1952-1956 Imperial Presidential Parade Car

from Old Cars Weekly, April 2001

Imperial Home Page -> Literature -> Articles -> 1952 - 1956 Parade


"'52 Imperial in The Auction ads really is a '52, even though it looks like a '56"

Several Old Car Weekly readers saw a full-page auction ad in our March 29 issue advertising the '52 Chrysler Imperial Presidential Parade Car shown below as one of the vehicles that will cross the block at The Auction in Las Vegas on April 21-22, 2001.
   To prove how carefully subscribers view and read even small photos and brief descriptions in Old Cars Weekly ads, several people called to say that the vehicle had '56 Imperial styling and assumed that the ad was in error. 

To clear this up, we are reprinting a section from Bill Siuru's book Presidential Cars and Transportation that tells the interesting history of the 1952 Chrysler Presidential cars.


Keller's decision for the postwar phaetons was executed by

stylists Cliff Voss, chief body engineer Harry Chesebrough and Virgil Exner, who fathered Chrysler's "Forward-Look" of 1955. The '52 parade cars were built off of a Crown limousine chassis
with its wheelbase extended two inches to 147.5 in. In total, they were over 20 ft. long. The car's body panels were handcrafted and completely unique. About the only stock items used were the '51 Imperial grille and Imperial front and rear bumpers. The clean, un-chromed lines and side sculpturing would greatly influence Exner"s "100 Million Dollar Look" used on the '55 Chryslers and De Sotos.








The Imperial parade car as it looked when displayed at the Auto Collection at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. It is among the cars being offered for sale at The Auction, which will be held in Building B at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino April 21-22, 2001.
By Bill Siuru
If the huge Imperial phaeton
formerly displayed in the Imperial
Palace Auto Collection in Las Vegas, could talk oh, what tales it could tell. The 1952 Imperial parade car, along with its two almost identical siblings, carried many of the great world leaders as well as many movie stars, astronauts, military leaders, senators, governors, mayors and beauty queens. Four United States Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy Johnson and Nixon -waved at  crowds from the spacious rear cockpit.  The phaetons have also carried the likes of Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and astronaut John Glenn.
    The parade phaetons were originated by Chrysler chairman, K.T. Keller, in 1951. These were not the first cars Chrysler ever built strictly for parade duties. The first was a massive, six-wheel, '39 Derham-bodied, custom Imperial touring car.  The Imperial was followed by another Derham Imperial phaeton in 1940 and later the famous '41 Newport dual-cowl show cars appeared. Serving as New York City's official parade car, among other duties, the '40 Chrysler Imperial phaeton carried General Eisenhower during a traditional ticker-tape parade in June 1945, to celebrate Ike's contribution to the World War II victory. The handcrafted car, made by Derham, was used by New York City for more than 20 years and was finally stored away in 1960.


The parade cars were completely open cars, a feature that was only acceptable because of the gentler, less violent times. In true phaeton tradition, there were separate cowls and windshields for the front and rear compartments. Like phaetons of old, there was an abbreviated instrument panel for the rear seat occupants.

    The eight-passenger vehicle had two leather-upholstered bench seats and two fold-out jump seats stored in the second cowl. The rear doors were of the "suicide" type and all doors lacked exterior door handles since there were no side windows. In the weight Dacron top, stored under the rear-hinged deck lid, could be erected over the rear compartment. However, the driver was left to the elements. This was strictly a "fair weather" car. Reportedly, it cost Chrysler a mere $100,000 to develop the three phaetons.
   All three cars were recalled in 1955 for a major update that incorporated many of the features of Exner's "Forward Look" as seen on the 1955-'56 Imperials. The entire front end was replaced with 1955 and 1956 sheet metal, bumpers, split grille, Imperial eagle emblems and "Forward-Look" insignia. In the rear, tail-finned fenders topped with the controversial gun-sight taillights were grafted on. The middle section, doors and deck lid were retained from the '52 version.

   The '52 versions of the parade cars used Chrysler's legendary 331.1-cid "hemi-head" V-8. With the Firepower V-8's 180 hp, the almost 3-ton '52 versions were definitely underpowered. The '52 versions also used a Fluid-Torque semi-automatic transmission and Chrysler's pioneering Hydraguide power steering. They also used "ahead-of-their-time" Ausco-Lambert disc brakes.


A mechanical revamping came with the mid-'50s facelift. The cars' anemic performance was greatly enhanced by changes such as a four-barrel carburetor and a compression ratio increase. Depending on the information source, the output was now 235- or 285-hp. A Powerflite two-speed fully-automatic transmission was also added, but without the push-button controls used on the '56 Chrysler products.
The three cars were "loaned" to New York, Detroit and Los Angeles. Each was trimmed differently. The New York car is today painted black with a light gray interior. For Detroit's car the original color scheme was metallic green with a natural pigskin interior. The Detroit car now white is the one for sale in The Auction.  The Los Angeles car was originally cream with a red rose interior and was redone in silver.

After being redone to 1956 style, the cars were donated to each of the cities. About 10 years ago, the black New York car was dusted off for an astronaut parade. It appears in Jay Hirsch's book American Dream Machines.. Los Angeles also still owns and sometimes uses the silver car.



This page was last updated October 10, 2003.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club