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Bold and Baroque: 1981 Imperial brochure

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Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor

Did the late 1970s represent the peak of “personal luxury” coupe ownership in America? It’s true that, 40 years ago, big, plush two-doors sold in vast numbers, and were considered perfectly reasonable family cars (look, Ma, no AWD “crossovers”!). The early 1980s brought new financial challenges, along with new trends in automotive design, but the Big Three wasn’t willing to give up on big flagship coupes yet- in 1981, Cadillac still offered the Eldorado, Lincoln the Continental Mark VI, and Chrysler reintroduced the legendary Imperial nameplate.

The new Imperial (while the Pentastar logo, rendered in Cartier crystal, was prominently featured, there were no Chrysler badges on its exterior) was both modern and a throwback, combining rear wheel-drive and a torsion bar front/leaf spring-live axle rear suspension with a unit-body decked out in crisply folded bustle-back styling that some considered neoclassical. This six-passenger coupe was huge, stretching to 213.4 inches and weighing in at just under two tons, and it had an impressive price tag to match, costing $18,311, or the rough equivalent of today’s $48,618!

Chrysler threw everything and the kitchen sink at its new premium entry, and the Imperial was truly loaded, with advanced digital instrumentation, automatic climate control and a Mark Cross-designed interior upholstered in soft leather or Yorkshire Cloth and accented with a special branded umbrella.lead2

Interestingly, this brochure doesn’t include any photos of the engine or other mechanical components. Perhaps Imperial buyers were deemed too posh and insular for such sundry details? Either way, the only engine was an electronically fuel-injected, 140 hp version of Chrysler’s tried-and-true V-8, mated to a three-speed, column-shifted Torqueflite automatic. Despite making 240-lbs.ft. of torque, this engine could only motivate the Imperial to 60 MPH in roughly 13 seconds, and the top speed was a breathless 103 MPH, reported Car and Driver. At least fuel economy was decent, with 16 MPG in town balanced by 26 on the highway.

This generation of Imperial was only available for three model years, and that substantial price tag may have been a deciding factor as to why it wasn’t a big seller, even with Frank Sinatra’s endorsement help! Production amounted to 7,225 examples for 1981, 2,329 for 1982, and just 1,427 for 1983. The Imperial script would re-appear once more, on a front wheel-drive K car-based sedan, but that’s another brochure for another time.

Click on the images below to enlarge.