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1961 Imperial Custom Four-Door Southampton in Coronation Red

1961 Imperial Custom Four-Door in Coronation Red

Imperial 1961: Custom, Crown, and LeBaron

1961 Imperial Auctions


1961 Imperial:
A Contradiction?

Exterior Paint Colors

Interior Trim

Standard Equipment

Optional Equipment




The Imperial of 1961 faced a tough battle when it entered dealer showrooms in the Fall of 1960. While its appearance was very much changed from the previous year, those changes were not enough to compete with the totally new cars from rivals Cadillac and Lincoln. Cadillac exhibited a more chiseled appearance in comparison to its 1960 models, breaking away from the smooth, rounded shapes that dominated the line for more than a decade. The rear tail fin was receding into the quarter panel like an ice cube into a glass of iced tea on the 4th of July. The wrap around windshield disappeared this year, eliminating the dog leg that so many drivers were painfully mindful of seconds after they banged their knees on it. Cadillac's new styling was very popular, and that kept Cadillac in the number one spot for luxury car sales.

Lincoln, always the runner up to Cadillac it would seem, also debuted with an all-new car for 1961. But the change to Lincoln was even more dramatic than Cadillac's. Shorter and narrower for 1961, its new slab-sided styling was so simple, so elegant, so refined, it became one of the standout automotive designs of the decade, if not of all time. Now down to just two model offerings, a four door sedan and a four door convertible, the main styling feature of both being center opening rear doors. The Lincoln really stood out from other 1961 cars, and in a good way (Lincoln's 1958-1960 styling wasn't universally admired). The automotive press of the time was absolutely stunned with the new Lincoln. The change between 1960 and 1961 was so dramatic few were truly prepared for it, but almost universally the press loved the new design. Car Life magazine awarded the Lincoln Continental its 1961 Engineering Excellence Award, and the Industrial Design Institute honored it with an award for its overall appearance and design execution.

All of these changes would be tough for The Imperial to compete with, but compete it did. While the others were doing away with tail fins, the Imperial of 1961 would go forth with them for one final year. And it was one year too long, as they were by 1961 getting pretty dated in a market driven by new trends. The small bullet-shaped taillights were moved down a bit closer to the bumper, and the tail fin arched up over the light assembly, giving a new look to the rear of the car, one which was a bit reminiscent of the 1959 Cadillacs when viewed from the side.

Up front, an imaginative grille and headlamp treatment set a design standard for the next two years, and included free standing chrome headlamp pods that harkened back to the classics of the thirties. A chrome spear moulding ran down the sides of the new Imperial, beginning on either side of the grille above the headlamps, then curving around to the front fender where it followed a downward sloping body line until it terminated just before the rear bumper wrap around. A winged emblem was incorporated into the moulding near the lower end, creating a distinctive styling touch.

Inside, an all new instrument panel straight out of The Jetsons' space ship appeared. Gone were the two large pods of 1960, replaced by a linear speedometer flanked by the transmission pushbutton controls on the left and the heater and air conditioning controls on the right. Below the speedometer were gauges for oil pressure, battery, temperature, and gasoline. Everything was placed and lighted for perfectly clarity, using Panelescent lighting so that the gauges were as visible at night as they were by day. A squared off steering wheel gave the driver a better view of the road and the instruments, as well as provided more room between the lap and wheel.

Lush new interior fabrics were more refined than ever before, and a splashy ad campaign that featured Imperials in dramatic colors against brilliant backgrounds which featured the Imperial Eagle emblem. A high fashion model, wearing the very latest in haute couture by Norman Norell or another top designer was posed next to the car. Imperial 1961 advertising absolutely oozed elegance, luxury, sophistication, and wealth. It was unquestionably obvious that this was not a car one would expect to see in great numbers. In fact, in the Imperial of 1961 brochure, it specifically stated that one wouldn't see the LeBaron on the streets in great numbers, simply because a car of such integrity and excellence can't be produced by the usual production line methods. And if snob appeal has anything at all to do with rarity, the LeBaron would have been the top choice with just 1,026 built.

1961 was a remarkable year for Imperial, as it was a year of contradictions. Styling that was new, yet somehow dated when compared to contemporaries. Quality control was second to none at the time, yet the Imperials were somewhat susceptible to rust, if they weren't cared for properly. Inside, only the finest upholstery materials were used; with painstaking time and attention spent to ensure each component met the highest standards, even down to the carpeting which was designed especially for Imperial to retain its beauty up to twice as long as carpeting used in other automobiles. The completely functional, well thought out space age instrument panel hasn't aged as gracefully as it perhaps should have, although Imperial was a few years ahead of many other cars by grouping necessary instruments and controls in a manner so that they could be easily reached by the driver, without removing their eyes from the road ahead.

Perhaps these contradictions are exactly the very things that made Imperial 1961 such a special car. Few would deny that for sheer comfort and elegance, the rear seat of an Imperial is the place to be. And Imperial was among a handful of cars whose very presence on the road commanded respect and attention. The exclusive Imperial was very much at home parked in front of a colonnaded mansion or country estate. And the fact that relatively few of them were built ensured that your Imperial would be the only one most other drivers would see that day.

Imperial 1961 maintained its styling heritage while moving boldly forward with new touches that made Imperial stand out. America's most carefully built car for 1961 was also at the very top of its market in prestige, comfort, and offered its driver a driving experience nothing short of sheer excitement and delight, and there is certainly no contradiction there.

1961 Imperial Navigation:
Production/Specifications | Paint | Trim | Standard Equipment | Optional Equipment

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