I've owned this 1971 Imperial LeBaron since October 1988. For 10 years, this car was my "daily driver," so I have LOTS of memories invested in this car! Here's the story of how I found it and how I've restored it over the years.
In October 1988, I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, driving my Grandmother's 1971 Imperial to the Chrysler dealership for some service. I had just turned 16 in January 1988, so I was enjoying every opportunity to drive Grandmother's Imperial. Naturally, like any teenager, I wanted a car of my own, and I KNEW I wanted a '71 Imperial. As I drove my Grandmother's Imperial to the back of the dealership that day, across the street I spotted another '71 Imperial! As soon as we had our own Imperial taken care of in the shop, we walked across the street to find the owner of this Imperial. It turned out that the guy worked at a machine shop across the street from the Chrysler dealership. The owner was very nice and was happy to talk about the car. He had only owned the car for a few months, having bought it from the widow of the original owner.
Oddly enough, the guy didn't want to sell the car that day, saying that he was restoring it to drive his daughter to the prom. I was pretty disappointed, but we gave him our phone number and walked away. Within three weeks he called and offered to sell the car! After some bargaining, we agreed upon the very reasonable price of $375. The next week we went back to Chattanooga, and the car was mine!
So, for $375, what did I have? As a young, naive teenager, I *thought* I had the Imperial of my dreams. It was Midnight Blue Metallic with a black vinyl roof and a dark blue cloth interior--and it even had some options that my Grandmother's Imperial lacked, such as cruise control, power door locks, and the tilt/telescopic steering column. I was definitely excited about this car!
But the $375 we paid for the car was actually pretty reasonable. The previous owner had attempted to re-wire the dash harness without the benefit of a wiring diagram, so almost nothing on the car worked--the radio, dash lights, AirTemp controls, and lots of other random "stuff" was sitting in the trunk. The car leaked EVERY fluid with the exception of gas (and that came later!), and the engine ran pretty rough. The vinyl top was shot, the body had lots of surface rust (especially on the hood), the windshield was cracked, and . . . frankly, if I found exactly the same car today, I would immediately consider it a parts car. But with the enthusiasm (and blissful ignorance!) of youth, I thought this was the PERFECT Imperial to restore!
These photographs were taken in June 1997, and show the car before any "restoration" work was begun.
Since 1988, I've completed some MAJOR projects in restoring this Imperial. When I first bought the car, it had 131,000 miles on it. Not long after buying it, a Chrysler dealership did a ring job and valve job on the car, which sort of helped it limp along for a while. By 1997, however, with over 200,000 miles on it, it was time for a complete engine and transmission rebuild. Later that year, I replaced the cracked windshield and the shredded remains of the vinyl top. These repairs held the car together until 2000, by which time rust had become a serious issue. Thanks to some AMAZING help from Kerry Pinkerton, we were able to save the car from rust as you can see at Elijah's 1971 Imperial Body and Paint Restoration. And in 2002, I replaced the worn and torn original cloth seats in the car with a nice set of leather seats from my '71 Imperial parts car.
|The pictures above show the Imperial at one of the Anniston, AL, Packard & Imperial Meets. These shots were taken not long after the car was repainted. Please see Elijah's 1971 Imperial Body and Paint Restoration for the complete saga that rescued this car from the brink of ruin.|
The pictures above show my '71 Imperial LeBaron four door hardtop next to Mark McDonald's '71 Imperial 2 door hardtop.
If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that the 2 door on the left has a VERY different rear profile and bumper than the 4 door on the right.
|Like many Imperial owners, I've found over the years that I couldn't stop at just one! The picture at the left shows Roger Cooper's '69 Imperial Crown Sedan, my '70 Imperial LeBaron, and my '71 Imperial LeBaron. In addition, I have a 1965 Imperial LeBaron and a 1967 Chrysler Newport. And last but not least, there's the trusty '71 Imperial LeBaron parts car, which has been a lifesaver through the restoration of the '71 Imperial shown here (it's also made a few contributions to the '70 Imperial LeBaron as well).|