Problems for the 1960 ImperialEach of the three series of the 1960 Imperial featured a unique seat-trim style with up to five interior color choices in Jacquard cloth, cloth-and-leather, and all-leather combinations. On the LeBaron four-door sedan and Southampton hardtop sedan (like the Cadillac Sixty Special, no two-doors were offered), owners had the choice of wool broadcloth or, on the Southampton only, broadcloth with metallic-leather bolsters.
Both iterations were available only in chaste monotones of blue, green, gray, or tan designed to provide a refined atmosphere of restful relaxation. Imperial called the look "expressive understatement." A pearlescent-white leather interior was also available on the hardtop. Of the 17 exterior colors offered on Imperials, which included Powdered Bronze and two mauves, only 12 were deemed suitably dignified for the LeBarons, which also sported unique wheel covers featuring a five-fin center overlay.
It is said, "If you build it, they will come." While this may apply to carving baseball diamonds out of cornfields in the movies, it most certainly did not apply to the 1960 Imperial. Assemblies rose by only 450 cars, to just 17,719 units (counting Crown Imperial limos). Given that the output of 1959 Imperials had been depressed by the supplier strikes, 1960-model production actually amounted to a decline. Certainly much more was expected, and not without cause.
The playing field had been leveled. Imperial had its own home plant like rivals Cadillac and Lincoln. More importantly, Imperial had the significant advantage of having the newest styling among America's top-three luxury cars. In 1960, Cadillac and Lincoln fielded facelifted cars against a virtually all-new Imperial. The Lincoln and Continental Mark V had the further disadvantage of being at the end of a three-year styling cycle with a vehicle whose size and styling had been largely rejected by the public. Yet, Imperial couldn't match, much less exceed, Lincoln's output of 24,821 vehicles.
What was the problem? Not the build quality. Advertised as "America's Most Carefully Built Car," each Imperial passed 32 quality-control stations, including a "rain storm in a box" water-test booth located on the final line where each car was subjected to a rainfall equivalent of 252 inches per hour to test for water leaks. Advertisements boasted that "more than six hundred tests and inspections are performed on every car we build."
Exclusive among fine cars, each Imperial off the line was given an individual road test before shipment and driven by specially trained inspectors over a variety of road surfaces. Whatever the quality problems of past Imperials, Chrysler was making an enormous effort to correct and eliminate them.
Was it the styling? While the 1960 Imperial was an attractive automobile, some customers, sensing that fins were about to run their course, may have shied away. Indeed, Cadillac, eschewing the outlandish fins and rocket-tube taillights of 1959, trimmed its fins for 1960, making them considerably lower, simpler, and more elegant. Luxury-car customers tend to be conservative; perhaps the look of the 1960 Imperial was a tad "over the top" for some of them.
Additionally, during the year, Chrysler Corporation was generating national headlines as several top officials, including newly appointed president William Newberg, were ousted in a messy conflict-of-interest scandal. These shenanigans were heralded in the Detroit newspapers via front-page headlines in Second-Coming type. Although the company's management scandals caused barely a ripple elsewhere in the country, wealthy potential customers who regularly read The Wall Street Journal or the financial section of their local paper might have felt doubt about buying a car from a company that appeared to be in such unmannered and public disarray.
Was it the name? Despite the company's best efforts, many consumers still referred to the cars as Chrysler Imperials. Potential buyers of "Chrysler" Imperials, which ranged in price from $4,923 to $6,318 for factory-finished models, might not have wanted to be even tangentially associated with a Chrysler Windsor at $3,194. Obviously, Lincoln and Cadillac did not have this problem.
Still, the best likely answer is that many of those 35,000 people who bought Imperials in 1957 were, for whatever reason, sufficiently unhappy with the experience to not return. Sometimes you don't get a second chance, even if it's deserved.
Nineteen sixty-one was a difficult year for Mopar fans. Styling was a mixed bag, with Plymouth shockingly shorn of its fins, Dodge sporting "reverse" fins, and both the Chrysler and lame-duck DeSoto awkwardly facelifted. During their development, Exner was fighting both ill health and a burgeoning coup in Styling led by William Schmidt and Dick Teague, brought into Chrysler (along with Fred Hudson, Dick Macadam, and others) when Packard's Detroit styling section was dissolved in late 1956. Exner prevailed in the end, and both Schmidt and Teague departed, the latter to a successful career at American Motors.
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