With only seven cars built, the 1959 Crown Imperial was rare indeed. Although Chrysler had used the "Crown Imperial" name from its inception in 1924, and Crown on a few scattered models through 1930, it wasn't until 1940 that the Crown Imperial nameplate became standardized for the marque's top-line, long-wheelbase sedans and limos.
Then, in 1955, Imperial became a separate make in its own right, with the Crown Imperial name continuing exclusively for the stretched models. At this point, they were priced around $7,000 -- when a standard Imperial started at less than $4,500.
Only 172 were built in 1955, 226 the next year. Because demand was so low and the "stretching exercise" so time-consuming, Chrysler contracted Ghia of Turin to build the 1957 models, based on that year's completely redesigned "Forward Look" Imperials (which now also included four regular-wheelbase Imperial Crown models, with Crown after Imperial, not before).
With the change to Italian coachwork, the price went up -- way up -- to $15,075. Each car, a two-door hardtop on a more rigid convertible frame, took a month to build. Ghia then sliced the car in half, added 20.5 inches between the wheels, trimmed the interior with opulent furnishings, and buttoned it back together with a reworked superstructure -- and 150 pounds of lead filler.
Though early Imperials were powered by Chrysler's venerable Hemi V-8, the 1959 models switched to a 413 Wedge, which was less expensive to build and maintain. Crown Imperials generally followed their lead, though the 1959s, such as the car shown, continued to rely on the Hemi -- in this case, a 392 with 325 horsepower and a thumping 430 Ibs/ft torque. Mated to Chrysler's excellent three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, the power-train was well suited to deal with the limo's 5,960-pound curb weight.
Crown Imperials were built by Ghia from 1957 through 1965 (with a one-year hiatus in 1962), and while production never exceeded the 36 constructed in debut 1957, the 1959 Crown Imperial was the rarest of them all, as only seven were constructed. The total for all Ghia-built models came to a mere 132 units.
Despite the extensive body modifications, exterior styling usually mimicked that of the standard Imperial. Inside, however, it was a different story. The rangy 149.5-inch wheelbase (and 242.5-inch overall length) made possible a spacious interior, the envy of many a living room. In back, top-grade broadcloth in beige or gray covered virtually all surfaces, including doors, seat, and headliner. Soft leather, rich wood paneling, and hand-crafted chrome trim provided interior accents. The floor was covered with matching mouton carpeting. Broadcloth-covered jump seats folded out from the forward partition, which also included a power-operated division window.
The chauffeur's quarters were less lavish, but hardly Spartan. All wore black leather seats, dash trim, and door panels, along with black nylon carpeting (also in trunk). Dashboards were carried over from 1958, with large round gauge pods, chrome trim rings, and anodized aluminum facings. Standard equipment included front and rear air conditioning, power windows, and front and rear reading lights.
Our featured vehicle is owned by Bill Lauer, of Durango, Colorado, and is displayed at his museum there, the Grand Motor Car Collection. Bill purchased the limo in 1992 from the Joe Bortz Dream Car Collection in Chicago. Paint and chrome have been restored, but the interior and mechanicals are in amazingly original condition after 35 years and 43,000 miles. The beautiful Crown Imperial has appeared at a number of events -- always driven, never towed -- and won several first-place and best-of-show trophies.
Chrysler originally promoted the Crown Imperial While some might disagree, it would be difficult to imagine a car better able to transport its ultra-exclusive owners with more style and grace, while they relaxed in the lap of luxury.
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