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1931 Chrysler Imperial CG Limousine
In Switzerland

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The Story of our Chrysler Imperial 1931
By Jan H. Stiefel, present holder in third generation. September 2012

Our family owned a brewery in Wil, St. Gallen, Switzerland, which was located in a medieval castle overlooking the main square of the old town. The castle was ample, besides the brewery it held a restaurant, a museum, and several large apartments, including the large one occupying an entire floor, where our family lived. The name of the castle was simply "The Hof". In the late twenties and early thirties, people had turned from wine and schnapps to beer, which was less toxic and more affordable. Business went well for the "Hof-Brauerei".

Here is what I was told by my parents and relatives about what happened: Somehow, friends talked my grandfather, Otto Wilhelm Stiefel, into ordering one of those magnificent American automobiles which they had seen. He had hitherto travelled to his customers by horse carriage. Roads were not yet paved. The beer was hauled to our clients by horse carriages and one or two trucks.

My father was eleven at the time, and he told me that some day in late 1931, a large box arrived at the railway station. In it, the Chrysler Imperial Limousine had been shipped from America to its destination. He and his three siblings were thrilled, but my Grandmother Louisa did not like it. It was too large, and too luxurious. And she thought that it was dangerously fast. She got nausea at speeds over 60 km/h (about 40 mph).

The new car in front of the "Hof" gate.
Possibly earliest photo, around 1932.
Note the sliding roof that was installed
immediately upon arrival.
This was Swiss fashion in those years.
License plate is government or military.

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The car stayed. It was driven on weekends and at family events. The driver, Mr Forster, was one of the beer truck drivers. He was proud to drive that car on Sundays. For longer trips, his wife was taken along. She was treated as part of the family like himself.

Departure from the gate
of the "Hof" castle and brewery.
Scan from 16 mm film
ca. 1936

Soon, large trips to Southern Europe and as far as Montenegro in the Balkans were undertaken. My aunt Gertrud, who was born in 1918 and still (2012) remembers these trips, told me that once a hotel manager in Montenegro asked them to hide the car in a barn. Reason was that on Swiss licence plates, the flag of the canton of origin is depicted, along with the Swiss flag. For the canton of St.Gallen, this flag is a "Liktorenbündel" or "fasces".

Left: Coat of Arms
of the Canton of St.Gallen
Right: Fascist symbol
in the Thirties.

And some fascist movements of those years in the Balkans used just this old Roman symbol. The man was afraid that some hotheads might turn violent.

Toward 1939, when the Hitler war already announced itself, gasoline got rationed. It seems that the car was "requisitioned" for military officers for some time. Over the war, however, the car was stored away in a barn. There was not enough gas to drive it during these years. The car seems to have been used occasionally after the war. I found some pictures of tours with family and friends through Switzerland. Driving mountain passes was popular at the time.

On a Swiss mountain pass (Susten?), ca. 1949. Switzerland always had a mix of cars from all possible countries. Note large cars and buses with sliding roofs, just like our Chrysler Imperial: Can you spot it?*

click to enlarge My mother
with the
same location.
click to enlarge *Second row,
6th from right.

In October 1950, the author and present holder of the car was driven home from the birth clinic in St.Gallen to the "Hof" in Wil, where we lived. It became the first car I ever rode in.

Other stations:

-ca. 1959: Car is "discovered" by myself and other children in a remote section of one of the barns that belonged to the brewery.

-1962: Used at marriage of uncle Otto, son of the buyer.

-ca 1964: Used at the carnival parade in Wil.

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 Our Imperial leading the carnival parade in 1964

-1968: I start trying to get the car in permanent running condition, occasionally moving it. My own first pictures of the car are taken in front of barn and garage of brewery.

1968 photos taken of the car as it had been during the years in the barn.
Car has only one wiper, and radiator cover is without the gazelle.
Car carries electric turn indicators and original steel trunk. This trunk was lost in a fire in 1978.
Note brewery name on beam above garage door.

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Engine in strictly original condition.

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The Comeback

There is not much more to say about these years. Everybody knew the car was there, and everybody held it in high esteem. But everybody was busy with other things. For years, the Imperial continued sitting in its place in that barn.

In 1976, I decided to revive it and bring it to continuous use, joining forces with one of my cousins, Alban. For this, we had to prepare the car for the mandatory roadworthiness test. 
1977: Work in progress- in a barn of the brewery used for empties. Congested, dark and freezing cold during winter. We adjusted and cleaned the engine, lined the hand brake, adjusted all bearings and parts (there was no need for repairs, just adjustments and greasing except for the water pump, which got a new impeller), and repainted the engine on basis of the existing paint scheme, in black and silver. At first we did not pass. The experts asked for reflectors on the rear fenders, which we installed. They were not satisfied with the placard giving the serial number on the right front door hinge pillar. It had to be stamped somewhere on the chassis. We complied, and the car was approved for the road again.

However, it had to wait a while. I had taken a break in my studies at the Zurich Institute of Technology in order to travel the Americas. The car was removed from the usual barn near the garage, for the first time in about thirty years, and given a garage in a different location of the brewery. The trunk, which we had removed in order to save space, was to wait in the old place, as were some parts and tools. I left in February 1978.

The burning stables and garage, seen from a window in the

A few months later, while I was somewhere between Brazil and Paraguay, I received a letter: The barn where the car had been sitting for so many years had been set alight by a pyromaniac. Everything had been lost, including the original trunk. But the car was saved.

The trunk was replaced soon afterwards by a similar size travel trunk typical on cars of the period. From the "Chrysler Historical Collection", copy of a owner's manual was obtained. It turned out to be extremely helpful, as drawings and descriptions are highly accurate.

The Gazelle was replaced in 1982. During the Eighties, Alban looked after the car, as I was on overseas assignments. It was driven for family events. For some time, it was rented out to a luxury car rental company. It was more regularly driven in the Nineties. The car remained out of use for some years until 2007, when a major overhaul took place of car, brakes, and engine. It is now in running condition and is used occasionally. The odometer reading as of September 2012 is 110'576 km.

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Chrysler Imperial Limousine-Sedan, CG, 1931
Technical sheet:
Origin: Chrysler Corp. Detroit, USA Serial number: 7801921; Body L-156-C.G. Total produced: 271 Engine: Straight 8 Cylinder, Nr CG 2940; 384.84 /6309 cc ; Compression 5.20 : 1 Bore: 3 ½ " /88.9 mm; Stroke: 5" /127 mm Power rating: 125 BHP /Measured power 2007: 134 HP/99 kW @ 3000 rpm
Length overall: 226" /5.75 m. Wheelbase: 145" /3.68m Empty weight: 4885 lb /2400 kg Hydraulic brakes, hydraulic shock absorbers Nine main bearing crankshaft, L-Head, coil ignition Double downdraft carburetor Stromberg DD-3 4 speed transmission, dry clutch
Max. speed: 90 mph /145 km/h (tried: 75 mph /120 km/h) Electrical system: 6V; Positive on Ground
Consumption: Gasoline: 23-25l/100 km; Oil: 0.3l/100 km

Year Modification Remarks
1932 Sliding canvas roof installed by Gangloff, Geneva Electric intercom and sun visors were removed
1932 Gazelle on radiator cap removed, wings filed off Required by Swiss road safety laws.
Mid-30's Electric turn indicators installed Scintilla/ Bosch (see pictures p. 5)
1960's Microphone and crystal vases on dividing window disappeared Vases replaced in 1962 by porcelain vases
1977 External rear view mirrors installed  
1978 Original trunk lost (replaced ca 1981) Fire destroys barn where car had been stored
1979 Canvas sliding roof renewed  
1981 Gazelle reinstalled Found at antique shop
1983 Paint renewed, nitrocellulose Original blue-black color scheme
1992 Additional brake and direction lights  
© Jan H. Stiefel 2012 All Rights Reserved


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