staffs juiced up and serve the further purpose of generating publicity and the image of "progressive thinking" in what might well be a beancounter-besotted firm.

Other cars contain design features that could potentially appear in future production models provided public reaction wasn't too negative. Therefore careful attention is paid to how the various styling details are received.

Finally there are cars that are customized / slightly-disguised versions of automobiles slated for production in the near future. This is especially true where a new body is to be introduced (rather than a face-lifted existing body). The purpose of these show cars is to get the public used to new styling, particularly if the styling is a radical change; "softening the blow" is another way of putting it.

The auto show held in Detroit this January included a Chrysler Imperial concept car from DaimlerChrysler. It's not clear whether this is simply a show car or if it might be a future production model -- I suspect the latter interpretation. (Links to show coverage are here and here.) And here's what the car looks like:


concept front 34 view.jpg

concept rear 15 view.jpg

concept rear 45 view.jpg

Chrysler 300 for 2006.jpg
2006 Chrysler 300.
The Imperial concept car seems to be based on the current production model.

Chrysler's Imperial models were never quite accepted as luxury cars, possibly because the company was never consistent in defining what an Imperial was.

In the early 1930s some fine-looking soft-top models were built, but the sedans were rather clunky-looking. Besides, they were powered by a pretty basic straight-8 motor as opposed to the huge straight-8s in Duesenbergs or the V-12s in Cadillacs and Packards or the Cadillac V-16s. From then until the early 50s Imperials mostly were top-of-the-line Chryslers, and Chryslers competed with Buick in the mid-priced to near-luxury markets.

In the early 50s Chrysler made an effort to visually separate Chrysler Imperials from regular Chryslers and in the mid-50s presented Imperial as a separate make (later to be folded back into Chrysler when sales failed to reach Lincoln levels let alone those for Cadillac). Early and late-50s Imperials had mediocre styling, but the 57s were rakish and the 1955s were the best of all.

ad for 1955.jpg
1955 Imperial.

Chrysler Imperials over the last 45 years (when they were produced at all) were a mixed styling and product-planning bag, seldom reaching for (and never attaining) prestige-car status. Presumably this year's concept car is an attempt to gauge reaction of potential buyers to yet another stab at the luxury car market.


The concept car is longer and taller than current 300s. The reason it is taller is that it is thought this might attract buyers who enjoy commanding road views from the driverís seat of their Cadillac Escalade SUVs. And yes, it does look taller than the 300.

But it doesn't seem longer when viewed in isolation. In part this is because the Imperial has really large wheels, and these tend to give the car about the same length / wheel-size proportions as the 300. The shape of the rear fender and the blend-line to the front (harking back to a 50s Chrysler show car that served as the basis for the Volkwagen Karmann-Ghia coupe of the mid 60-70s) also visually shortens the car.

To me, the really ugly part is the rear. The shape of the trunk and its detailing focuses my eye on the center, making the rear seem too narrow and too tall, if the photos are any guide. I think this pinched look needs to be replaced with something that is distinctive yet will enhance the car's appearance.

The front also does not please me, because it too seems pinched -- but for reason of having all the brightwork in the center. I think small, bright details of some sort are needed at the outer edges of the headlight area into order to keep the viewer's eye moving from side-to-side, giving the impression of greater width.

I have no problem with the idea that the Imperial should be resurrected. But if it is, I think the stylists need at least one more trip back to the drawing board.



posted by Donald at February 15, 2006


I think I see your problem, it's styled like a truck. It's a male vehicle, and in this world of female cars and male trucks a male car can be off-putting.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on February 15, 2006 9:47 PM

I owned a (IIRC) 1972 Imperial. That was hands down the best highway vehicle I have ever driven/ridden.

1) The engine (440 ci V-8) had electronic ignition (unheard of at that time) and combined with the highway gearing of the rear end got 16 mpg on the highway. This in a vehicle that makes the SUVs look like lightweights.

2) This probably had more to do with the sheer mass of the vehicle but the car would literally float down the highway. You felt like you were floating on air.

3) The steering wheel would not only adjust up and down, it would telescope in and out!

4) The rear seats had 3 ash trays, each with its own cigarette lighter, there were two reading lamps that did not shine up front, and on each side there were pillows mounted to the pillars so that you could lean towards the side and comfortably sleep.

5) The care was HUGE! Four adults would not have a problem fitting in the back seat and you could easily fit half a dozen bodies in the trunk - laying straight. Not that we ever tried the latter...

6) This probably had more to do with saving costs but it sure made ownership of Chrysler vehicles easy in that era - the parts among the different lines were interchangeable. You could pull a starter/alternator/whatever off of a Dodge truck and there was a good chance that it would fit many of the Chrysler cars.

The vehicle did have flaws. The engine was mounted off center. Perhaps to balance for the weight of the driver? Whatever the reason the rear right hand spark plug could not be reached. You had to drill a hole in the wheel well to change it. Also you had to break loose the ball joints to change the front shocks.

But all in all this is the vehicle I most regret ever getting rid of.

Posted by: Nobody on February 15, 2006 11:22 PM

Chrysler could (sort of) resurrect the Imperial in a quick and dirty manner by sticking that nameplate on the top-line, Hemi AWD version of the 300.
I agree that the concept Imperial is ghastly.

Posted by: Peter on February 15, 2006 11:44 PM

I remember being a bit fascinated by Imperials during my kar-krazy kid days. They were relatively rare, kind of the also-ran off-brand, and strangely interesting in an alternate-universe sort of way. The '61 in particular won my heart for having about the biggest tailfins of any Detroit product ever. In my idiosyncratic view of automotive design evolution (in which styling progressed from a state of ugly clunkiness towards a state of sleek perfection achieved sometime in the late '50s), '55 and '56 Imperials were still in the Dark Ages when cars looked like motorized propane tanks that no amount of chrome trim could disguise. The taillights mounted on top of the rear fenders like little red spotlights were considered supremely ridiculous by the car connoisseurs amongst my band of pre-adolescent buddies. Our joke was that Chrysler's designers were so inept that they forgot cars were supposed to have taillights until too late, and the dealers had to be shipped kits for bolting on the taillights as a last-minute fix before the cars could be sold. The joke fell flat in the 1962 model year, when Imperial did the fender-mounted taillight thing again one last time. It still looked ridiculous.

There was another radical styling change for 1964, in which Imperials finally lost that aura of stylistic excess to the point of self-parody, and actually achieved a kind of understated elegance suited to a car of quiet luxury. As I recall, the opening scenes of the movie Fantastic Voyage had two or three Imperials from that era as government vehicles, and they did look elegant.


Posted by: Dwight Decker on February 16, 2006 12:21 AM

Aaargh! The bastard lovechild of a Bentley and a BMW 7.
Shoot it now!

Posted by: John F on February 16, 2006 5:14 AM

Maybe it's due to the Olympics being on at this time or maybe it's some deep-seated thing doing flips in my head (perhaps osmething I should be seeking counselling about), but the rear of that Imperial concpet car looks like the rear view of a gymnast, a female gymnast. Not something a testosterone kind guy wants to be driving around in.

..and though the trunk itself may be HUGE, the entrance to that trunk seems to be a total pain in the backside. So small. Loading anything back there will be accompanied by a visit to the chiropractor.

Just another cartoon kind-of car.

Posted by: DarkoV on February 16, 2006 9:51 AM

Man, does that Chrysler Imperial prototype look aggressive. Even scarier than the 300 with its gaping chromium tennis racket grille. As for the concept car's derriere, all it needs is a turret with a machine gunner. The wheels might look fetching on a tractor.

The thing doesn't say elegance, or class, or style. Just brute strength. The perfect henpecked-husband-mobile.

Posted by: Rick Darby on February 16, 2006 10:04 AM

Rick Darby,

The Ozymandias of automobiles in other words. :)

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on February 16, 2006 11:15 AM

DarkoV's right, the rear-end of that car does look like the tush of a gymnast! Tight and perky but somehow in the wrong way ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 16, 2006 12:05 PM

Why aren't you writing for Harleys, Cars, Girls & Guitars?

What's the pay scale over here at 2Blowhards? Benefits? PTO?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on February 16, 2006 12:13 PM

I know you like Automobile Magazine - did you see the possible (and I hope they do it) new Challenger? What a beauty - probably because they barely changed it from the 70s models.

Posted by: bridget on February 16, 2006 3:26 PM

It looks like a brick with wheels.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on February 17, 2006 11:21 AM

A few scattered replies ...

Dwight -- Yesterday I stumbled across an Imperial enthusiast site containing an interview with Virgil Exner, Jr., son of Chrysler's styling boss in the 50s. Ex Jr. says Ex himself liked the '57s best. As I noted in my post, I like 'em too, but lean more to the '55s because they seem less gimicky (not that the '57 was very gimicky). Also, even back in 1955 the gunsight tail lights were criticized (by industrial design purist-types). I liked them then and still do, though I'm hard-put to offer a logical justification.

The mid-60s Imperials were styled under the aegis of Elwood Engle (I'm doing this from memory, so I hope I got that right) who was responsible for the classic 1961 Lincoln. After Engle replaced Exner, Chrysler products looked a lot like early-60s Ford products for several years. In particular, the Imperial had a lot of Lincoln touches: note the chrome strip along the fender tops on both cars.

Rick -- Oh dear. First I had to admit (see above) that I liked the 1955's tail lights. Now I have to confess I like the show-car's wheels (or maybe wheel-covers).

Shouting -- 2Blowhards is as minimum-wage as you can get (try zero), but at least Michael lets me do what I do. Moreover, Ich kann nicht Harleys verstehen.

Bridget -- I suppose I'd have to see the Challenger "in the metal" before passing judgment. My first reaction is that there is nothing really wrong with the design except that it seems too close to the original. The new Chevrolet showcar that evokes the original late-60s Camaro seems to do a better job of being modern while capturing the original. Well, that was my quick, gut reaction to that one. Now we have to wait and see if either of these end up as production cars (with changes here and there from the show versions).

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on February 17, 2006 1:46 PM

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