Bob Schmitt's 1966 Imperial LeBaron

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Photo from Paso Robles Statewide Imperial Meet, April 1996


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Video taken at the 1997 California Imperial Owners Statewide Meet, courtesy of Tony Lindsey.

Story by Bob Schmitt

(Originally published in "The Imperial Eagle, Volume 10, No 1, March 1997; updated 4/22/97)

My 1966 Imperial LeBaron shares one interesting similarity to the fifteen (or so) other cars I've owned, - it came looking for me. Two friends, Bob Sponsel and Patricia Childlaw, a car collecting couple in Santa Barbara, worked on me for nearly a year before I bought the Imperial on April 1, 1995.

Patricia's grandfather had been the second owner of this Imperial and kept it for more than 20 years at their Santa Monica trailer park on Colorado Avenue. When he passed away, the Imperial remained with his wife, but was only driven by Patricia's father on visits to California from his home in Tennessee. Hence, the relatively low 95,000 miles. Patricia eventually brought the Imperial to Santa Barbara.

It wasn't love at first sight. I knew very little about Imperials when I first saw it - not even where "LeBaron" was in the model hierarchy! I had visualized an Imperial possibly with fins or, at least, pod headlights. The driving test was smooth and I was sold by the lookingover the hood to the "eagle". During the purchase weekend in Santa Barbara, I scrubbed the car and started polishing the paint - turning small sections of the "matte blue" into Regal Blue. It looked promising.

I continued to clean the paint, chrome, leather, interior and trunk during the next month, then headed up to the 1995 statewide meet in Oxnard. I wasn't an entrant, but it was great to see the other Imperials. I met some good people who would be sources for future advice and parts.

During 1995 numerous cosmetic and mechanical items were fixed - hoses, air conditioning, torn leather, sagging driver's seat, etc. In October, I drove to the Ohlone Chrysler meet and stopped by Dr. Mike Bullock's on the way back. From Mike I obtained - and installed in his driveway - a much improved rear bumper. I also acquired other parts for later projects, including an antenna, headlight covers, headrests unfortunately the wrong ones), a service manual, leather for patching, etc.

I haven't seen a history of Mike's cars since I've been in the club, but if you've heard rumors about the "Imperial Doc" who once owner 134 Imperials - on his property! - I can confirm that's what both Mike & Katie told me. Mike still has a stable house and barn full of parts, trim, etc. Amazing!

One problem on that trip, which occurred again on a November 1995 trip to Las Vegas, was cracking wheels. Both front wheels developed cracks and leaks. I later got four wheels from Mike and now have a few in reserve. An interesting project last year was installing shoulder belts for the front seats. This probably was a dealer-installed option, evidenced by a "ring fitting" in the middle of the roof mounted grab handle. Removing the chrome trim (for cleaning and sewing headliner tears) showed a factory mounting hole for the fitting, but also a dealer-cut access hole for the mounting. I obtained new fittings and had shoulder belts made by Deist Safety (Glendale). The driver's side belt was easily installed and gives a feeling of great security. An access hole for the passenger's installation must be cut in the inner roof, and this was recently completed.

Most of the paint is still original and has polished up well, but the right side of the car had several area of strange "missing" paint and pock marks - one theory is that it was blasted with a shotgun! I've touched up these spots once with paint that Bob Sponsel had mixed in Santa Barbara, but it was a little too light. A second mix to the original paint specifications in spray cans from a San Diego paint shop turned out too dark, with no hint of metallic. I've got another custom mix from Crest Paint, Tijunga in spray cans which will be rubbed out in a few days - it looks good so far.

The most unique repair was to the body bolts. A June 1996 inspection showed at least a dozen of these were installed with no fastening nuts evident. Gravity probably held this car together for many years! Also during 1966, the Imperial got several new mounts, a muffler, and brakes all around. The valve cover gaskets were replaced for the fourth time by my preferred shop, Toluca Auto Center. Ron Densford fixed previous, partially correct work and I think the car is now in good hands.

The most recent major improvement has been restored rear springs (Hollywood Spring & Axle) and shocks, which greatly improved the ride and "attitude". After seeing Jay McKee's 1966 hubcaps at Santa Paula, I was inspired to take mine apart. 12 - 16 hours of cleaning have made a big difference. This is a great low-cost project for a rainy weekend.

The Imperial was intended to replace a two other cars and possibly become a tow car when my long term, sports car project is completed. My plan was to make it as nice and reliable as possible, but keep expenses to a "reasonable" level. However, I've only sold one car. While it eventually may do tow duty, (I've got a concept for a dual purpose Airstream, but that's another story), it's very enjoyable as it is.

As good Imperialists know, the 1966 Imperial is the first year of the 440 engine and the last year of the separate body and frame. It also has a full-width grill, covered headlights (with gold surround trim on the glass), full wood on the dash, hubcaps similar to a '67 and a trunk"bulge" that is more squared-off when compared to the '64-'65.

While each Imperial owner has favorite years and models, I think the 1966 is now a good compromise between a "classic old car" and a real, "use it every day in every way" type car. Although I have two other running cars (my "fleet" averages 30.8 years old!), the Imperial is firmly in my driving rotation - it's a unique pleasure every time I fire it up and drive it away.

Photo from the 1997 Statewide Meet at Sonora, California


As with any 31 year old car, there are many tasks left to do, but it seems like "Babe, the Blue Ox" deserves this attention! I think we'll be together for many more adventures.

You can see LOTS more WONDERFUL '66 Imperial info at Bob's Imperial Web site which you can view at

This page was last updated March 16, 2006.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club