Long before Cadillac and Pininfarina collaborated on the cross-continent assembly of their luxurious, two-seat Allante, Chrysler Corporation’s ever forward-thinking philosophy had beaten them to the concept in the 1950s.
As the smallest of the big 3 Detroit manufacturers, Chrysler sought to attain a cut of the ultra-luxury post-war market headlined by the Series 70 Cadillac and Continental Mark II. Mopar’s assault on the Blue Oval and GM would begin thanks to the onboarding of a true automotive visionary. That man was Virgil Exner and his team had introduced the “Forward Look’ design program in 1955 leaping the American stylistic paradigm light years ahead. In the years prior to this program’s consumer market introduction, Carrozzeria Ghia’s owner, Luigi Segre, had traveled to the United States to meet with Exner. Segre’s fine grasp of English gave him a leg up over his compatriots within the firm and a relationship with Exner and Chrysler would be cemented over the course of the decade. Immensely beneficial for both parties, Ghia’s status internationally received a tremendous bump, while the Italian post-war economy provided cheaper labor than on offer in unionized Detroit. As such, Virgil Exner could see his designs realized both more quickly and cheaper than what could be prototyped on home soil. The fruits of this partnership would first be seen with a number of show cars unveiled in the early part of the 1950s and would foreshadow the Corporation’s bold styling cues to come.
Chrysler took the step in 1955 to elevate the long-running Imperial name place into its own separate make and division within the organization. Great effort was put forward to inform its network of dealers and the buying public that this new Marque was a cut above the more standard offerings from Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, and DeSoto. The complete realization of this separation occurred in 1957 when all Imperials were built atop an entirely proprietary platform designed to allow the gargantuan proportions necessary for true luxury. When in the presence of one of these Imperials, the width of the vehicle does not go unnoticed. The head sovereign in this royal court was the Imperial Crown Limousine.
This masterpiece of mid-century American luxury came to be thanks to the masters of the old world. Realizing their relationship to its full potential, Chrysler would deliver partially assembled, and reinforced hardtop coupes with complete drivetrains across the Atlantic for Ghia to then stretch the wheelbase 20 inches and complete the build. This process was completed with excruciating attention to detail with up to 17 hours being spent just to ensure proper door fitment. Upon returning back to the states, customers took delivery of a truly bespoke handmade automobile worthy of its hefty $15,000 price tag. Both the cost and build time meant that only so many could be produced every year, and by the end of production in 1965, just 132 had left the Ghia production facility.
Responsible for moving the 6,200lbs of luxury was the renowned Chrysler Hemi motor. In this application, it displaced 392ci inches and was fed by a single 4 barrel carburetor. With 345hp, the limousine is capable of getting up to highway speeds, albeit methodically. The chauffeur’s job is made easier thanks to power brakes, power steering, and a push-button torque-flite automatic transmission with 3 speeds.
The 1958 Imperial Crown Limousine, chassis #LY11001, presented here is one of just 31 examples produced in that model year. It has the distinction of originally being delivered to the T. Eaton Co. Limited of Ontario, Canada. Department store magnates, the Eaton’s were heavily influential people in their homeland and were high rollers in the social scene. Receiving the Royal Family for their Canadian Tour in 1959, it was decided that two limos should be ordered to serve both the parades and fairs. We are to believe that this is one of those special vehicles, and it is further likely that her majesty Queen Elizabeth rode in the back seat. The Eatons would continue to use the Imperial regularly over the next several decades but the car was mothballed at their summer home in the 1970s only to return to the daylight in the 90s when it was purchased by a collector from Michigan.
Being owned by such an esteemed family, the state of the car was very well preserved by the end of the millennium and some sympathetic work was completed to preserve the originality. The body, however, was resprayed with correct black paint and still shows well to this day along with the judicious brightwork. The interior is a spectacle to behold. In true limousine fashion, the chauffeur’s space is all business with a durable leather covering the seats. In classic Exner fashion, two large binnacles house jet-age style instrumentation providing the driver basic readouts and the status of the vehicle’s various systems.
The passenger compartment is obviously where the specialty of the vehicle becomes apparent. Upon opening the door, one is greeted with a lush pile of fur carpet. Soft wool covers the seat and door cards and a stripe of finely finished wood complements the lavish interior space. For privacy and comfort, a glass partition exists between the two compartments, and air conditioning is available to cool those lucky enough to ride in the back. While some minor wear is apparent on commonly used surfaces, it makes for a charming and inviting patina. Overall, this Imperial shows as a wonderful piece of preservation when luxury meant something a bit different. It remains in healthy and strong condition, both mechanically and cosmetically, and would surely be welcome at shows and special events around the country.
- Transmission Automatic
- Exterior Colour Black
- Number of Doors 4
- Interior Colour Black
- Drive LHD
- MoT Expiry: Month / Year 0