What If? 1984 Imperial Crown Tourer
Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! — Jack Baruth
(Originally published in Car and Steerer, March 1984 issue)
Hey, pal! You like Magic Wagons, right? Somebody must like them, because in the short few months since Chrysler started production of the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan, the showrooms have been swept clean of every example. Rumors are that there are people who stalk the trucks carrying new examples from the assembly plant outside St. Louis, looking for a color combination they like then following it all the way to the dealer, where they offer cash on the barrelhead, pal!
Chrysler didn’t need to change anything to keep the lines running at full tilt, but someone’s clearly been thinking about how they can make more money out of each example they built. And that someone is old Lido Iacocca, the patron saint of opera lamps and landau roofs. So that’s how we get this mid-year model, the Imperial Crown Tourer.
For the last three years, Chrysler has used the Imperial name, which was once a standalone brand, as a model name for a Cordoba-based, rear-wheel-drive dinosaur. Primarily aimed at the kind of people who think a “Frank Sinatra” edition was a good idea (and those people were limited to Lee Iacocca and, uh, Frank Sinatra) the old Chrysler Imperial was a rolling embarrassment, a knife-edged Seville-alike with murderous quality problems and proportions to shame Pinocchio.
When the 1984 model year arrived without the Imperial, we should have known something was in store. And here it is. This is what you can see: the Crown Tourer takes the successful seven-seat Voyager formula and reimagines it as a—get this—four-seat van. Each of these seats is swaddled in Mark Cross leather, which might be Corinthian but we can’t say for sure, pal! The hood ornament is highly retro, recalling the Iowa-class Imperials of a decade ago.
Without much money to spread around, ol’ Lido couldn’t fully restyle the wagon for Imperial duty. So the changes are tacked on: some extra chrome for the outside, cornering lamps like you get on a Town Car, and a unique “shine-through” grille that apparently took some fussing to get past the DOT and is the reason the Crown Tourer is appearing late in the model year. With this arrangement, four halogen sealed-beam lights are located behind the grille’s chrome bars, which are thinner in that area. Using high-power headlamps allow Chrysler to meet certain standards for minimum illumination. Don’t cheap out when it’s time to replace them, or you might miss the entrance to your country club the next time there’s a fancy dinner party.
The four-passenger arrangement actually works very well, and removing the rear seat makes for a “trunk” that exceeds any Cadillac or Lincoln on the market in usable space. In our testing, the Imperial rode pretty well; like a Voyager, but softer, with more wallow. This isn’t what you would call an Autobahn warrior.
Which is a shame, because this wagon is fast. You can thank the new Chrysler Turbo 2.2, familiar to us from the Chrysler Laser and Dodge Daytona sports-K-cars. Lido knew that the wheezy response of the Mitsubishi “Silent Shaft” 2.6-liter four-banger wouldn’t satisfy the grandparents of America, who were raised on V-8 torque, so he made sure the new Turbo would fit in the van as well. With 142 horsepower against the Silent Shaft’s 109, this is a revelation. Oh, and the Crown Tourer is just a touch lighter than upscale versions of the Voyager, thanks to that missing rear seat. As a result, the wagon scoots to sixty in just 8.2 seconds and turns a quarter-mile in 16.4 @ 82 mph. Blame the low trap speed on aerodynamics and the relatively tame final-drive ratio needed to make three gears cover all potential ground.
But the Turbo isn’t the only outrageous part of the Crown Tourer. An all-digital dashboard features the first solid-state voice-warning system in the business. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like it. We’re too sophisticated for this sort of thing: our idea of a classy upgrade is a sweet Kamei plastic rear spoiler on a Jetta, or maybe some Turbo-styled aftermarket rear-view mirrors.
There’s really just one problem with the Imperial Crown Tourer: the price. A base Voyager starts just over nine grand, but the Imperial costs $19,999. That’s the only price you’ll pay, as there are no options. Chrysler points out that a mid-range Town Car is $21,076 without front-wheel drive or a six-speaker sound system, but we say that you can’t expect buyers to pay double the asking price for a minivan. What’s next? Asking people to pay twice the base price for a “luxus” version of the Toyota Camry? That should happen around the time that BMW stops offering manual transmission, which will be never.
After an unfortunate incident in which our road warrior Spaniel Felson accidentally backed our test Crown Tourer into Lake Michigan, we were unable to get complete handling and slalom data for the Imperial Crown Tourer. Don’t expect them to be very good. This is a leather-lined unguided turbo missile for the Stepford Wife with everything. It might not have the suave sophistication of a BMW 528e, but it’s also $4500 cheaper. The line starts at the car-hauling truck, pal!