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Image: 1960 Imperial Crown Four-Door Southampton
1960 Imperial Crown Four-Door Southampton in Alaskan White

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Image: 1960 IMPERIAL Is it the most revered Imperial of them all?Some years ago, a group of loyal Chrysler enthusiasts had gathered for an event, and among talk of the muscle cars, the first compact sized cars, various maintenance issues, and all the other things such people speak of, eventually they got around to discussing The Imperial. Predictably, excuses were made for why it didn't sell better than the Lincoln or Cadillac, how it could have been marketed better at the time, and so on. They spoke of Imperial's finest hour in 1957 when its new styling was the talk at the Country Club from coast to coast. They spoke of rare Imperial options, about the time when they used to own a __________ (fill in the blank), and sold it but have regretted it ever since. Invariably, someone will bring up whether the front end on the '67 is better looking than that of the '68, or why there seem to be so many around in a certain color.

This group finally came to an agreement after much discussion and not necessarily universally so, on which Imperial was the most revered of them all. Each had their favorites, for certain, and all had strong opinions about why their favorite year was the best, but after all the debate, the majority consensus was that the 1960 Imperial was perhaps the one to be most admired.

Why? 1960 certainly wasn't Imperial's best sales year, that would be 1957, when based on its attractive new "Suddenly it's 1960!" body styling, 37,593 Imperials were built. Quality control was not quite where it needed to be on these cars, however, and sales slipped badly the following year, with just 16,133 being built, a mere 42.9% of the previous year's total. Things were a bit better for 1959, when Imperials accounted for 17,710 units, a 9.7% increase, but for 1960 just 9 additional units were built over the 1959 number, for a total of 17,719 Imperials, an increase of just .05%. So what, exactly, makes the 1960 Imperial so special that it can claim top honors among a long list of distinguished considerations?

The answer to that question didn't come easy to these Mopar experts. One mentioned the last innocent days of America, generally thought to be the days of Camelot when a vibrant young John F. Kennedy was in the White House. He was handsome, wealthy, had a beautiful wife the whole world seemed to be in love with, and adorable young children that brought a sense of vibrancy to The White House. America was full of hope and promise until the dark days after the events of November 22, 1963, which some say robbed America of its innocence. Most were in agreement that America changed after Kennedy's assassination, although most felt it wasn't an immediate change, they did feel that things didn't seem as bright as they had before that fateful Friday in Dallas, Texas.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy was chauffeured around in a black 1960 Crown Imperial Limousine, which played an important role in the historic and memorable funeral of President John F. Kennedy. It was in this Imperial that Mrs. Kennedy was able to obtain whatever brief amount of privacy might be available to her on the day that the nation watched her every move. But this Imperial had served her well in the years before, when things seemed more hopeful. Perhaps this was part of the 1960 Imperial's allure and distinction, that of a dependable and devoted servant, always ready to serve when the need arose.

1960 Imperial styling was graceful, with a heavy chrome front bumper that dipped in its center section, giving the large car a graceful appearance. A large Imperial Eagle spanned the center front edge of the hood, perched just above the fine grille with its emphasis on vertical ribs that were deliberately spaced from one side to the other. The dual headlamps were hooded by overhanging front fenders, and round turn indicators were placed below the outward-sweeping lines of the front bumper, centered below the headlamps.

Image: View of 1960 Imperial LeBaron Four-Door Southampton with Town Car rear windowThe exclusive LeBaron introduced its new "Town Car" rear window for 1960 (pictured at right), which gave Imperial's top of the line model a very formal, distinctive look. The smaller rear window afforded rear seat passengers a higher level of privacy, and completely changed the appearance of the car when viewed from the rear. This styling touch would remain a unique feature of the LeBaron for many years.

The Imperial featured a wrap-around windshield that first appeared in 1957. The soaring rear tail fins were strangely elegant given their huge proportions, especially considering that the 1959 Cadillac had killed all further interest in tail fins due to its tail fin excess. Even so, the 1960 Imperial wore this styling touch much better than many other models had. Perched on the rear edge of the tail fins were Imperial's trade mark gun-sight tail lights, which almost seemed too small for an automobile of such impressive dimensions. Interiors were luxurious, as one would expect in a luxury car, replete with the finest fabrics and metallic leathers available. The instrument panel and controls were impressive, especially when viewed at night due to the soft glow of Panelescent Lighting that bathed the panel in a soft green glow, without any of the harsh glare incandescent bulbs might create.

This author clearly remembers as a child his love of a neighbor's 1960 Imperial Crown Four Door Southampton in Dawn Mauve paint, the marketing name given the light pink shade so popular in the late fifties and early sixties. What an impressive automobile it was! And the lady who drove it was a platinum blonde who always dressed as if she were ready to be photographed, and likely did more for Chrysler's marketing efforts around town than any advertisement they ran, as she was literally a walking, talking advertisement for the Imperial. She was the wife of a local television and appliance store owner, who was obviously doing pretty well at the time.

The reasons that led to the decision to unofficially award the 1960 Imperial with the crown for the finest Imperial of all were varied and many. And like so many things, it's difficult to identify just one thing that justifies such an honor. In fact, this is likely the key to the locked door behind which the answer lies. It's not any one thing, it's all things combined that make it so, and many feel the Imperial of 1960 had "it." Just like Marilyn Monroe had it. There were others with greater acting ability; others who were more shapely; and others with platinum blonde hair...but none had the many facets all put together that made Marilyn Monroe...well...Marilyn Monroe!

Image: 1960 Imperial advertisement featuring Regal Red LeBaron Four-Door SouthamptonFew would likely take issue with a 1960 Imperial representing the Imperial line, if just one car had to be picked for this task. Perhaps the Regal Red 1960 LeBaron used in Imperial print ads would be a good choice? (Shown at left; click to view larger image in new window.) I've always found that car to be especially attractive. The ad asked, "How's your sporting blood?" and it would be difficult not to feel an increase in blood pressure and heart rate when looking at that bright red Imperial in person. The full color ad included images of the LeBaron in profile as well as from the rear, and the couple depicted as the owners of the car were obviously cultured blue bloods who had high standards for the clothes they wore, the things they did to occupy their time, and the automobile they chose to travel in.

Whether you agree or disagree with the pronouncement that the 1960 Imperial is the most revered of all Imperials, consider the group of enthusiasts who had just such a conversation to make this determination all those years ago. They likely came up with the very same reasons then to justify why or why not the 1960 Imperial should wear the crown for the entire line as people would today, but before you pass judgement on them too quickly, you might consider what a huge undertaking such a task was in the first place. Wherever a group of enthusiasts gather, there's likely to be as wide a spectrum of interests, opinions, and favorites as there are people in the group. And as it should be with all things that bring people joy and happiness, the love of classic cars is a tight bond that demands consideration for others' feelings.

Should you decide you're up to the task of making your own determination for the Imperial of Imperials, please be our guest to do so. And do let us know what your final determination is, won't you? How is your sporting blood, by the way?

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