Imperial LeBaron – 1960

This was an expensive, luxurious oddity. Chrysler had turned its Imperial models into a separate marque in 1955, to compete with Ford’s up-market Lincoln brand, so these grand cars were aimed at the pricey end of the market. In 1960 the creme de la creme was the range-topping four-door Imperial LeBaron.

This mighty machine sported four headlights, acres of chrome, flying wing trim and a lengthy rear end with sloping trunk lid (complete with raised spare wheel housing). The sci-fi ensemble was completed by soaring fins with gunsight tail lights and wide expanses of curved glass front and back.

Was there ever a more extraordinary monument to excessive American car design? Unlikely. A pillared saloon offered in 1960 was soon axed, leaving a choice of one — the sumptuous Southampton hardtop sedan. This ornate masterpiece had a pampered interior featuring impressive touches like (optional) leather upholstery in contrasting colours and a bright dashboard laden with buttons, complemented by an odd squarish steering wheel facing a generously padded high-backed driver’s seat.

But time was running out for the flamboyant LeBaron’s creator, design boss Virgil Exner. Chrysler was after a new look and poached Ford style guru Elwood Engel. Exner departed in 1963 and Imperials underwent major work for 1964. Out went flash fins and 1950s frippery and in came straight-line styling that produced rectilinear cars not unlike the latest Lincoln, which had evolved from the Engel-designed Continental of 1961.

Only some 5,000 of the 1960-63 Imperial LeBarons were produced, which makes them rare survivors — now cherished by those who like to preserve and drive the emblematic giants that characterize America’s mid-20th century love affair with big, in-your-face luxury cars. The two-door Imperial Crown hardtop looks similar but is less desirable, but those who prefer open-top motoring love the brash Crown convertible.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

USA

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1960 (until 1963)

ENGINE:

6.8 l (413 cid) V8

PERFORMANCE:

Top speed of 102 mph (km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12 secs

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Imperials were unsportingly banned from that popular American autofest, the demolition derby – they retained a substantial chassis after others had gone over to monocoque construction and drivers equipped with lesser makes simply bounced off them.

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