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1975 Chrysler

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Pity the Poor Imperial!

Image: 1975 Imperial Eagle emblem

1975 was not a good year for the Imperial. For decades, an impressive representative of the Chrysler line, its proudest achievement, its grandest design, and its most expensive motorcar, the Imperial's reign as the flagship of Chrysler Corporation was about to come to an end.

It didn't end because the Imperial wasn't a fine automobile. Nor did it end because the Imperial was lacking in any particular area, other than sales.

Imperial was always the rarest of America's top three premium luxury makes. And apparently, Imperial owners were rare as well. Unlike other luxury car owners, the people who chose Imperials did so because they liked them, not because they wanted to be like everyone else.

An event at the country club on a Saturday night was guaranteed to turn up quite a few Cadillacs and Lincolns. That's because those are the cars people expected you to drive. After all, you'd made it. You had the big house, the country or lake side home, the household staff, the yacht, the important position with the title and money to go with it all. Naturally, you can't arrive at important social functions in just anything.

Most people want to fit in and be accepted, not stand out from the rest. So, they did what everyone else did at the time and bought Cadillacs. More were beginning to buy Lincolns by the mid-seventies, as they were becoming the current thing to drive at the time. But Imperial owners didn't buy an Imperial to impress anyone else. They bought an Imperial because they found it to be more fulfilling than the luxury cars their club member peers drove. They chose Imperial because it wasn't what everyone else was driving. It was unique, distinctive, with a personality all its own. Just like its owners.

Imperials still stood out. They've always done that remarkably well. Elegant in appearance, graceful in movement, comforting for mile after silent and smooth mile. Nothing turned people's heads like an Imperial. People who drove lesser cars were envious of Imperial drivers. People who bought Cadillacs would tell themselves Imperials were not as nice, but they would still look when one drove by.

An Imperial in your driveway told the world you'd made it. It also told everyone that you were an individual, apart from the crowd. You made decisions based on what you knew was best, not because everyone else was doing it. Imperial owners were a rare breed. And perhaps that's why Imperials have always been so rare. It takes a special kind of person to appreciate the unique advantages of owning an Imperial. For Imperial was not like any other car in the land. And not being common should be a benefit of luxury car ownership. With most things, rarity equals exclusivity, and based on those terms, the Imperial was the luxury car to own because it was so rare.

Why the 1974-1975 Imperials weren't a big hit with the upper class is a mystery. They were strikingly beautiful automobiles, with lean, clean lines and not even one unnecessary extra tacked-on piece of chrome. Imperial interiors were breathtaking to look at, and quite comfortable, too. Performance and handling were lively and precise, the ride smooth, and the environment quiet.

Chrysler didn't seem to invest a lot of time or money marketing the Imperial at this time. A couple of print ads were created for 1974, using a Dark Chestnut 4-Door LeBaron. Those ads appeared in a few magazines, such as National Geographic but the print ads for 1975 featuring an Imperial also included images of the Cordoba and New Yorker, or mentioned them in the copy. This may have been Chrysler's mistake in marketing the Imperial. One did not see Cadillac ads mentioning a Chevrolet Impala, much less promoting one.

For whatever reason, Imperial sales were even lower than normal at this point, and because of this, 1975 would be Imperial's last year in production for a while. Just 8,830 cars were built during its final year, and while changes may have appeared minimal, they were more extensive than one might expect for an automobile in its last year. A new version of the waterfall grille appeared, utilizing a series of thin vertical bars separated by thirteen slightly thicker ones on each side of the grille. A center body-colored separation divided the two grille halves, and was topped off with an Imperial emblem.

Interiors were mostly the same as 1974, except Dark Red was introduced as a new interior shade, and it was available in either the standard velour or the optional leather. The velour for 1975 was no longer ribbed, but featured a more luxurious, brushed, velvety surface. The optional white leather could now be ordered with several color accents for the carpeting, instrument panel, steering column, steering wheel, and seat belts. In addition to the black which available earlier, now gold, dark red, blue, and green were available, all color-keyed to the exterior paint color.

One important change for 1975 that really should have been in place for the 1974 cars was color-keyed steering column and steering wheel. These were all finished in black on the '74 cars, and looked odd with certain interior colors. The steering wheel circumference was also made smaller this year, which made the car easier to handle. In the luggage compartment, the carpeting was changed from a thick, shag pile to a loop pile, to make it easier to keep the trunk clean.

Overhead, a molded, vacuum-formed fiberboard headlining panel was used on cars without the optional power sun roof, and it offered slightly improved head room. It was covered in color-keyed cloth to match the main interior color.

Changes for 1975 were not limited to appearance items, as the Imperial offered several mechanical improvements as well. The electronic ignition system now included special platinum-tipped spark plugs said to offer 50,000 miles of service before replacement was required. A 500-ampere hour battery replaced the 440-ampere hour battery offered previously, and a new rear axle ratio of 2.71:1 provided improved fuel economy. A new Automatic Height Control feature was added to the standard equipment list for 1975. It was designed to automatically raise the rear end of the car to a normal level when enough weight was added to the back seat or trunk that would normally cause the rear of the car to drop. This was an exclusive item provided as standard only on the Imperial and the Cadillac Fleetwood series cars in 1975.

A catalytic converter was required for all 1975 cars, and this included the Imperial. That meant that only unleaded fuel could be used. To improve cooling performance, the front bumper was modified with cut outs in the center section that allowed additional air flow into the radiator. Matching grilles were placed in these openings, and the front bumper guards were moved further outward to accommodate the openings.

New accessories for 1975 included a passenger side illuminated visor vanity mirror that was standard. Imperial and the hyper-expensive Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman were the only two cars to offer it as standard equipment in 1975. The blower-type rear defogger option used previously was replaced by an electric grid-type defroster, with wires imbedded in the rear glass to melt frost or ice. This was a huge improvement, as Imperial was very late in adding this item. Grid-type defrosters were offered on the Ford Thunderbird, Continental Mark III, and Pontiac Grand Prix in 1969, Lincoln Continentals in 1970, and Cadillacs in 1973 (Cadillac's Eldorado Convertible offered it in 1971).

With fuel economy an important consideration at the time, Imperial's new Fuel Pacer System included front fender-mounted turn indicators that would not only flash to indicate a turn, but the driver's fender light would light up when driving habits were such that fuel efficiency was bad. The light was automatically dimmed at night so as not to distract the driver.

By the time the July 1975 edition of Motor Trend Magazine hit the presses, Imperial's fate had already been sealed. In this issue, editors road tested the 1975 Cadillac Eldorado, Continental Mark IV, and Imperial Crown Coupe. The overwhelming winner was the Imperial. Imperial came out on top in the following areas: (1) solidness; (2) instrument gauges; (3) night-time ease of operation of controls; (4) comfort; (5) quality of leather; (6) interior fit and finish; (7) braking ability; and (8) trunk capacity. Great news for Imperial, but it's too bad the article wasn't in an earlier issue where it might have helped sales.

At the same time the Motor Trend article appeared, Consumer Guide came out with its annual review of all 1975 model year cars, ranked by class. In the luxury class, the Imperial was found to be the "best overall luxury car in America" and was rated number two worldwide, behind Mercedes-Benz. With so much going for it, it's difficult to comprehend how the Imperial could have been such a sales flop, but there's more to that story.

Read: 1976 Chrysler Imperial? Pity the Poor Imperial—Part Two""


1974 Imperial | 1975 Imperial