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1960-1963 Imperial

Characteristics of the New Imperial

What kind of automobile was this critical new 1960-1963 Imperial? In a phrase, the same, only different. Body-on-frame construction was retained. Since the Imperial was now manufactured in its own plant, there was no compelling need to convert to unitized construction, which would have required an expensive revamping of the Warren Avenue factory that had just been refitted to build body-on-frame vehicles.

From a product standpoint, a quiet and smooth ride was paramount in a luxury car, and many automotive engineers felt that keeping the body and frame as separate entities allowed the vehicle occupants to be better isolated from unwelcome noise, vibration, and harshness that could more easily be communicated to the passengers in a unitized body.

Then, too, Lincoln's less-than-satisfactory experience with the design and manufacture of its 1958-1960 unitized behemoths suggested that there might be a size frontier that unitized bodies should not cross.

There was also no perceived need to change the drop-center frame, chassis components, drivetrain, and suspension. The 129-inch wheelbase, in use since 1957, was retained, as was the 350- horsepower, 413-cid V-8. Built in a plant in Trenton, Michigan, it was Chrysler's most advanced V-8 design, featuring open-wedge combustion chambers, stamped-steel rocker arms, a deep-skirt cylinder block, and rigid forged crankshaft with large journal overlaps.

To handle the engine's power, Imperials were fitted with the A-466 variant of the corporation's famed TorqueFlite transmission, generally conceded to be the best three-speed automatic on the market.

The highly touted Torsion-Aire suspension was also carried over. The early problem of snapping front torsion bars was quickly solved and Torsion-Aire proved to be highly satisfactory, with a no-squat/no-dip ride and outstanding handling. Rear suspension featured outboard-mounted rear springs, with Imperials having an additional spring-like strut attached to both axle and frame to provide resistance to rear-axle torque and body roll.

The body was secured to the frame via 22 alloy-steel attaching bolts. The expensive-to-revise cowl structure was retained, as were the wraparound windshield, side-glass planes, and door hinge points, although the front-door hinge pillars and rear-door locking pillars were reinforced. Also carried over were the series designations: Custom, Crown, and LeBaron. For the fortunate few, there was also the Ghia-built Crown Imperial limousine.

What, exactly, was new about the 1960 Imperial? Basically, its styling. All of the sheetmetal was new, as were the roofs. Fins were still prominent, of course, though no longer long and tapering. Instead, they were rudderlike, rising more abruptly from a point just below the C-pillars of closed cars and angling forward in side view.

In profile, they had a vague -- and unsettling -- resemblance to the Plymouth fins of 1957-1959. It was one thing for Plymouth to borrow styling cues from big-brother Imperial, but it was entirely another thing for Imperial to seemingly borrow something from the lesser Plymouth.

The reason for these more-abrupt fins lay in Exner's desire to begin to subtly change the design emphasis of the car from the rear, where it had been since the first fins of 1956, to the front. Like an arrow, where the abrupt feathers at the rear give direction to the long shaft, the Imperial's abrupt fins were designed to give the long bodyside that same direction and purpose.

To heighten the effect, the fenders were extended 2.1 inches farther beyond the front wheels while the rear bumper was tucked 2.1 inches closer to the rear wheels. At 226.3 inches, however, overall length remained the same as in 1959.

Much of the styling of the 1960 Imperial was the work of a very talented designer and assistant studio manager named Fred Hudson. The bodyside was fairly simple, its distinguishing feature being an elegantly sculpted character line that began at the headlight brows and fell gently to a point a few inches above the rear bumper. The author remembers the late Bill Brownlie, head of the Imperial Studio when the 1960 and '61 models were being done, describing with admiration how Hudson and talented clay modelers like Jim Romeo pulled that off. The character line was highlighted by a thin, bright molding flowing from the headlight brows while additional trim was restricted to discreet sill and wheel-lip moldings.

Up front, the 1960 Imperial had a V-shaped front bumper, as did every other Chrysler product in 1960 save the Valiant. Obviously, this was at the request of Exner, who saw the V-shape as a way of departing from the usually obligatory horizontal bumper bar. On the Imperial, the upwardly angled bumper "wings" wrapped around the side to the front wheel openings. They did not, however, meet in the center; instead they were separated by a thin horizontal bar that formed the upper part of the license-plate housing.

Above the bumper, and leaning slightly rearward, was a finely textured diecast grille set flush with both the edge of the longer hood and the fender sides. The grille was "signed" on the driver's side by an Imper­­ial script. The grille was an improve­ment over the heavy-handed "ice-cube tray" element used in 1959. But, in truth, no Imperial grille ever had quite the same commanding presence as the divided box check of 1955-1956. Regrettably, this potential signature cue was cast aside, leaving Imperial stylists to invent something new every year.

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