Chrysler Corporation product planners, stylists, and engineers entered the new "fuselage" era hoping to keep the luxury 1969-1973 Imperial exclusive even as it shared bodyshells with the Chrysler-brand cars. After five years, all they had to show for their efforts was a really nice Chrysler.
The 1972 Imperial saw fresh styling changes.
See more pictures of Imperial cars.
In a press release dated August 21, 1968, to announce the new 1969 Imperial, Chrysler-Plymouth Division General Manager Glenn White boldly stated, "The manufacturer who wants to sell cars in the most expensive price class can take no short cuts. Elegance of style and decor must be provided along with the very best of quality and performance. The 1969 Imperial is the result of this point of view."
Brave words -- and true. Yet the new Imperial White was touting was in fact something less than his words portrayed. Splendid as it was, this new Imperial was, in truth, a shortcut, necessitated by the brutal fact that Imperial's meager sales volume would no longer support a luxury automobile entirely separate from the higher-volume Chryslers with which it shared the assembly lines at the corporation's Jefferson Assembly plant in east Detroit.
This realization resulted in significant compromises in the car's development that would make this latest iteration of the Imperial a throwback to an earlier generation.
But first, a look at the car itself, by itself. The splintering of the American automobile market into three basic car sizes in the early to mid Sixties had made it financially impossible for any of the Big Three to field all-new cars in all market segments all in the same model year. Each product now had to wait for its turn at renewal.
At Chrysler, 1969 was to be a year the big cars -- known within the company as C-bodies -- were to be completely redesigned. The redesign was especially important for the Chrysler and Imperial nameplates inasmuch as there were no "junior editions" to contribute to sales volume. Chrysler and Imperial would have to survive on the basis of their achievements as large cars.
According to retired Chrysler Styling executive Dave Cummins, development of the new C-bodies began in an advanced studio at Chrysler's Highland Park, Michigan, campus where a sedan package/styling model was created under the leadership of Cliff Voss and Allan Kornmiller.
The big change from the 1967-68 cars was the so-called "fuselage" styling which combined curved side glass above the beltline and a curving bodyside section below into one "seamless" surface said to be inspired by the aerodynamic cabin section found on jetliners.
This was not the first time Chrysler had delved into this approach. Former Styling vice president Virgil Exner had experimented with fuselage styling in a limited way on the 1960 Valiant and fought unsuccessfully to introduce the look across the board with a stillborn design for the large cars (including Imperial) in 1962.
The problem with Exner's approach, according to Cummins, was his penchant for projecting fender blades front and rear that in side view did not connect, giving the cars a disjointed "start-and-stop" look. However, in this latest iteration created under his successor, Elwood Engel, the basic fuselage section was carried front to rear uninterrupted, giving the resultant bodyside a clean, continuous appearance.
Retired Chrysler designer Chet Limbaugh, who was in the Packaging Studio at the time, recalls that the fuselage look was championed by Voss, Exner's alter ego who retained a deep respect for his former boss' sense of style and taste. Like every good idea, fuselage styling had its time and place, if not on Exner's '62 cars, then on Engel's '69s.
The curved side glass, pioneered in America by Imperial in 1957, had a tighter 43-inch radius, while the bodysills turned under more than on any previous corporate vehicle. The increased curvature of the bodysides permitted the window frames to be moved outboard at their bases, resulting in shoulder room increases of 3.5 inches in front and three inches in the rear.
Two-door hardtops equipped with air conditioning sported ventless door glass for a sleeker appearance and increased visibility. The windshield and backlight were fixed with adhesives, making the glass nearly flush with the roof sheetmetal and improving aerodynamics. The windshield A-pillar was also curved.
Adding to the clean look, the wipers, when parked, were concealed in a slot at the base of the windshield. The driver-side blade was articulated, resulting in a wipe pattern that was four inches wider than in '68.
Cummins believes the package could have been improved by having a nar-rower belt and giving the wheels a wider track. "The track was too skinny," he states, "and the cars came off the line riding high in the rear" owing to the continued use of leaf springs instead of coils.
"The [package] car was really attractive," Limbaugh remembers," but it was noticeably smaller than the production cars, which got a lot bigger."
"There was talk about releasing the car directly from Advanced Packaging," recalls Cummins, who was at the time chief of the Chrysler-Imperial Exterior Studio. This idea horrified Don Wright, the manager responsible for Chrysler under Cummins, who felt that the feasibility hadn't been studied enough.
Nonetheless, says Cummins, "We were told to go ahead" and make a production job out of it, Wright overseeing the Chrysler and Ken Carlson, the Imperial.
Keep reading to learn about the planning of the Imperial.
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