April 13, 2010
The CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot: The 1969 – 73 Imperial Coupe
By Jim Brennan
Welcome to another edition of the CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot, where I find Obscure Cars that should be considered Muscle Cars, and then try and convince you that they belong in the Parking Lot. Chrysler Corporation was at the forefront of the muscle car era, offering iconic high-performance machines such as the Road Runner, the Charger, the Super Bee, the Plymouth GTX, the Baracuda, and even the Chrysler 300. There is one division within the company, Imperial, that produced more of an understated luxurious automobile. However, by 1969, Imperial shared most of its body, chassis, engine, and even its dimensions with its Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth stablemates. With this in mind, one could purchase a coupe version of the Imperial, equipped with a 440 CID V-8, and have almost as much performance as either the Dodge Polara, or Plymouth Fury GT, in a more refined package. So, is the Imperial an Obscure Muscle Car? Let’s find out.
1969 was the dawn of the new full-sized Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth models, dubbed the “fuselage” bodies because of their aircraft-inspired shape. They were tastefully free of excess ornamentation and needless body creases, and they looked substantial. The front end had cleaver wraparound bumpers, hidden headlamps, and refined design. They came in two varieties: the Crown Coupe, and the premium cost LeBaron Coupe. The Crown coupe for 1969 is exceedingly rare, with only 244 produced, while the LeBaron came in with 4,572 copies.
Only one engine was offered, the 440 CID V-8, backed by the famous TorqueFlite 3 Speed Automatic. The power produced by this engine was a remarkable 350 HP, and up to 480 ft/lb of torque. This is stump-pulling torque, which it produced at a low 2,800 RPM. This engine in 1969 still had 10.1:1 compression, necessitating premium fuel. Shipping weight for the 1969 models averaged 4,800 pounds.
The Imperial was also a car that could handle, with torsion bar front suspension and semi-elliptical leafs for the rear, it would track better than any Cadillac or Lincoln of this time period. This from a car with a length of almost 230 inches, 80 inches in width, and almost 57 inches in height. Yes, it’s a big car, but it weighs no more than today’s Dodge Dakota Pickup!
1970 saw slight revisions to the Imperial Coupe, primarily to the 440. Compression ratios declined to 9.7:1, but the motor was still rated at 350 HP. Changes to the 440 were mainly aimed at reducing emissions, and included a heated air intake and an evaporation control system. One change to the interior was the relocation of the ignition switch from the dash to the steering column. Production figures were down, with the Crown Coupe fielding only 254 copies, while the LeBaron Coupe sold 1,803 units. There was an astonishing nineteen colors offered, up two from the year before.
1971 saw the elimination of the Crown designation, with only the LeBaron solidering on as the lone Imperial offering, and only 1,442 Coupes were produced. The 440 V-8 had its compression ratio reduced yet again, down to 8.8:1, and reducing the horsepower rating to 335. Torque ratings were still in the 400 ft./lb. area, so these cars could still move a house or two. The Imperial was also the first car to receive an optional four-wheel ABS braking system, developed by Bendix. There were changes made to the TorqueFlite Automatic in the form of quicker, part-throttle downshifts, improving the car’s passing ability on the freeway or the back country road. While air conditioning was still an option, the Air-Temp system was on virtually 99% of all Imperials ordered, and could be either the Basic System, or an Automatic Temperature Controlled setup.
1972 models were treated to updated styling, with the front grille and outer edges revised, and with the tail lamps becoming vertical. More Imperials were sold this year than in 1971, with the Coupe reaching an output of 2,322 units. The big change was in the horsepower ratings, which were switched from SAE gross ratings to net ratings. Compression ratios were once again reduced to 8.2:1, yielding 225 HP under the revised rating system. Solid state ignition arrived during this period, accompanied by a dramatic commercial demonstration showing a car being doused by a fire hose with the hood open, and then still being able to start. The Imperial boasted an improved 4-barrel carburetor which helped it run cooler than any version prior, and the engine was tuned to run on unleaded, which was then coming online. Air conditioning was standard equipment this year, along with power steering, power disc brakes, and power windows. 78% of Imperials came with tilt and telescoping wheel, while only 11% had bucket seats.
1973 was the last year of the “Fuselage” Imperials, and their styling was similar to the previous year, with one major exception: the extra large bumper protectors, thanks to government intervention. This was the year in which the 5MPH bumper was mandated for the front of all vehicles, and Chrysler chose to install these large rubber protectors rather than redesigning the car. The 1974 full -sized Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge models were just around the corner anyway. This was also the second-best selling year for the Imperial Coupe, with 2,563 units produced. Engine power stayed about the same as the 1972 version. There were still seventeen finishes offered for 1973.
CarDomain Members Rides
There’s not a lot of “fuselage” Imperial coupes in the CarDomain community, but I did find a couple I want to share with you. Let’s take a look at Joe’s Imperial from Hamilton, Ontario. He’s starting to fix it up now, so take a look and leave him a comment.
Next, we have Bruce’s 1970 Imperial Coupe, from St. Paul, MN. He calls the Imperial “Black Velvet”–the engine now produces 425 HP, and it has a new interior, so check it out.
Here’s David’s 1973 Imperial Coupe, from Phoenix, AZ. He calls the car “Road Thunder,” and it has an interesting color palette. Take a look, and leave a comment.
So there you have it: a full-boat luxury car that I think could double as a muscle car. It came equipped with the proven 440 CID engine, with the durable TorqueFlite, and is about the same size and weight of the Chrysler 300 Coupe, or the Plymouth Fury or Dodge Polara 2-doors. But what do you think? Does the 1969-1973 Imperial Coupe belong in the parking lot? Let me know, and while you are leaving a comment, why not suggest an obscure muscle car for this feature? What would you like to see in this feature?
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