With an expensive new program for the 1970 Imperial E-body "ponycars" on the horizon, Chrysler could not afford to pour scarce tooling dollars into a vehicle that literally could not pay its own way.
The company wouldn't walk away from the luxury-car market just yet. But it would no longer spend the bucks necessary to fully compete, consigning the Imperial to a netherworld of being neither fish nor fowl.
The 1970 Imperial lineup consisted of two- and four-door
hardtops in the Crown and LeBaron series.
Regardless of its compromised development, the new Imperial's eye-catching lines and regal bearing did at first attract many more buyers. Industry publication Ward's even went so far as to name the Imperial "the [C-P] Division's success story," referring to the fact that both Chrysler and Plymouth Fury volumes were down for 1969.
Imperial assemblies rose to 22,077, a nearly 44-percent increase over the previous year and the highest model-year total since 1964. Moreover, 307 Imperials were shipped for sale in Canada where none had been sold in '68.
Because of the revised series lineup, the costlier LeBarons outsold the Crowns for the first time ever. Six Crown sedans were made into LeBaron limousines by Armbruster/Stageway in Fort Smith, Arkansas, working with Chrysler to keep Imperial's slender toehold in the limousine market. An additional six limousines were built in 1970 and one more in 1971.
Of course, these volumes paled in comparison with the nearly 200,000 Cadillacs and more than 38,000 Lincolns built that year -- numbers that do not include the Eldorado or Continental Mark III specialty coupes. Each of their totals alone exceeded Imperial.
After such a strenuous effort, changes to the 1970 Imperial were confined to the "usual suspects." The grille texture was altered to a box check pattern of four rows of repeating rectangles. The motif was repeated at the rear where the taillights were each subdivided into four boxes.
A new two-box back-up light was relocated up between the taillights, with the Imperial name in block letters strung across the upper bumper surface. Side lighting was changed, with the rear side marker integrated into the vertical bumper end and the front side marker/ cornering lamp combined into a single rectangular housing.
Wheel covers were new and the rear fender skirts were deleted. The bright upper-bodyside molding was replaced by a much more tasteful dual paint stripe, or, if you sought parking lot protection for those broad flanks, you could opt for a vinyl molding located lower on the bodyside. Also new was bright molding that ran the length of the car at sill level, connecting to the wheel-lip moldings.
Inside, the fabrics and seat styles were redone. The optional leather bucket seats for two-door LeBarons were configured to resemble five horizontal throw pillows piled up vertically, three on the seat back and two on the cushion, resulting in one of the handsomest seats in Imperial history.
Each "pillow" was embellished with an outboard welt, a parallel deck seam inboard, and a center button pulled down deep into the supple leather. Offered in six colors, the seats reeked of the opulence of a private club, inviting driver and passenger to sink luxuriantly into their welcoming embrace.
Also new was the standard Rim-Blow steering wheel with which you sounded the horn by squeezing a thin black vinyl "tube" located inconspicuously on the inner circumference of the wheel rim. It was a neat idea, but, as the engineers would say, it was not a "robust" system and thus prone to erratic operation.
With the four-door sedan gone, Imperial's lineup consisted of two- and four-door hardtops in the Crown and LeBaron series. Production of 1970 Imperials fell precipitously to just 11,816 units, the lowest model-year total since 1956. Chrysler output was off, too, by 80,000 cars.
Nationwide, the economy was faltering, spooked by the sudden bankruptcy in June of the Penn Central, then the nation's largest railroad. Chrysler president John Riccardo was put in the awkward position of having to reassure already jittery investors that Chrysler was not about to become "the next Penn Central." Well, at least not this time.Read about the 1971 Imperial in the next section.
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