Jim Byers' 1960 Imperial Crown Coupe

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From: The Washington Times Automotive

Published in Washington, D.C.

April 18, 1997


Excesses of the 1960 Imperial attracted his attention in the first place


Nobody, it seems, ever throws away old National Geographic magazines. Jim Byers' grandmother never did, and because of that he now owns a 1960 Imperial Crown, two-door, Southampton hardtop coupe.

As a child Mr. Byers would thumb through his grandmother's old Geographics, paying particular interest to the old-car ads. "That's what got me hooked on vintage cars," he said. He was especially taken by ads for the 1960 Imperial.

He took the old-car business seriously and at the age of 9 announced to his astonished parents that he wanted to buy an old car.

They laughed and said, "If you earn the money for one, you can go right ahead."

After two years of odd jobs, mowing lawns and shoveling snow the 11-year-old had saved enough to buy a very used 1954 Chevrolet sedan.

He worked it over and was able to sell it for a profit. Before he was 20 he performed the same exercise five more times, but the befinned Mopar of his dreams eluded him. In early 1993 he decided the time was right to get his dream car -- an Imperial. He contacted any and all of the local Chrysler Product Owner's Club members who may own or know of someone who owned an Imperial that might be for sale.

No luck.

However, in May one of the previously contacted owners had a change of heart and called to say his 1960 Imperial Crown, two-door, Southampton hardtop coupe was available.

Mr. Byers quickly became the fifth owner of the midnight blue Imperial.

His father, who, by this time was used to the drill, drove him up to Gaithersburg, Md. and then followed him back to his D.C. home.

A dealer-identification plate on the rear of the car identified it as having been purchased new from Nat Lerner's Chrysler dealership in Rock Island, Ill. It carried a base price of $5,403.

The car, one of 1,504 such models, came from the factory equipped with a 413-cubic-inch, 350-horsepower "wedge" V-8, constant-control power steering, total contact power brakes, Torqueflite three-speed push-button automatic transmission, rear center armrest, vanity mirror, outside left remote rearview mirror, dual exhaust, landau roof trim, power windows and six-way power bench seat with high-tower driver backrest. Extra-cost optional extras include:

* - Air conditioning..........$590.20
* - Touch-tuner radio...........68.80
* - Auto pilot..................96.80
* - Flitesweep decklid .........55.45
* - Solex tinted glass..........53.75
* - Rear defogger...............21.45
* - Right-side mirror............6.85
* - Custom license frame.........6.05

The outrageous impracticality of the car is what attracted the attention of Mr. Byers. How could he resist the appeal of the sculpted reflectors on the tip of each soaring tailfin?

A gold-colored crown adorns a windsplit on each tailfin as the fin bulges to accommodate the taillight.

The sculpted trim at the base of the roofline sweeps up and over the rooftop to a meeting above the windshield.

The wraparound windshield is kept clear by the variable-speed electric wipers.

Most of the cars built by Chrysler Corp. in the era of Mr. Byers' car were of unibody construction. With the technology available at the time the only way to get a truly luxurious ride was with a body and frame construction such as the Imperial had.

With the big V-8 purring smoothly, Mr. Byers reports mileage of about 8 mpg in the city and about twice that on the highway. That's not bad for a 4,720-pound car an inch or so short of 19 feet long. Mr. Byers points out that Chrysler was one of the first manufacturers to offer a 60/40 split front seat. Not only that, the Imperial featured a squarish, elleptical steering wheel.

The twin instrument pods dominate the driver's attention. The left one houses the 120-mph speedometer while the right pod houses all the other gauges. At the center of each pod is a small light that flashes to indicate that the turn signals are activated.

On the inboard side of the right instrument pod is a chrome knob that can be twisted to set the cruise control. Beneath the two instrument pods, at knee level, are two chrome handles. The left one releases the parking brake and the right one is the engine-hood release.

To the left of the dashboard instruments is the push-button automatic transmission control panel. From the top the buttons control:

* - Reverse
* - Neutral
* - Drive
* - Second
* - First.

There was no parking gear.

As for the push-button transmission and the attendant alleged problems, Mr. Byers said, "I love mine. It's never given me a moment's problem."

To the left side of the push-button panel is a chrome lever protruding from the dashboard. It activates the turn-signal indicators. While tending to the needs of his Imperial -- from the 18 panels in the grille to the backup lights in the rear bumper -- Mr. Byers recalls his late mother's admonition to "Go do something fun."

The Imperial is his expression of fun.

"It's a joy," he said. Additionally, it brings pleasure to others as evidenced by the smiles of people as he drives by.

Plus there's one more fringe benefit Mr. Byers also enjoys. In stoplight-to-stoplight drag races, the Imperial still can hold its own.

"Some of the autobahn's finest," Mr. Byers said, "have forgotten the sheer power of ... sheer power!"

Copyright 1997 News World Communications, Inc.

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