Shown above: 1966 Imperial LeBaron in Deep Plum
with Black Vinyl Roof Shroud
|THE INCOMPARABLE IMPERIAL|
1966 Imperial Auctions
Exterior Paint Colors
Mobile Executive Show Car
The 1966 Imperial represented the third and final year of the body style introduced in 1964. With its clean, sharp lines and elegant styling, the 1964-1966 Imperials are instantly recognizable as Chrysler's flagship, even today. The exclusive Imperial remained in the number three sales spot for 1966, with sales of just 13,742 units, Imperial's worst sales year since 1961. Even industry experts are hard pressed to explain why the Imperial didn't sell better, especially during periods of time like 1966, when its combination of styling, standard features, and interior amenities was extraordinary in comparison to its competition. Most road tests performed at the time gave the Imperial the highest marks for ride and handling, and it was every bit as quiet and luxurious as its counterparts at Cadillac and Lincoln.
If the ultimate benchmark of exclusivity is rarity, the Imperial would unquestionably be the preferred luxury automobile, and those of us at Automotive Mileposts believe this, more than anything else, explains the Imperial's constant third place sales numbers. While the Imperial, Cadillac, and Lincoln are all fine automobiles, there have been years where the Imperial was simply the better car of the three. Which makes us think that the folks who purchased Imperials were less interested in impressing others, and more interested in a car that handled and rode as good as it looked. Cadillac's new frame, introduced in 1965, was criticized by some as being too flexible, allowing squeaks and rattles and the Continental, while being more rigid than the Cadillac, didn't handle turns at high speeds as adeptly as the Imperial. And while interior appearance is a matter of personal preference, the Imperial did offer the most usable interior space, making it more comfortable on long trips.
Changes for 1966 were more widespread than they were for 1965. To make the Imperial appear lower and wider, a new ice cube tray-style grille appeared which featured 20 squares between the headlights, and within each square 4 finer linear rectangles appeared; the entire grille was framed in chrome, which gave it a "floating" effect; the quad headlights continued to be placed behind tempered glass, although the fine white ceramic lines etched into the glass had been removed and replaced by gold ceramic borders around the edge for 1966. This would be the last year for this headlight treatment, as it made the lamps more difficult to replace, and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) had filed complaints about them with Chrysler, as the CHP's program to check headlight aim at road side stops was made ineffective, since the device that checked aim required it be placed up against the lamp itself, and the glass lense prevented this.
The view from the rear was updated by removing the angled sides from the deck lid hump. They were now straight and this tended to minimize the hump somewhat. The back-up lights were moved lower on the bumper and placed in a somewhat awkward position to make room for the enlarged running lights which took their place. Imperial engineers accomplished this by placing a red lens over the area that previously housed the clear back-up lights, and wired the bulb to illuminate whenever the parking or headlights were is use.
The center bumper area between the taillights received a new satiny silver finish, replacing the ribbed chrome that was there previously. The individual Imperial block lettering was also removed from the center of the deck lid and replaced with an elegant Imperial script mounted in the lower center right area of the deck lid hump.
Attractive new wheel covers completed the exterior enhancements, replacing the deep dish color-keyed wheel covers used in 1964 and 1965. The new 1966 wheel covers featured a series of "sunburst" radial lines filled with black paint, which gave them a turbine appearance.
The interior of the 1966 Imperials perhaps saw the greatest changes. The claro walnut inlays on the instrument panel and other interior surfaces averaged over 100 years in age, and some of it even dated back to the Revolutionary War! This wood was quite rare, harvested from claro walnut trees which were found only in the northwestern United States and Kashmir. It is said that of every 52.5 pounds of wood harvested, a mere 8 ounces were deemed acceptable for the Imperial! The paneling was expanded in 1966 to include the upper half of the instrument panel, replacing the ribbed chrome previously used.
The Imperial front seat was obviously designed with the utmost passenger comfort in mind. The seat was split in half, providing separate fore and aft adjustments for driver and passenger. Each offered its own center fold-down armrest, and the passenger seat back could be reclined, making this perhaps the most adaptive seat ever for personal comfort. Crown Coupe and Convertible each received new shell-design, slim silhouette bucket-type seats, with deeply contoured seat backs for additional support. Between the seats, a single fold-down armrest. But perhaps the most memorable interior is that of the LeBaron, which included Swiss embroidery. An Imperial Eagle crest was embroidered in each seat back, using a machine known as a Swiss Schiffle. This embroidery was included on all LeBaron interiors, from the luxurious 100% wool broadcloth, to the fabric and leather combination, or the optional soft western steerhide all-leather interior.
The competition for 1966 remained the same, as did the sales figures. Cadillac marketed a mildly restyled car, which had been all-new for 1965, and continued its lead as the top seller in the luxury field. Lincoln received its first major restyle since 1961, with an all new body, interior, and drive train. An attractive new Continental Coupé joined the line, broadening the Continental's ownership possibilities. This was the first two door car offered by Lincoln since 1960, and it sold in numbers higher than projected.
As the race for more horsepower and performance progressed, Cadillac fielded the same 429 V-8 engine in 1966 that it had used since 1964, which was a bored out version of its 390, which dated back to 1959. Lincoln raised the cubic inch displacement challenge considerably in 1966 with its new 462 V-8, the largest in the industry at the time, and a record which Lincoln would retain until 1968 when Cadillac introduced its 472 V-8 engine. Not to be compromised, Imperial's new 440 V-8 was introduced in 1966, which was basically a bored out 413. It produced 350 bhp at 4400 rpm, and 480 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. Newly designed 45-degree shear-type rubber engine mounts were placed lower and closer to the engine center line, isolating the engine better than ever, thereby reducing vibrations at idle so much it was almost impossible to feel the engine running.
Chrysler's TorqueFlite automatic transmission was updated with a new cushion clutch that softened the shift from neutral to drive, and a new resin-impregnated clutch material was used which offered a higher coefficient of friction. The front pump housing was redesigned to reduce pump moan, and the rear oil pump was eliminated. The steering column mounted transmission selector lever was revised to provide a better "feel," and the two cable arrangement selector linkage of 1965 was replaced with a one rod design for more precise positioning of the range selector.
The exhaust system was modified in 1966 to reduce back pressure and improve engine performance by enlarging the tailpipe and integral muffler and resonator diameters from 2.0 to 2.25 inches, and the powerful new engine required additional cooling capacity which was provided by a 4 inch wider radiator core and a new plastic radiator fan shroud.
The new Tilt-A-Scope multi-position steering wheel was a new convenience option that allowed the steering wheel to telescope 2.7-3.1 inches and tilt up 2 positions, or down 3 positions, from center. A chromed collar on the steering hub unlocked the steering wheel to allow in-and-out movement, and a lever on the lower left side of the steering column when released enables the tilt feature. 30.4 percent of all Imperials were built with this feature, which would become more popular over the next few years, increasing to a 61.3 percent installation rate by 1969.
Chrysler built a unique show car based on a 1966 Imperial Crown Coupe named the Mobile Executive. Billed as an executive office suite on wheels, it came with everything an executive might need to perform business tasks while traveling to his next destination. The Mobile Executive made its rounds at the big auto shows in Chicago and New York, and offered a sneak peek at the Mobile Director option offered for 1967-1968. Never intended to sell in big numbers, the option was intended to bring traffic into showrooms, but few dealers ordered cars with the option due to its high cost.
For 1967, another all-new Imperial would debut. Sales would remain a disappointment, especially for a new body style that included a new model—the Imperial Sedan—which likely accounted for most of the sales increase. For 1966, the Imperial continued the proud tradition of being Chrysler Corporation's finest automobile, with styling, performance, ride, handling, and luxury second to no other car in the land, and in the opinion of many, superior to the top selling nameplates.