Larry Caulkins' 1955 Imperial Newport

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I found this '55 Imperial in March 1995 while looking for a 56' Buick to restore for my wife. At first I thought it was a C300 until I noticed the Imperial scripts on the fenders. I didn’t even remember Chrysler building a 2 door Imperial. The car looked to be rust-free, which in Utah is an impossibility; I crawled under the front end to see how much bondo was used to make the body look so good and to my surprise there was no bondo and no rust to be seen. Further inspection revealed California license plates that had expired in 1973. The car lot was asking $4,500 for the car which I felt was way too much money so I left and continued looking for a 56’ Buick. Not finding a Buick to my wife’s liking I told her about this Chrysler I found and she said if it’s drivable it might be as much fun as her old Buick. (She had a '56 Special with candy green lace paint job, chrome reverse wheels and black button tuck interior, Long Beach low rider in the 60’s.)

A few weeks later I returned to the car lot to look at the Imperial again but it was gone. I asked the salesman if they had sold the Imperial and he told me no, they had taken it on consignment and the owner had come and picked it up. He gave me the name of the owner and his phone number that night I called him up to see if he still wanted to sell the car. He said he did and I made arrangements to see the car again. I went to his house and looked over the Imperial real close. He claimed it was in tip-top shape but I could tell it was doctored up to work and look good but it still was a #4 car with a smashed left front fender and missing many parts. After a couple of weeks of negotiations I finally made a deal to buy the car for $2500 plus a $1000 for the original wire wheels and wide white wall tires. He also threw in all the spare parts he had collected to restore the car and repair the fender. The only hitch was the car didn’t have a title, only a salvage permit and a bill of sale. Before giving him the money I checked with the Utah DMV to make sure I could get a clear title.

This is the car as I bought it in 1995. The car has an interesting history. The original owner, who I have never been able to find, had left the car at Freed’s Chrysler Plymouth in 1973. The story I was told was that he and his family were on their way to Colorado when the rubber line to the oil pressure gage had broken and the engine, loosing all the oil, seized up just outside Salt Lake City. (The Imperial had a new oil line when Ibought the car.) He had it towed to the Chrysler Dealer for repair. When the dealer finished repairing the engine (it has a new crank, std bearings, 3 rods and oil pump) and gave him the bill, he said it was too much money to put in this old car, tossed them the keys and went to the showroom floor and bought a new Imperial and left for Colorado, never to be seen again. It sat in the back of the dealership for many years and was finally bought by a guy who was going to restore it in the 80’s. It sat in his warehouse for many more years until his family sold the warehouse. Not having anyplace to keep all his Mopars, he sold it to the owner I bought it from. It ended up being the most well preserved old Mopar I have ever seen.

I drove the car home and realized that if I wanted a decent daily driver, I needed to update all the things that old Mopars lacked. Being a glutten for punishment, I decided it would have to have at least a 392 Hemi (bigger boat anchor) and one of the new 4-speed OD Torqueflite transmissions to get it down the road and disk brakes to stop it and so started an 8 year project. I stripped the car down to bare frame, built a rotisserie and completely built a new car from the ground, or should I say the frame, up. I found a guy at work that had a completely rebuilt 392 which I purchased then went down to the local Dodge dealer and bought an A518 Torqueflite transmission. Then it started to get out of hand, I found a '97 Dodge Ram that rolled so I got the injectors and computer, a Cragar Blower Manifold, a lot of wiring, some plumbing from my race car days and went crazy with the only requirement that this car remains completely original looking inside and out.

The following pictures tell most of the story:

(Click on any small image to view a larger size picture.)

Mockup of engine with late model alternator, P/S pump, 7 blade fan and A/C compressor
Manifold and injection, P/B booster and OBDII Mopar Computer
Front disk brake setup notice 9/16 studs instead of old bolts

11 x 3” drum rear brakes with proportioning valve and slip on drums with 9/16 studs and nuts.
Rear A/C box and ducting and headliner vent registers ala Caddy.
Heater and defroster switches modified for electronic A/C controls (this could take pages of explanation for what I did but anyway the heater, defroster and A/C all work off these two switches)
Dash panel with heater and A/C controls in place, does it look original?
A518 trans with original shift linkage
Home made shifter with OD button on lever handle.
Shifter plate and knob I made to replace originals
Trans linkage, steering gear and brake valve
Start of the wiring for electronic and original switches and etc.
Fuse panel with relays for ignition switch and computer Radioshack stuff
IC board for '55 gages to '97 senders
Converted all power switches to '55 buttons and '97 Dodge switches - notice how well the new switches fit the old bezels, some things never change
Volt meter instead of amp meter (100 amp alt.)
Finished door panel, I used the original cloth material and also embossed all the panels like OEM.
Driver's door panel with cruise control switches, made these out of half a master window switch Bezel (originally mated with later model buttons mickey moused by previous owner) had to build little Circuit boards for switches and install resistors from 97’ Dodge switch.
View from drivers door notice A/C return air registers
Finished dash... I didn’t have the door for the record player finished yet. I have been trying to find one for a decent price on e-bay but no luck.

The wiring diagrams I made up so as not to get lost in the miles of wire I actually pasted it on the wall of the garage for reference this is nearly 2 years of work alone.

I’m working on replating all the exterior chrome. I just finished the left front wheel opening molding since it was crushed beyond recognition. I’ve got about 30 hours of labor in the repair.


Right side view - I repaired and replaced several spokes in the wheels (had to make my own spokes).






Rear view - I made the left tail light and both backup light lens out of lexan. That’s a 2 or 3 page story on plastic molding techniques. I also hand-formed the bottom of the right exhaust pipe/backup light housing and the exhaust pipe rings.



I hope to have this complete by 2005. So far everything is working as planned except the engine idles like a C300. The Isky cam I installed doesn’t make the map sensor very happy below 800 rpms but the mid 15 second quarter mile performance (90 mph is all you get with stock computer) more than makes up for it. So far (I’ve got about 2000 miles on it now) the gas mileage is 11.5 mpg around town and 15.3 mpg highway and the best riding car I’ve ever owned.

Here are a few extra pictures of Larry's wonderful '55 Imperial.

(Please click on any small image to view a larger size.)

This page was last updated July 29, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club