In the matter of just a few short years, Walter P. Chrysler took the remains of the failed Maxwell Motor Company and transformed it into one of America’s most successful car companies. Incorporated as the Chrysler Corporation in 1924, they rapidly earned a reputation for building automobiles of notable performance and quality at a reasonable price. Walter P. Chrysler’s ambitious plans saw the arrival of the flagship Imperial model as early as 1926. At first, the name applied to the top of the line standard cars. However, by 1931, the Imperial nameplate evolved into a unique automobile set well-above the rest of the Chrysler line. The Imperial aimed squarely at Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and Cadillac for top honors in the highly competitive luxury car market.
Of the several models offered, the CG Imperial was the real flagship of the fleet. Chrysler’s spectacular new motorcar had a massive 145-inch wheelbase chassis, with a distinctly styled, low-slung and rakish appearance. Walter P. Chrysler and K.T. Keller used the radical Cord L-29 as a benchmark for the CG. The “lowness” factor was so crucial to Mr. Chrysler that engineers considered a front-drive and even a rear engine design! These ideas never left the sketch stage, but they revealed Chrysler’s level of commitment achieving their desired look.
And what a look it was! The CG Imperial’s gracefully sweeping fenders, low-mounted, deep-Vee radiator grille, and long hood gave the impression of effortless speed even when parked. Like its competitors, Chrysler offered the Imperial as a bare chassis or equipped with a variety of high-quality, “Custom Line” bodies. Most buyers selected from the range of highly attractive catalog bodies, many of them courtesy of the masters at LeBaron Carrossiers, Inc. LeBaron was a favorite of Chrysler’s, and even when founders Tom Hibbard and Ray Dietrich left the firm, the stunning designs kept coming, thanks to the efforts of Ralph Roberts. While overseeing the Imperial’s design process, Roberts hired Cord L29 designer Al Leamy to lend his expertise, which accounts for the visual similarities between these two legendary automobiles.
The statement made by the styling was backed up via a mighty 384.8 cubic-inch straight eight producing 125 horsepower. A powerful eight-cylinder engine, four-speed synchromesh gearbox, advanced suspension geometry, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes gave the Imperial exceptional road manners with near-100 mph performance. Despite its apparent virtues and stunning appearance, Chrysler built just 339 examples over three years. Today’s collectors consider the CG Imperial to be one of the most beautiful cars of the Classic Era, and certainly one of the prettiest Chryslers ever produced. They are also favorite among enthusiasts who prefer to drive their vehicles as intended, thanks to the outstanding handling and straight-line performance.
Our featured 1931 Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Line is one of just two known survivors with LeBaron’s marvelous 2/4-passenger rumble seat coupe coachwork. This stunning automobile left Detroit, destined for Oakland, California on April 10, 1931. The history goes cold for some time, until the 1970s when it was discovered by Jerry Jensen, who kept it for many years in his California workshop awaiting restoration. Years later, fellow restorer and marque expert Joe Morgan found the car and bought it along with a similar convertible coupe. Upon inspection, Mr. Morgan discovered this car had its original engine, chassis, firewall, and most of the original body. While records are unclear as to how many CG Imperials left the factory as LeBaron Custom Line Coupes, only two are known to survive today, and Mr. Morgan used the other original car as a guide for restoring this one. Under his care, this exceptional Chrysler received a meticulous nut-and-bolt restoration to concours standards. Completed in 2006, it debuted at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance later that same year. Since 2007 it has been part of two very prominent collections.
An object of pure elegance, this LeBaron Coupe is beautifully restored and presented in excellent condition, finished original 1931 Chrysler colors. The livery is understated and ideally suited to the shape, with the main body finished in medium tan, and a subtle darker shade applied to the fenders and belt line. Dark red wire wheels, pinstripes, and oxblood red interior add a carefully judged splash of color. Accessories include a Gazelle mascot, mesh stone guard, faux cabriolet roof, trunk rack, and dual side-mount spare wheels with polished covers. Thanks to this car’s exceptional care in a series of prominent collections, the paint and brightwork remain in fabulous condition, still very suitable for display on the concours field.
In the inviting cabin, the simple, body color dash features restored white-faced instruments arranged in an orderly fashion; easily read while traveling at high speed. Wood-grained trim surrounds the windscreen and side windows, all restored to an exceptionally high standard. Rich, beautiful oxblood red leather covers the seat and door panels, with matching deep red carpets. The same red leather repeats in the generous rear rumble seat. The fit and finish of the upholstery are outstanding, with a marvelous, slightly broken-in character that is lovely and welcoming.
At 384 cubic-inches, the CG’s inline eight-cylinder is the largest available in the 1931 Chrysler line. As with the body and interior, the engine detailing is outstanding; presented as original in black with a silver-painted cylinder head and chrome tappet cover. It runs exceptionally well, delivering its 125 horsepower with exceptional smoothness and a subdued growl from the exhaust. The CG is widely recognized as one of the best driving American Full Classics, and this car is no exception. The four-speed synchromesh gearbox with freewheeling, four-wheel hydraulic brakes and carefully designed suspension make the big Chrysler an absolute joy to drive.
The Imperial’s low-slung 145-inch wheelbase chassis (the longest produced by Chrysler) provided the ideal platform for designers to create some of the most elegantly proportioned motorcars of the period. This Custom Line Coupe by LeBaron is no exception, and its superb, expert restoration has aged gracefully. It remains worthy of concours competition, although it would be a shame not to take advantage of its performance on road events like CCCA CARavan Tours. As one of just two known survivors, the opportunity to acquire this splendid Chrysler Imperial is virtually unrepeatable.