1937 Imperial Airflow / See This Vintage Beauty

The beautifully restored automobile featured in this article is a 1937 Imperial Airflow. Airflow models were built by Chrysler from 1934 to 1937. Airflow was the name Chrysler attached to their newly designed streamlined cars. The iconic Air Flows are probably the most Art Deco American cars built. More on this later.

1937 imperial

1937 IMPERIAL

The 1937 Imperial and Other Luxury Automobiles

Chrysler's Imperial model was obviously a luxury automobile during the Depression Era 1930's. Buyers were few in relation to the pre depression years. With that said, prices for luxury automobiles were lowered where they were closing in on the mid priced range models. Both Cadillac and Packard had been building lower priced models. Imperial in 1937 was still somewhat below the Cadillac and Packard standard and what was being offered with the Imperial at it's 1937 price tag was considered a bargain. Large automakers who also sold mid and economy priced vehicles could lower price and still stay in the game. On the other hand, the depression years certainly had their share of bankrupt independent luxury automakers such as Auburn, Pierce Arrow and others.

In 1937 the C-14 Imperial line offered six models. The highest priced model was the convertible with a new car price tag of about $1,395. A great big luxury car, superb in beauty and performance, amazingly priced in the thousand-dollar range was it's allure. If you had a bit over $1,000 during the Great depression you could own an out-and-out luxury car that was relatively economical to buy and drive.  It's said that only 325 of these convertibles were produced so when you see one you'll know it's very rare.

imperial airflow

1937 Imperial Airflow

1937 Chrysler Advertising

When you take a look back at an automakers advertising you'll get a good idea of what they thought was important at the time.

The entire 1937 Chrysler line, Imperial included, was touted that it's engineering and design efforts had the goal of making Chrysler automobiles the safest on the highway. So what were some of these safety features? Included were a toughened chassis, all steel body, hydraulic brakes that had equalized pressure, safety glass windshield, elevated dashboard to prevent knee injuries, a defroster and a recessed instrument panel.

Chrysler Airflow

The introduction of Chrysler's Airflow automobiles got off to a rather slow start. During the first model year, 1934, total sales for both Chrysler and Imperial Airflows totaled just over 11,000 vehicles. This was not a good figure and unfortunately sales for the Airflows declined in each of the next three years.

What exactly caused the Airflow to fail? Most feel that the stalled introductory during the 1934 model year didn't help and others say that the concept itself was too much too soon. Perhaps introduced before it's time. You also have to consider the fact that the Airflow came out during the middle of the Great Depression which certainly didn't help. Consider one other theory. Luxury car buyers at the time had this belief that a long hood with a large hood ornament (think Packard and Duesenberg) meant prestige. Others thought that plus spare tires mounted on the side of the vehicle meant prestige. If either of these can be a a barometer of luxury car prestige, the Imperial Airflow had neither.

Even though Chrysler's Airflow didn't prove to be a mid 1930's success, the Airflow did influence other auto designs which you may be familiar with. The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr is one example.

chrysler imperial airflow1937 Imperial Specifications

Engine for the 1937 C-14 Imperial was a 273 cubic inch L-head straight eight delivering a rated 110 HP. The engine was considered state of the art in it's design. Included were aluminum alloy pistons and forged manganese steel connecting rods. The engine and transmission were also mounted on rubber in what Chrysler called it's patented "Floating Power".

Transmission was a three speed manual Synchromesh.

Brakes were four wheel hydraulic with cast iron drums.

Suspension was built for a very smooth ride. The 37 Imperial featured double acting Aero shocks all around the car. Also independent coil springs on the car's front and steel leaf springs on the rear.

The 37 Imperial's wheelbase was 121.0 inches and the car weighed a heavy 3,850 lbs.

You may enjoy the Auto Museum Online articles on the links below...

The 1955 Imperial Specs and Photos

The Rare 1941 Cadillac Convertible

Where to Find Serial Numbers on Classic and Vintage Cars

The 1937 Imperial Collector Car

All 1930's Imperials are popular collector cars. Relatively speaking, not a great number were built during these years and the number of survivors is small.

imperial dashboard

37 Imperial dashboard

Condition, model, degree of restoration are all factors on current values. Convertibles usually are valued highest. One sale of a 37 Imperial Coupe Convertible garnered about $150,000. As of this writing e also see a 1937 Imperial Airflow, fully restored, priced at $45,000.

References for this article include the Imperial Car Club...Standard Catalog of Chrysler, 1914 -2000 by James T. Lenzke (Editor) and Ron Kowalke (Editor)...The Birth of Chrysler Corporation and It's Engineering Legacy, by Carl Breer.

(Article and photos copyright Auto Museum Online)

 

The 1955 Imperial Specs and Photos

The car featured in this article is a beauty. The 1955 Imperial shown here is also a milestone car for Imperial in as much as 1955 marked the year that Imperial became a separate division within Chrysler Corporation.

1955 Imperial Newport

1955 Imperial Newport

Chrysler Imperials, introduced to the world in 1926, competed for many years against General Motors Cadillac and Ford Motors Lincoln. Beginning in 1955 the Imperial Division of Chrysler would produce cars as a separate make from Chryslers. One advantage to this according to Chrysler was that being a separate make would allow the Imperial to go directly after Lincoln and Cadillac as opposed to competing also against Buicks and Oldsmobiles.

The Imperial would not be sharing bodies with other Chrysler brands but would have it's own very distinctive look just like it's competitors. That being said, there were still a few people who thought the new Imperial still looked a bit too much like a Chrysler.

Imperial dashboard

Imperial dashboard

Designing the 1955 Imperial

Chryslers head designer Virgil Exner played a big part with the 1955 Imperial. The 1955 Imperial was designed along the lines of the Parade Phaeton show car model. A big split grille was used in the front and the rear had gunsight tail lights.

The 1955 Imperial had a more sculpted look to it as opposed to the heavier bodies seen in 1954. New designer  touches which gave the new 1955 Imperial a show car look included the tail lights mounted on the rear fenders.

1955 Imperials came in a four door sedan and two door Newport hardtop.

Imperial also offered a limousine in 1955 which had traits of the Crown Imperial with it's glass partition between driver and passengers. The limousine model had a wheelbase 149.5 inches.

Imperial Features

An automobile like the 1955 Imperial would naturally have many bells and whistles. These included air conditioning with Chrysler's Air Temp System as an option. Filtered dehumidified air cooled by refrigerant would be a part of Imperial comfort.

Hydraulic power steering was another standard feature with Imperial as was an AM Music Master Radio with daytime and nighttime buttons to help with reception. Also a heater where you could set the desired temperature.

1955 Imperial Specifications

The 1955 Imperial came out with a 331 cubic inch Hemi V-8 four barrel carburetor engine delivering 250 horsepower. This was a first generation power plant and was the same size engine in the 1955 Cadillacs as well.

1955 Imperial split grille

1955 Imperial split grille

The Imperial's transmission was a two speed Powerflite automatic. Imperial and  Chrysler touted the Powerflite transmission as being lurch free and noise free. "D" on the lever would handle any speeds between 15 and 75 MPH and would shift gears smoothly.

Power brakes were standard on all Imperial models.

Wheelbase for the 1955 Imperial came in at 130.0 inches, four inches longer than the big Chryslers, with an overall vehicle length of 223.0 inches. The cars weight was about 4,600 lbs.

The new car price for a 1955 Imperial was about $5,000. Not cheap at the times by any means it was however considered a very affordable ultra luxury automobile.

The 1955 Imperial was a popular luxury car with great styling. Some criticism at the time was that the brakes were not up to the car's horsepower and that the engine used a lot of fuel. The pluses were that the Imperial was a quality built vehicle with excellent styling and handled well.

Imperial's stand alone gunsight tail light

Imperial's stand alone gunsight tail light

Imperial production totals for 1955 included 7,800 four door sedans, 3,400 coupes, 45 Crown Imperial Sedans and 127 Crown Imperial Limousines.

A side note regarding the Crown Imperial limousines...beginning in 1957, because of low demand, Chrysler arranged with Ghia of Italy to build their long limousines. Chrysler shipped a two door hardtop body to Italy where Ghia essentially took it apart, added length to the wheelbase, altered the superstructure and added a lush interior. Building one vehicle took about a month and the new car price was around $15,000. A 1955 Imperial Limousine can be seen in the movie "Hudson Hawk".

As a collector car, the Crown Imperial, as opposed to the Imperial Newport, couldn't fit it most standard size garages. As a practical road car they were not the easiest to handle and park. As you can imagine, they could be cumbersome automobiles. Body parts for restoration are also pretty hard to find.

Two additional AutoMuseumOnline articles relating to post war luxury vehicles are on the links below...

The 1952 Chrysler Custom Imperial

Babe Ruth's 1948 Lincoln Continental

1955 Packard 400 Series Hardtop

Classic Imperial wide whitewalls

Classic Imperial wide whitewalls

1955 Imperial Collector Cars

You might very well come across some fine looking 1955 Imperial restorations while attending auto shows.

As of this writing you might find 1955 restored Imperials with price tags in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. Depending on degree of restoration and originality you'll also find a 1955 show room quality Imperial above those prices.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)

1952 Chrysler Custom Imperial

The Chrysler Imperial, the top of the line vehicle for this automaker, was a car built and engineered excellently but it's design was considered a bit drab. This was a luxury automobile built for the owner/ driver, not as a limousine.

1952 Chrysler Custom Imperial

1952 Chrysler Custom Imperial

The 1952 Chrysler Custom Imperial featured in this article is a part of a Chrysler model that first arrived on the scene in 1926. The 1952 Imperial is among the sixth generation of the model.

When the Imperial debuted it was a Chrysler model as opposed to a separate make. The cars were produced by Chrysler from 1926 to 1954. In 1955 Chrysler decided to make Imperial a separate division. When this occurred the Imperial would not come with the Chrysler name. Very similar to what Ford Motor did with Lincoln.

As with so many of the American automakers, new post war designs came out in 1949. A few had new designs a year earlier in 1948.

The 1952 Chrysler Imperial is just about exactly the same as the 1951 models. To find the difference you'd have to refer to the car's serial numbers. Another interesting fact is that the only rag top Imperials were produced in 1951. The 1952 models dropped the convertible styling. Another fact is that all of the early 1950's Imperials were designed very similar to the Chrysler New Yorker. There were differences however in side trim, wheelbase and tail lights.

1952 Imperial

1952 Imperial

The Chrysler Imperial's competitors are pretty much what you'd expect...Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard. When Walter Chrysler first decided to manufacture the Imperial in the 1920's his aim at that time was to compete against Cadillac.

Chrysler's 1952 Imperial was a car for the rich and famous of the time. Chrysler even advertised it's 1952 Imperial as the car chosen by those who can afford any car in the world regardless of price. The automaker also touted the Imperial as being the finest car ever produced in America.

Chrysler Imperial Engineering

The Chrysler Imperial was known as an excellently engineered vehicle. The 1951 Imperial came out with the first 331 cubic inch Hemi-head V-8 engine. This new engine caught Cadillac off guard and was thought to have started the great horsepower race of the 1950's. Mass producing this powerful engine was costly and after the 1958 model year Chrysler's Imperial came with a 413 cubic inch wedge V-8.

Power steering was standard with the 1952 Imperial.

Chrysler Imperial Designing

As mentioned above, the Chrysler Imperials were thought drab in style although the engineering was top of the line all the way. Things changed in 1953 when Chrysler had designer Virgil Exner add some shapely changes to the Imperial's look.

1952 Chrysler Imperial dashboard

1952 Chrysler Imperial dashboard

Exner was one of the top car designers of the 1950's having been hired away from Studebaker by Chrysler in 1949. Virgil Exner would go on to add some fine designing touches to the Chrysler line of cars referred to as the Forward Look. In essence, Exner led the team that gave the entire Chrysler line of the mid to late 1950's a more modern edge in styling. If you look at a Chrysler tail fin of the latter 1950's you've seen the work of Virgil Exner. Some even credit him with starting the tail fin rage of that decade.

Prior to Exner's years with Studebaker and Chrysler he worked for GM and was in charge of Pontiac styling before he was thirty years old. If you look for automobile designers who left a legacy, Virgil Exner will be near the top of your list.

1952 Chrysler Imperial

1952 Chrysler Imperial

1952 Chrysler Imperial Specifications

The engine as mentioned above was a 331 cubic inch Hemi-head V-8 engine delivering 180 horsepower.

Transmission was an automatic four speed.

The 1952 Chrysler Imperial was built with a long 131.5 inch wheelbase. The car's overall length was 212.62 inches and it's width was 75.75 inches. This was a big car.

The 1952 Imperial's weight was a hefty 4,500 lbs.

A few cars you may want to compare the Chrysler Imperial with are on the links below...

1939 Chrysler Parade Phaeton

1949 Mercury

Those interested in Chrysler Imperial advertising from 1950 to 1975 might want to search for the CD Chrysler Imperial Ads 1950-1975 by Harry W. llaria. This is a nostalgic tour which tells you quite a lot about the features offered in the luxurious Chrysler Imperial.

 

Lots of chrome on the 1952 Imperial grille

Lots of chrome on the 1952 Imperial front end

Chrysler Imperials as Collector Cars

The 1952 Chrysler Custom Imperial is a popular collector's car as is any Imperial from the 1950's. If you happen to run across one of those rare convertibles from the 1951 model year then you may have hit the jackpot. it's was reported that only 650 of those convertibles were sold.

You might be able to pick up an non restored early 1950's Chrysler Imperial below $10,000. You may also find immaculately restored early 1950's Imperials with asking prices around $60,000.

Some classic cars have a hard time being valued at what it costs to restore them. The 1952 Chrysler Imperial including all of the early 50's Imperials might just garner what you've put in it and more. Mint condition early 50's Imperials should sell well and at a good price.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)