(A 1960 Imperial Southampton Crown, that is)

by Charles Rex

Imperial Home Page -> Imperials by Year -> 1960 -> A Black 1960 Crown Convertible

In doing a little nostalgic reminiscing about where I got my love of the old finned cars of the late 1950s and early 1960s, I realized that it is actually rather easy to pinpoint precisely when and how it happened....

It began with my experience as an early teenager with an old 1958 Plymouth that clearly shows the durability of the Mopar engines of that era. This poor old thing had sat out in my family's backyard down in Florida for three years without moving (it was already old when it was left there basically to rot). When I was approaching the age where I would be old enough to drive, my father said that if I could get the car running, I could have it. By this time, there were vines growing over the car, and it had virtually become part of the underbrush! My best friend, Regis, and I set to work not knowing what in the world we were doing. We didn't even change the oil since it actually never crossed our minds to do so. Besides, we wouldn't have known how to do it anyway, and in retrospect I am sure that after all that time the oil was basically sludge. We did get some old spark plugs and changed those, charged the battery, dumped some liquid carburetor cleaner into the carburetor, and we tried to start it. We got the starter motor to turn, but that was about it.

Then I found out from a gas station mechanic about these things called "points" and "spark gaps," and I bought out of my very meager allowance a cheap kit at a department store that included the condenser, points and rotor (you could get those in department stores like Sears in those days), and I replaced them. That same mechanic gave me a very old set of greasy and rusty feeler gauges, and I did the best I could with the points and spark plug gaps. We tried again after several hours of work, again done in total ignorance of what we were doing other than what the mechanic had told me and an old book on Plymouths that included spark gap specifications. This time we actually got a "cough" out of the engine. We got very excited, poured more gasoline directly into the carburetor, and tried again. We were positively overjoyed when the car, with much coughing and sputtering, finally showed a few further signs of coming to life. However what truly amazed us as the car reluctantly started was the HUGE cloud of thick black smoke that came billowing out of the tail pipe which hung like an atom bomb mushroom cloud over our backyard for ten minutes afterward! Nonetheless, the car kept running, albeit very roughly, and finally the motor smoothed out and ran beautifully from that point on. It didn't even burn oil!

The car body was an absolute mess -- talk about rust! The bottoms of the fenders would crumble if you touched them, and the floor pans were totally gone. We could actually see the road going by underneath us. Regis and I later replaced the floor pans with some old plywood that was lying around my garage, and the front seat had to be propped up with a 2 X 4 pressed against the back seat. However the car ran and it was now MINE! I loved it, and I nursed that poor thing along for four more years into my college days before the transmission finally died. It was the joke of Winter Park High School, but, hey, I didn't care -- I was one of the few who actually owned his own car, and no one ever turned down a ride home!

Some years later was when I saw my first Imperial, a 1959 Imperial LeBaron in a burgundy color. It had been in the family of my college roommate for years, and it was love at first sight. I simply could not believe the fins and the taillights, and the air-conditioning was so cold you could have made ice cubes in the back seat, not a bad thing in Florida during the summer. I was very impressed when my roommate opened the trunk lid and showed me that the rear air-conditioning unit took up virtually the entire back of the trunk, but I was even more impressed when he let me drive the car. It seemed effortless with no sense of speed, no matter what the speedometer read. I was overwhelmed by its sheer size, a virtual Queen Mary on wheels.

After I graduated, that car never left my mind, and I decided that when I became "rich and famous" that I would own one and recondition it. Well, I am certainly not rich and am only semi-famous in the classical music field as a concert violinist, but acquiring this 1960 Imperial Southampton Crown last December is the fulfillment of a dream of long standing, and I am thrilled to have it. My thanks goes out to all the members of the Imperial Club who have been so generous with their time and advice, and I promise that I will do my best to leave this rather regal work of art in better shape than when I got it.

(Click on any small picture for a larger view.)


This page was last updated 3 May, 2005.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club