As Chrysler rolled into the 1950s, they were buoyed by strong sales and a booming economy. In 1949, Virgil Exner had joined Chrysler’s advanced styling department in a move that signaled company bosses were ready to move away from their somewhat stodgy image and into a bright new future as a style leader in the American marketplace. Exner still had to fight to wrest control of the entire design process from the engineering department, which he finally did achieve. Also during his time at Chrysler, Exner pursued his appetite for European design and developed a fruitful relationship with Gigi Segre of Carrozzeria Ghia of Italy; the two men working closely together on a number of projects including the Chrysler Ghia Specials and a series of truly spectacular show cars that finally put Chrysler’s “styled by engineers” reputation to bed.
Exner’s work with Ghia helped to influence regular production cars as well. Although he was yet to be designing full production cars, Chrysler’s offerings in the early 1950s were already looking leaner and more graceful, with finer details and more cohesive style. Soon, Exner’s work hit the ground with one of his first full designs for Chrysler, the fabulous 1955 Imperial; the pinnacle of “The Forward Look” design theme. The Imperial nameplate had long been associated with the finest vehicles Chrysler had to offer, and from its first appearance in the 1920s, Imperial was synonymous with luxury, performance and exceptional build quality. An evolution of Imperial began in 1949 with Exner’s arrival as they expanded the range in an effort to better align themselves with Cadillac and Lincoln. By 1955, Chrysler would register Imperial as a separate marque. While they didn’t achieve the success they had hoped for (namely due to a lack of stand-alone Imperial showrooms) some rather incredible machines came out of Imperial over the next decade.
In celebration of Imperial becoming a stand-alone brand, the new models featured Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” styling, complete with a unique egg-crate split-grille treatment that set the Imperial apart. Borrowing from the Ghia-designed K-310 and d’Elegance concept cars, distinctive “gun sight” tail lights were fitted to the tops of the quarters. The standard range consisted of a sedan, hardtop and convertible while the most discerning buyers could opt for the costly but beautiful factory built 70-series Limousine and 8-passenger sedan. With these ultra-luxury machines, Imperial had hoped to steal some of the thunder from the dominant Cadillac Series 75 in the home-grown limousine market; achieving just that when Dwight D. Eisenhower selected a Derham-modified Crown Imperial as his presidential limousine in 1955.
This 1955 Crown Imperial C-70 limousine (Chassis C551030) is one of just 172 long-wheelbase Imperials built during the first year of The Forward Look. Of those 172, a mere 45 were equipped as 8-passenger sedans (simply that a divider window was not fitted) of which this car is one. This is a cohesive and sound example of this rare and elegant automobile – the ultimate expression of mid-century American luxury. This car presents in good condition, with many original components and fittings. The Rhapsody blue paintwork appears older yet shows well with a bit of patina showing in places, though remaining generally quite attractive overall. The extensive chrome and stainless brightwork all shows in respectable order, free from any serious dings or dents and importantly, remains complete. The bumpers and trim are all intact and straight, again with some patina to be found in places, but in keeping with the quality of the rest of this Imperial. The car earned an AACA National First Prize Senior award in 2008.
The interior is trimmed in medium blue leather up front, which presents in very good condition. Originally equipment included a power adjustable seat, power steering and power brakes as standard. Rear occupants enjoy the lap of luxury on seats trimmed in light blue upholstery with silver-metallic inserts as original. A pair of broadcloth jumpseats fold from the floor, and the carpets are in good order, though showing some age. The upholstery quality is generally quite good, and most of the chrome fittings and switches appear to be in original condition. In addition to the luxurious trimmings, this car is fitted with optional electric windows, Town & Country signal-seek radio and the rare and expensive option of Chrysler Airtemp air-conditioning; a trunk mounted unit with outlets on the rear parcel shelf.
Chrysler’s 331 cubic inch Hemi V8 is nicely detailed and well exhibited in the engine bay. Numerous factory style decals and labels adorn the engine and surrounding ancillaries, and the engine is finished in correct colors. The Hemi is mated to a PowerFlite automatic, shifted via a fascia-mounted lever. The engine runs well, and delivers a very respectable driving experience.
These factory built limousines were some of the finest American automobiles of their day, but due to the cost and complexity of a full restoration, many 70-series Imperials have been neglected over the years. It is difficult to find such a well-presented and usable example such as this AACA Senior award winner; a rare and desirable limousine that is well-suited for regular enjoyment.
If you want to buy classic cars from trusted classic car dealers, make sure to contact us and inquire about our classic car consignment program.