Not long after Walter P. Chrysler took over the ailing Maxwell Motor Company and renamed the firm Chrysler Corporation in 1924 did the company make way for a new flagship model. Chrysler rapidly grew, thanks to a reputation of performance and outstanding quality. Imperial was an appropriately lofty name, given Chrysler’s aspirations in the market. At first, it was applied to range-topping standard cars; however, by 1931, the Imperial nameplate had evolved into a unique automobile set well-above the rest of the Chrysler line. Imperial was positioned to take on the likes of Packard, Cord, and Cadillac for top honors in the highly competitive luxury car market.
Several models were offered, but it was the CG Imperial that was the real flagship of the fleet. Chrysler’s spectacular new motorcar sat atop a massive 145-inch wheelbase chassis, while the body styling featured a distinctly low-slung and rakish appearance. Walter Chrysler and K.T. Keller used the radical Cord L-29 as a benchmark for style, going so far as to hire L-29 designer Alan Leamy away from Cord to style the Imperial. The “lowness” factor was so crucial to Walter that engineers proposed a front-drive and even a rear engine design! These ideas never left the sketch stage, but they revealed the level of commitment Chrysler had to achieve their desired look.
And what a look it was, the CG Imperial’s gracefully swept fenders and low-mounted, deep-Vee radiator grille and raked windscreen gave the impression of effortless speed even when parked. The statement made by the styling was backed up via a mighty 384.8 cubic-inch straight eight producing 130 horsepower. The powerful eight-cylinder engine coupled with advanced suspension geometry and four-wheel hydraulic brakes afforded the Imperial outstanding handling ability and near 100 mph performance. Despite its exquisite style and proven ability, the CG Imperial remained a very limited car that hardly made a dent in Packard or Cadillac sales. Only 339 examples were built 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 robust straight-line performance and rewarding road manners.
Much 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 founded in 1920 by Thomas Hibbard and Ray Dietrich, who were both employed by Brewster at the time. Chrysler favored LeBaron for many years, and LeBaron bodied Imperials are counted among the most desirable and visually stunning motorcars of the Classic Era.
This 1931 Imperial LeBaron Custom Line convertible coupe is one of just ten of its kind built; exquisitely restored to concours condition. With a massive 145-inch wheelbase chassis, the gorgeous LeBaron styling brilliantly captures the essence of Chrysler’s vision for the long, low, and sleek Imperial. This example has been under single-ownership since 1967 and is being offered for the first time in over 50 years. Part of an extensive collection of classic era automobiles, the Chrysler benefits from a nut-and-bolt, concours quality restoration completed in 2008. It presents in gorgeous maroon with subtle red coach lines, with chrome wire wheels and wide whitewalls enhancing the sporting essence of the body. The bold, deep-vee radiator with horizontal chrome slats is topped with the evocative Gazelle mascot. Other accessories include dual sidemount spare wheels with chrome mirrors, and a body-color trunk fitted to a factory trunk rack. The presentation is exquisite, with outstanding paint and impeccable brightwork and detailing.
Beautiful light tan leather covers the front seat, interior panels, and rumble seat. It is restored with the same fastidious quality as the rest of the car, using the finest materials. As a step up from the roadster, the Convertible Coupe offered better weather protection via its more substantive top and roll-up side windows. However, it shared much of the roadster’s sporting appeal with the painted metal dash and simple, clear instrument layout. This crisp and inviting interior has mellowed only slightly from use, and it remains in lovely condition.
At the heart of the Imperial is Chrysler’s “Silverdome” Eight. Displacing 384.8 cubic inches, the Chrysler engine exactly matched Packard’s engine in size, and produced 130 horsepower, about ten more than its rival. In this car, a slightly later CL-series engine is fitted, which essentially is of the same displacement and output as the CG engine. A smooth-shifting three-speed manual backs the engine, and while the overall design is somewhat conventional, it is beautifully engineered and constructed, imparting the Imperial with the outstanding road manners for which they are well known. The engine is finely detailed with its signature bright silver head, topped with chrome hardware and fasteners, befitting of a concours-restored car.
Gorgeous and highly desirable, this Imperial is available for the first time in 52 years. Shown at the prestigious Meadowbrook concours in 2009, it benefits from meticulous care as part of an important collection. While built in relatively small numbers, the CG Imperial established Chrysler as a major player in the market, and its timeless beauty and grace make it one of the most desirable luxury cars of the Classic Era.