1950's Imperial Phaeton Discussion

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From Michael Friedman:

Maybe I didn't notice someone elses mentioning, but at the beginning of How to Marry a Millionaire, Lauren Bacall arrives in a '56(?) Imperial parade phaeton. Now, I live in Los Angeles, California, and my city owns THREE of these cars! I have seen them all at the same time. A red one, a white one, and an aqua one. They are obviously big, but I had no idea how big until after a local parade. I was in traffic next to it. I was in my '66 Cadillac convertible, and I looked over to see inside the car. What I actually saw was the side! These things are almost as tall as a full-size pickup truck! I hope to be able to arrange to see these cars where they are garaged.

From Tony:

I've seen the aqua-metallic-colored one in the LA Gay Pride Parade, but now I'm very, very confused. I had the distinct impression that there were only three of the Parade Phaetons ever made - One for Detroit, one for Los Angeles, and another one for New York. They were originally made in the early 50's with entirely different front and rear ends, but were updated in '55 to have '56-styling. This is all recalled (inaccurately, no doubt) from the standard reference books, but after having seen my LaFemme article butchered and plagiarized beyond belief over the years by ignorant "experts," I'm a lot less inclined to believe the "reference" books.

From Mike:

I have seen one Parade Phaeton (cream-colored) in the Imperial Palace Casino Automobile Museum, and I have heard that another one is in some other museum back east.


From Brett C. Snyder:

Here's the Readers' Digest story of the parade phaetons...

(click small images for close-up view)

1952 Imperial Parade Phaeton Newspaper Article


Virgil Exner designed the parade phaeton as part of his early design work at Chrysler. Three were built for the purpose of carrying dignitaries and other "high-profile" folks. (Great public relations for Chrysler's image) They were built on stretched '52 Imperial chassis' with all new custom sheet metal framed by the current grille and taillight treatment. Two of the vehicles were given to New York and Los Angeles. The third was originally planned to be given to the White House. However, since the White House isnot permitted to receive gifts of this nature, Chrysler titled the car with Detroit and shipped the car around at its descretion. The original color schemes were black with grey interior for New York, cream with red interior for L.A. and green with tan interior for "Detroit."

(click small images for close-up view)

Any Devine in the restyled Los Angeles '55 Parade Phaeton.

With the introduction of Exner's "100 Million Dollar Look" in 1955, the phaetons were brought back to Detroit and refitted with '56 Imperial styling. They received new front clips and '56 rear quarters were welded in place. The New York and "Detroit" cars were repainted white with red interiors and the Los Angeles car was refinished in metallic silver-bluewith white interior.

A bevy of beauties in the Los Angeles Phaeton.

The history of these cars gets confusing from this point on... The Imperial Palace Collection in Las Vegas, NV (owner of one of the cars) says the "Detroit" vehicle was vandalized and had to be scrapped, and the New York car was retained by the White House. But, the New York car is still in New York! The June, 1993 issue of Mopar Collector's Guide shows the NYC car in its new black color scheme wearing NYC Police plate "1952." It's been written elsewhere that the "Detroit" car was retired in 1964 and ended up in the Paul Stern collection in Manheim, PA. I believe Mr. Stern passed away a few years ago, so it's likely the car at the Imperial Palace is actually the "Detroit" car that Chrysler tried to give to the White House. (BTW: It'd be nice if the Imperial Palace would get their facts straightconsidering their name and all.) And lastly, as Tony mentioned, the Los Angeles car is still with Los Angeles County and can often be seen in local parades.

All cars have the 331 c.i.d. hemi V-8 and Powerflite transmission.

(As mentioned earlier, you can see the New York car in its black, 1952 configuration at the beginning of "How to Marry a Millionaire" as Lauren Bacall arrives at an apartment building.)


From Nancy Kramer:

We have seen the Paul Stern collection back when Paul was still alive. We saw the Phaeton. It is most probably the one that the Imperial Palace has, since the Paul Stern collection was largely sold out west not in the East were it was. I think some collector car dealer in Arizona bought most of it for resale a number of years back. In case anyone cares Paul Stern was a real gentlelman and a great car collector who had a fabulous museum of MOPARS while he was alive.


From Jeff Stork:

All of the references I have been able to find regarding the Imperial Parade phaetons refer to three cars, one each for Los Angeles, New York, and Detroit. I have never seen a reference for a fourth car, whether it be for D.C. or and unknown other city.

Legend persists that the Detroit car was vandalized and subsequently scrapped. The L.A. car is still among the living (definitely a delight to see). When I was at Imperial Palace last year I saw a car which I assumed was the L. A. car on loan-- they were hyping Presidential cars and attempting to make an Ike connection- he did have a custom Imperial limousine but there is no record of a phaeton that I have ever seen.

Can anyone say definitively where the other surviving phaetons are? It would be cool to see them at a major show such as Pebble Beach sometime.

All of the text I have been able to find identifies three cars, one each for New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

One source has tied colors to the cars:

City/1952 Color/1955 Color

New York Black/ Lt. gray Cream/ red leather

Los Angeles Cream/ rose red Silver Blue/ White

Detroit Met. green/ natural Cream/ red leather

The Los Angeles Car today is white and red. Eyewitnesses put the New York car as being black today. The Imperial palace car is white--now here is the biggie-- IS THE PARADE PHAETON ON DISPLAY AT IMPERIAL PALACE TODAY?

From Paul Concilio:

We just visited the Imperial Palace car collection and museum in Las Vegas.

The Washington DC parade phaeton is there and is it a beauty!!!!!!!

I understand that of the four cars originally built in 1952 and remodeled some- where around '55-'56. The rear quarters are very similar to '56 but the front fenders have full round shaped wheel openings like '55 models. Three survive now. The LA car and the New York cars are still in the hands of those cities and the DC car is at the Imperial Palace in Vegas. The Detroit car no longer exists. Does anyone know if this is correct?


From Brett C. Snyder:

The Imperial Palace explanation of the cars has flaws in it...

Here's a few Phaeton facts:

1) Three cars were produced. One each for Los Angeles, New York and The White House.

2) The White House is not permitted to accept gifts of this nature... so that car was left titled with Chrysler in Detroit. (This is where I think things get confused... the White House car IS the Detroit car)

3) All three were originally '53 models. All were fitted with '56 front clips and quarter panels later. The interiors and trunk areas still look like 53's.

4) All three cars still exist today (although the Imperial Palace literature says one fell victim to vandals). The New York car is still in New York and it is black. The L.A. car can still be seen in the Rose Bowl parade and the Detroit/White House car is in the Imperial Palace collection in Las Vegas.

From Chris Hoffman:

While recently in Las Vegas, I made it a point to stop by the Imperial Palace car collection and check out their story on their Parade Phaeton once again, hoping to clarify the matter once and for all.

The IP car is off-white with red leather, just like the car that is still in LA. Could they be the same car? Yes, but I tend to doubt it since I've seen the LA car too many times to believe the Imperial Palace lets theirs out that often, much less for gay pride parades. They also claim theirs is the NY car, and that the LA car is in private hands and the Detroit car was vandalized and had to be scrapped.

I've seen the NY car myself, as recently as 2 years ago dropping Mayor Giuliani off at the finish line of the NY Marathon. It is black (I am sure) and has a grey interior (I believe) and bore official New York license plates (note that city-owned cars and state-owned cars would both carry State of NY plates).

According to Langworth (who is often inaccurate), the paint schemes were as follows:


NY: black with light gray interior
Detroit: metallic green with natural pigskin interior (I assume that means tan, not pink!)
LA: cream with rose-red interior

1956 rework:

NY: off-white with red leather
Detroit: off-white with red leather
LA: metallic silver-blue with white upholstery

The Imperial Palace says that the NY and LA (not Detroit) cars were white/red, and that the Detroit car was blue with natural pigskin, so it does get confusing (and stay that way).

What I've seen with my own eyes:

An off-white/red car in LA
An off-white/red car in Las Vegas at the Imperial Palace
A black/grey or black/red car in New York City.

No blue or silver-blue car at all

From Brett C. Snyder:

The only reason why the Imperial Palace Musuem twists reality is so they can make a better display. The car on display IS the "Detroit" car. The museum purchased the car from Paul Stern, a private collector with strong ties to Chrysler. This is documented in Langworth's book "Chrysler & Imperial: The Postwar Years."

I was told by a long-time Chrysler employee that the "Detroit" car was originally intended to be given to the White House. But, being long on free publicity and short on research, Chrysler was refused because federal law prohibits acceptance of gifts. (Otherwise we'd end up with stuff like "Serta-Official mattress of The White House")

With the White House plan foiled, the car remained with Chrysler (I don't believe it was ever actually titled to the City of Detroit) and was loaned to the White House when needed. The car also toured Chrysler dealerships.

So, that's why the Imperial Palace Museum says the car belonged to the White House. It's a stretch to justify displaying the car in their "Presidential" exhibit. They are flat-out wrong about a parade phaeton being destroyed by vandals.


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