Los Angeles Imperial Parade Phaeton

by

John Lazenby


Imperial Home Page -> Imperials Of Distinction -> Phaetons -> 1950s -> Los Angeles


In the downtown Los Angeles maintenance garage.

A long dream of sitting at the wheel of this great car becomes reality.

The Los Angeles Imperial Parade Phaeton

My story of the Parade Imperials started when I was probably about ten years old.  I grew up with Chryslers and always considered their products the best America offered.  For me the three Parade Phaetons were and are the pinnacle of the Imperial badge.

About 1957 my parents took me to the Los Angeles County Fair at the Pomona Fair Grounds.  An event occurred while I was there that altered my automotive life.  We were walking down one of the main isles when security moved us all aside and there it came.  It was a silver blue Imperial Parade Phaeton with then Vice President Richard Nixon and his family riding in the back. 

Most would be taken to see a person of such notoriety up that close, but not me.  It was the car that completely captured my attention.  It was the most magnificent automobile I’d ever seen and that moment was frozen in my mind for life.

Over the years I’d read as much as I could find regarding these three cars and their history an have now seen two of the three in person.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to view the New York car in person.

While researching these cars I came to appreciate the first rendition over the current.  Yes, I’m probably in the minority on that, but I felt they were much more stately and graceful.

Fast forward to July of 2010.  I had taken our 1955 Imperial Newport (/Yr/1955/JohnLazenby55/JohnLazenby55-01.htm) to the local Garden Grove , California Friday night Main St. Cruise.  This car is always a crowd pleaser and many ask questions and tell stories about their experiences with that era of automobiles.

Click any photo below for the larger version.

We first see the car parked in the garage. The rear of the car with the recently added speakers on the rear bumper used by the Mayor to speak to the crowds when he attends Parades.  That is me in the red shirt. A pre 1955 steering wheel with a 1950 green horn button.  Note the shift quadrant with the unique “Powerflite” logo below the gear choices. Showing the speakers attached to the front bumper and a pole holding the hood up.
A shot of the dash with an added control panel and gauge below the dash.  The panel is to control the speaker system.  The round gauge is a Tac. A close up of the center of the dash.  Possibly the gauges are from some Chrysler Marine application?? Wiring under the dash, what a nightmare this car has been through in its life. The rear seating area.  Note the handle on the right side of the seat which is the trunk release.  This had to be pulled a long distance to make the latch work.
The rear sill plate The front sill plate and seat. The Imperial block letters. I think these letters are larger than '56 production cars and are unique to these cars alone. The rear compartment dash with two glove boxes and a clock. Note the jump seats are folded closed.
three quarter view of the entire car. Dash and parade windshield. A close up of what appears to be a MotorRim factory 52 spoke wire wheel. Wonder what happened to the original Borrani wires?? This appears to be a 1956 Imperial production badge done in a gold finish that has worn off over the years.

While there I was approached by a couple of guys and a lady.  The first fellow seems to have some knowledge of these cars and stated to me that he had maintained the Los Angeles Parade Imperial for the past twenty years.  My first reaction, which I did not state verbally was, “yep, sure you have”.  I did think I’d challenge this by asking “would it be possible to get a tour of the car”?  His reply was “sure” and we exchanged cell numbers.  I’m still not convinced that he is for real, but once he told me where the car was it worked into some plans that were being laid at that time.

The fellow who was with him started to tell me there were four of these cars made in Italy .  I responded with, “To my knowledge there were only three made in Detroit in 1951 or 1952 and then taken back in and re-bodied in the mid fifties”. 

He was persistent with the four examples being built and then the lady stepped in and backed him up.  At that point I didn’t want to be combative, but once he told me “the fourth one fell off the boat when coming to America ” I had to reply.  I told him that he could possibly be thinking of the Virgil Exner concept Norsemen that went down with the Andréa Doria. 

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My next question was” how one could fall off the boat”?  Of course he had no answer for this and quickly faded into the background.  

These are photographs of the other two Parade Phaetons displayed over the work area the L.A. car was placed. Possibly for some reference material?

Moving forward a few days, I was waiting for a call from a friend in Texas who was planning on flying out and three of us were traveling to Central California to view a recently discovered car collection that had cars he and I were both interested in possibly purchasing.  A few days later those plans were confirmed and I phoned the cell number provided to make the arrangements to view the Phaeton.

On the morning of July 16th the three of us arrived in downtown Los Angeles at the designated time and location and were escorted in to a large garage facility that maintains the city and county vehicles.  There it was, parked amongst mostly utility vehicles.

We were given access to any part of the car, which in our case meant all of it.  For about the next hour we discussed the car’s history and took photos.  The person in charge of this unique car became fascinated that we knew much more than he did.  He told us he had been trying to research the car, but had no assistance.  All three of us left our contact information for his future needs.

One of my favorite things to say is “If the cars could talk what stories they could tell us”.  This example would be over the top in that category I suspect.

I’m pleased that it has survived all of these years, but many changes and the workmanship sometimes performed is rather sad.

We all took many photos of different aspects of this car and here are some for your review.  Oh, one last thing.  Our trip proved to be very worth while as we did purchase a couple of cars from the collection, but more on this later.

Click any photo below for the larger version.

Another view of the wire wheels. Another view of the front badge. My friend Wayne from Texas at the wheel. Our friend Ken who is more than qualified to do any repair needed at the helm.
Wayne entering the driver's seat with me watching. L to R: John, Ken, and the currecnt Caretaker of the Imperial. A rather cluttered engine compartment. The second battery is for the PA system. Note, wiring all over the place along with an aftermarket carburetor and ignition system. A photo of the engine compartment from the passenger side. Note the addition of an alternator.
Engine compartment with modified carburetor, electronic ignition, and extra battery to power the speaker system. Passenger side of engine compartment showing alternator swapped in for original generator to power additional electrical systems. Wiring modifications and additions. Another engine serial number view.  This is still what we believe to be the original 1952 engine block in the car.
Here is the engine number verifying that this car still retains a 1952 engine block which is probably original to the car. Here is a shot of the rather large fuel tank and replacement Ford rear end with air shocks. We were told the rear end change was done to accommodate disc brakes. A shot of the differential. View under rocker ahead of left rear wheel.  Shows leg of X-member convertible frame and possible frame extension welding.
A shot of the front suspension also using disc brakes which are not visible. Second shot of front suspension. Frame rail shot. Front door sill.
The interior driver's door panel which is pretty basic and straight forward. Rear door sill. A second shot of the trunk release handle. Forward Look badges that are from Dodge trucks of the era.
The front fender and cowl and hood. Note there is no seam between the fender and cowl and note the rounded corner of the hood. The wiper stems look to be of the first generation of this car. A close up of the speedometer and although there is some glare I believe it indicates there are 49 thousand miles. A close up shot of the fuel and temp gauges. A close up of the amp and oil pressure gauges. Note the corrosion on the shift lever in the foreground.
The clock in the rear seating area. The rear bumper and body showing the storage compartment for the spare tire. The Imperial letters on the trunk are 1956 production I believe. There are two fuel filler caps, but I think we determined that one was non functional. I'm sitting in the rear checking things out with both doors open. The trunk lid open. Note this is done the opposite of other applications. 
A banner for the LA Mayor when he is in the car. The material under that sign is a cover that goes over the rear seat back and cushion for people sitting on top of the seat. A second shot of the trunk with the banner. The area forward of this has a panel that covers the external speaker system. Third shot of open trunk. Another shot of the rear with the trunk open. You can see both fuel filler caps in this view.
Close-up of the front mounted speakers. Front cowl and hood. A shot down the drivers front. There certainly are a few feet to behold !! Under the hood shot with a note applied to masking tape warning not to slam the hood. Note the two extra external fans in front of the radiator.

 

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