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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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...
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)