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1960-1963 Imperial

Imperial Aesthetics

The front end the '60 Imperial should have had was that of the beautifully worked out visage of the 1958 Imperial d'Elegance idea car, with its handsome undercut bumper-grille, above which were sculpted brows set over concealed headlamp doors.

Apparently, this front was considered (with variations) for both the 1960 and 1961 Imperial, but, regrettably, both the cost and the problematic engineering of the hidden lamps precluded their use. Instead, exposed dual headlamps were provided, chrome-ringed and set under "eyebrows" accented by miniature Imperial crests.

1960-1963 Imperial
Cloth upholstery and manually operated window
cranks were standard on 1961 Customs.

Regarding the prominent spread-eagle ornament on the hood, Hudson wrote in a November 2001 letter to the author: "Inci­dentally, the eagle strapped to the hood of the '60 was referred to as 'Mt. Exmore.' I can still feel [Exner] hovering while our clay modelers let me do the unthinkable -- actually work on the clay -- a big union no-no!" This was characteristic of "Ex", who was always very particular about his Imperial eagles.

Out back, a variant of the front bumper was employed, save that the "wings" were horizontal. As before, two iterations of the sloping decklid were offered -- plain, with a long central molding terminating in a lift handle; and fancy, with a more refined version of the optional "Flight Sweep" decklid with its implied spare-tire cover. A rectangular, flush-mounted center-fill fuel door was an improvement over the incongruously inelegant round gas cap used previously.

The taillights were suitably impressive. Flowing out of tapered nacelles near the fin tops and extending dramatically beyond the fins, each projectile-shaped red lens was set off by a "floating" chrome ring connected to the lens by three axial fins, these latest iterations of Imper­ial's signature "gun sight" taillights.

Rooflines were also new, based on the Southampton hardtop canopy roofs of 1957-1959. But instead of arcing across the roof to the opposite pillar, a slightly raised portion flowed up from each C-pillar and then forward to the windshield. Outlined by a curvaceous chrome molding and bordered by the drip rail, the resultant longitudinal areas above the side windows were body color on most cars save the LeBaron, where satin-finish stainless-steel accent panels were fitted.

This treatment was optional on both Custom and Crown models, as was the choice of an accent color. The six-window sedan of 1957-1959, with its distinctive fast-sloping roofline, was gone as the four-door sedans now shared the roof of the four-door Southampton.

In an effort to further separate it from lesser Imperials, the lordly LeBaron was distinguished by a custom-looking "limousine" rectangular rear window of just 802 square inches, barely half the size of the standard backlight, giving rear-seat passengers increased privacy. This treatment was dramatically showcased in a double-page black-and-white ad in the April 1960 issue of Holiday magazine.

Looking from behind and above the light-colored LeBaron Southampton, the camera captured the richly elegant, sculptural qualities of the body as the metal -- unsullied by the vulgarity of a vinyl covering -- flowed seamlessly from the roof to the broad C-pillars, encapsulating the tailored rear window before surrounding the decklid and then soaring up onto the fins. Seamlessly in a literal sense as well, since all of the requisite body seams were laboriously lead-filled and hand-smoothed so as to completely disappear. Expensive, time-consuming, and labor intensive, this never to be repeated "Imperial moment" was confined to the mere 1691 LeBarons built for 1960, making them exclusive in both appearance and in number.

Inside, Imperial owners were treated to an instrument panel that in concept had much in common with the 1957-1958 dash. Enormous bright-ringed twin circular dials contained the speedometer and the lesser gauges, with oversize, easy-to-read numerals that would have delighted the AARP had it existed in 1960.

The instruments were lit with the Chrysler's new and innovative glare-free electroluminescent lighting, which eliminated conventional bulbs. On either side of the dials were placed the transmission and heater/air-conditioner pushbuttons, arranged vertically. The instrument panel was padded, top and bottom, and separated on the passenger side by a concave satin-textured aluminum panel. Oval shaped, the new steering wheel sported a vinyl-covered center pad, triangular in plan view.

Interior stylists under the direction of Tom Bingman lavished much time and care on ancillary details such as the accessory control knobs, door handles, power-window switch bezels, seat side shields, and window-surround moldings. They had a freedom to use brightwork unavailable to today's interior designers. It must be remembered that while TorqueFlite, power steering, and power brakes were standard equipment, such items as Auto-Pilot (an early cruise-control system); air conditioning (front or dual); tinted windows; power door locks; and, on Customs, power windows, were still considered options. Of the 16,477 Imper­ials equipped with power windows in 1960, 5,198 also had power vent windows, offered for the first time.

A limited number of 1960 Imperials were fitted with an alternator, displacing the customary generator. Designed and built by Chrysler, the more-efficient alternator appeared initially on the first Valiant, but became standard equipment on all the company's cars starting in 1961.

In common with most other 1960 Chrysler products, the Imperial featured the new High-Tower seat with the driver-side back individually contoured and raised above of the rest of the front seat for increased driver comfort and shoulder support. Swiveling outboard front seats, introduced in 1959 and designed to improve ingress/egress, continued to be optional, with 4,548 takers.

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