1977 Chrysler LeBaron Turbine

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This 1977 Chrysler LeBaron Turbine, sometimes referred to as a "LeBaron-based Special," clearly shows some styling cues that would later be incorporated into the 1981-1983 Imperial design.  In many ways, this Turbine car looks like a late '70s Dodge Magnum with a "futuristic" '81-'83 Imperial front clip.  This design exercise provides an interesting mid-point between the rounded Mopars of the late 1970s and the sharp lines of the '81-'83 Imperials.

In February 2004, IML member Dan Wing conducted an informal series of interviews with Bob Marcks, the Chrysler stylist who designed the LeBaron Turbine car.  Bob's remarks on this car are reprinted below with his permission.

"In my mind, I visualized it as a collaboration between Chrysler and Lockheed, and as such I resisted requests that it be pinstriped, etc.  Hal Sperlich, who headed product planning at the time, and later was Chrysler' president, dictated that the turbine car be used as inspiration for the '80s Imperial. I have to say that the turbine car execution turned out well. (I also thought that the '80s series Imperials would have been enhanced with a little "entasis;" this dates back to the ancient Greeks, who put a crown into every supposedly "flat" surface of the columns of their temples so that they wouldn't look concave. On the Imperial it could have looked more graceful and still maintained the desired crisp look.)

I happened to think of the car as an update on the "waterfall" style grille. I didn't do it to emulate the original 1935 Airflow, but to put it in the family of the 1975 Imperial, even to copying the sections and spacing of the vertical grille bars. It would be interesting to find out if the designers of the 75 Imperial had that in mind.

Interestingly, I was told that while virtually every concept car, no matter how successful or exciting, has some controversial features, views, or components, etc. I understand that there was agreement that this car was the only such concept car which had none!

The roof and rear deck of the Imperial's origins were inspired by custom bodied Roll-Royces. Someone could make a spectacular Imperial by two-toning it: Maroon and Black, or Charcoal Metallic and Black, Silver and Black, etc., with gold striping in the style of the Rolls original.

Unfortunately, as I understand it, the car ultimately went to NASA in Cleveland and was never heard from again! Maybe the Walter P. Chrysler Museum should look into its whereabouts or history. The car went to NASA because the Department of Energy funded the car to a large degree, maybe100%, I don't know."

--Bob Marcks

Fortunately for Imperial fans, this discussion evolved to include Jeffrey I. Godshall, Senior Design Manager for Dodge Truck Interiors.  Below are his comments relating to the development of the "waterfall" grille that Bob Marcks mentions above.

Regarding the "waterfall" grille in the 1974-75 Imperial, my understanding of that program is that Product Planning and Marketing were debating the desirability of continuing the Imperial in the lineup when the new C-bodies debuted in 1974. The decision to do an Imperial came quite late in the program. Fed up with the off-again/on-again nature of the Imperial program, Styling agreed to design a new front end and back end with the proviso that there would be ONE styling proposal--take it or leave it.

Apparently this was acceptable to Product Planning and Marketing, and the "waterfall" grille, hidden headlamps, and vertical taillights were bought as shown. The principal designer for the '74 Imperial was Chet Limbaugh and I believe the Chrysler/Imperial Studio styling chief was Don Wright.

I don't know where the idea for the "waterfall" grille came from, but I can almost guarantee that it was NOT inspired by the original '34 Airflow waterfall grillework.

--Jeff Godshall

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