With Chrysler's major push in time, money and manpower dedicated to renewing its 1971 Imperial B-body intermediates, there was little left to fund many changes to the larger cars.
To permit operation on regular-grade gasoline, the compression ratio of the 440 V-8 was reduced from 9.7 to 8.8:1 through the use of dished-top pistons and a recalibrated distributor. Compression ratios would drop further -- to 8.2 -- in 1972-73 as a part of controlling emissions.
Exterior styling changes were minimal to the 1971 Imperial.
Horsepower figures underwent a radical transformation during 1971-72. Prior to '71, published figures reflected gross horsepower, measured in the laboratory in a controlled atmosphere (60 degrees Fahrenheit) using engines stripped of air cleaners, alternators/generators, and power-robbing accessory drives.
In 1972, manufacturers were required to publish only net horsepower figures, derived from a "fully dressed" engine that gave a much more realistic approximation of power delivered to the flywheel, and ultimately the rear wheels. During 1971, however, both figures could be published. Thus, the '71 Imperial V-8 was listed at 335 bhp gross and 230 net.
A "Sure Brake" antiskid brake system, claimed to be the first four-wheel system offered to the public on an American-built car, was made available exclusively on the Imperial.
To avoid wheel lockup (and, Chrysler claimed, shorten stopping distances), the computerized system modulated brake pressure to each wheel during a panic stop, allowing the driver to both maintain steering ability and bring this nearly 5,000-pound behemoth to a dignified halt.
Developed by Bendix in conjunction with Chrysler engineers, Sure Brake was specified by a mere 293 buyers in 1971. Customers apparently did not appreciate the system's value or were put off by the hefty $344 price tag.
Rear-wheel-only antilock systems from General Motors and Ford were priced around $200, and consequently more popular with their clientele.
Also optional was a new electric headlamp-washer system wherein small brushes wiped the low-beam lamps at the rate of 50 strokes per minute, fluid being supplied by a separate washer reservoir.
Offered on all company vehicles with hidden headlamps, the system was welcomed by owners who customarily sent their cars through car washes with the headlamps off and retracted, affording no opportunity for the lamps to be cleaned.
Another inventive option was a floor-mounted cassette stereo tape player with an available microphone that allowed you to dictate notes as you drove to the office, or sing to yourself as you drove home; not quite karaoke, but close.
Exterior styling changes were again minimal. The '70 grille was retained, but with prominent satin-silver plaques newly fitted to the headlamp doors. Taillights were also carryover. Rear fender skirts, now fiberglass, returned, but the sill moldings did not.
The Imperial name was spelled out in individual letters ostentatiously added to the rear quarters and along the front of the hood. Ventless side glass appeared on the four-door hardtop, though vent windows were still optional. Inside the burled walnut woodgrain, instead of being confined to the glovebox door, ran the full length of the dash. An electric sunroof was a new option for two-door hardtops. And then there was the contretemps over the new burgundy vinyl roof.
"One day I walked into the Fabric Studio," recalls Cummins. "On the wall was a framed hand-block-printed leather panel out of an Italian monastery, the kind of material you might use on the back of a chair. I was intrigued by its subtle colors and muted patterns, and thought it might make a nice vinyl roof covering.
"I discussed the idea with studio manager Dudley Smart who got a vendor to make up a sample. It wasn't good, and I emphasized the need to duplicate exactly the look of the wall hanging. Eventually, the vendor arrived with a successful sample, and it went on the car" in 1971, offered with a new Imperial-only exterior color, Spar-kling Burgundy Metallic.
It proved to be one of the shortest-lived options ever offered on an Imperial. For some unknown reason, the burgundy vinyl began to fade rather quickly, revealing an ersatz paisley pattern. (Some speculated that the burgundy color was overprinted onto leftover paisley vinyl roof material used on the special "Mod Top" iterations of the company's smaller cars in 1969-70, but this was not the case.)
After factory reps examined cars at dealerships, Chrysler withdrew the burgundy roof option on November 27, 1970. For customers who complained, the factory offered a replacement vinyl top in either white or black.
But by far the most significant appearance item on the 1971 Imperial was a diminutive nameplate affixed to the right side of the decklid that read "Imperial by Chrysler." The Imperial was no longer a separate marque, but once again a Chrysler Imperial, and this for the first time since 1954.
Admittedly, this represented a peculiar kind of automotive "death." After all, the Imperial car was still there, and the Imperial name as well. But that small nameplate spelled the end of Chrysler's quixotic 16-year quest to establish the Imperial as a separate marque to take on Lincoln and Cadillac.
The reason was that the company's sales and marketing types were tired of seeing the Imperial name always at the bottom of the R. L. Polk & Company monthly new-car sales listings. Fold Imperial into Chrysler and bingo! Problem solved. Besides, many customers still referred to their cars as Chrysler Imperials anyway, so what was the big deal?
Yet this was the latest and perhaps the most humiliating in a series of "losses" suffered by the Imperial. First there was the loss of its own assembly plant at the end of the 1961 model year, then the loss of body-on-frame construction (unique among Chrysler products) at the end of 1966, and then the loss of unique bodies for 1969.
Now came the end of stand-alone status, and with it, the end of any hopes of competing with Cadillac or Lincoln on a more or less equal level. After toying with the idea of Imperial-only dealerships, the division threw in the towel and made the Imperial part of the Chrysler franchise.
Except possibly for a few die-hard Imperial planners, nobody even understood what was transpiring. Nor did they really care. Production was equally dispirited, falling slightly to 11,558 cars, all LeBarons, the even-slower-selling Crown series having been discontinued.
Keep reading to learn about the 1972 Imperial.
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