It may be hard to believe in today’s world of stretch limousines and Navigators and Suburbans with deeply tinted windows but, back in the 1960s, most VIPs and celebrities were driven in impressive yet elegant conveyances. Nothing on a truck chassis. Heavens no. Among the most recognizable was the Cadillac Series Seventy-Five, a factory-built limo available with or without a glassed-in divider between driver and passengers. These cars were quite attractive and exclusive, but they were as common as a Chevy Biscayne when compared to today’s subject: The Crown Imperial limousine.
The “Chrysler Imperial” had been the top-of-the-line model for years by the mid-’50s. However, the corporation, viewing Cadillac with envy, wanted more. It wanted a dedicated luxury marque to compete with Cadillac and, hopefully, to take a lucrative slice of the high-dollar pie for themselves. So in 1955, Imperial became a separate marque above Chrysler.
In 1957 all Imperials were redesigned and proved very attractive with their new Virgil Exner-designed “Forward Look” sheetmetal, which was even swoopier than the handsome 1955–56 “Hundred Million Dollar Look” design.
Once the new car debuted, Chrysler Corp. naturally wanted a limousine version to compete with Cadillac’s offerings in the VIP/gentry market. Imperial limos had been built prior to 1957 but starting that year they would no longer be built on home base.
Ghia of Italy had had a relationship with the Chrysler Corp. since the early ’50s, providing it with one-off concept cars—then known as “dream cars”—for shows. Since Chrysler Corporation didn’t have the deep pockets that General Motors did at the time, the decision was made to have an outside firm do the limo conversions.
Ghia was enlisted to make the limos. Twenty five were built in that first batch and, as you might expect with a hand-build model that had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, they were very expensive. The Ghia-built Crown Imperial was available from model year ’57 through 1965. Of course, each year the limos were updated to match the regular-production Imperial coupes, sedans, and convertible. A grand total of 132 were made during that time.
Like the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 600 “Grosser” and Rolls-Royce Phantom V, these seriously luxurious motor vehicles were purchased by both the famous and infamous: movie stars and starlets, dictators, governors, and company presidents. Today’s 1960 Crown Imperial may be familiar to some of our readers, as it was originally ordered by New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and is currently on display at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
My friend Sal Darigo, Jr. took the photos seen here when he attended The Elegance at Hershey several years ago. He also frequently visits the AACA Museum itself, where the pictures of it indoors were taken. This is the only 1960 Crown Imperial with blind quarters, or C-pillars. All others built had a third side window aft of the rear door.
It is a seriously beautiful car, in your author’s opinion—and a car not frequently seen, anywhere. Unless you happen to live conveniently close to Hershey, that is. Special thanks to Sal for allowing use of the pictures! If you ever happen to spot a Crown Imperial at a show or museum or concours d’elegance, give it some attention. You may never see another one.
For even more pictures of this rare car, check out this link on Imperialclub.com.