We’ve spoken earlier about the Imperial Image problem. From the introduction of the brand in 1926 through 1954, it was positioned as the most premium Chrysler. That problematic push towards the glass ceiling of luxury brands always saddled Imperials with the upper middle class respectability of the Chrysler brand. The challenge, alongside sharing a heavy commonality with Chrysler cars, was being accepted as a legit full luxury competitor to Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard.
Compared to early depression era Imperials, the last that feathered flamboyance on buyers, the first Post-War Imperials doubled down on sturdy, stodgy and secure engineering and styling. The Post-War do-it-yourself motto shifted the palate of the most premium Chryslers from limousines towards a push at self-actualized luxury that would lead to Imperial becoming a separate marque by mid-decade.
Little details such as the 3 piece wrap around rear window and the finest fabrics and leathers Highland Park would make available set the Imperial a little more upstate than its New Yorker twin. Year by Year, Imperial would add more marketable models like a hardtop coupe and convertible by 1951.
Chrysler, being an engineering powerhouse, showcased the best of their abilities in Imperials. Standard on the mammoth Crown Imperials and a $400 elsewhere were Ausco-Lambert 4 wheel disc brakes. In a land of ever expanding performance capabilities and underperforming chassis bits dating back to the roaring twenties, Chrysler-Imperial attended to get ahead of the curve with these powerful yet unusual disc brakes.
Instead of the caliper style we’re more familiar with, the system used by Mopar featured twin expanding discs that rubbed against the inner surface of a cast iron brake drum. It would be nearly 15 years before fellow domestic luxury rivals would adopt disc braking in any form or fashion.
These features were added to the Imperial ahead of the introduction of the Hemi V8. Our subject 1950 Imperial burbles along with the classic Chrysler flathead Straight Eight. Providing a low stress 135 horsepower, it moved the Imperial with enough muscle to be competitive with some rivals, but notably fell behind more exciting, lively performance available from the new Overhead Valve V8’s available in Cadillacs, and to a bit of shame, Oldsmobiles.
Further stymieing performance was Highland Park’s reluctance to develop a fully automatic transmission. Fitted in all Imperials until the late half of 1953 was the Presto-Matic Semi-Automatic transmission. Although just a 2 speed manual with overdrive, through a complex series of Under, geared, direct and overdrive, it theoretically offered the same flexibility as General Motor’s Hydra-Matic, just with the need to press the clutch and switch the gears between ranges.
In a field of do-it yourself options, as Packard introduced its Ultradrive, Buick its Dynaflow, and Lincoln buying copies of the Hydra-Matic to stay competitive, alongside the dowdy styling, one can see why the Chrysler Imperial remained a forgotten item against the competition during the early 1950’s.
Luckily, in the still heated sellers’ market, Mopar moved 9,500 of these Imperial Deluxe Sedans in 1950, pretty successful for what, more or less was a premium badge engineering job. Unfortunately, Chrysler never really learned to set the Imperial distinctively apart, save the brave years during the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy Administration.
As they stand as time capsules to a different American Automotive landscape, these well-developed if dull works of art remind us of the lost act of premium craftsmanship above anything else.