My Imperial story begins in 1968. I was six at the time, growing up in Michigan, the child of two school teachers. My father came from a working class family in the Pinconning area, my mother from an upper-middle class upbringing in North Carolina.
Every year we would spend a week or more visiting my mother’s family in North Carolina. I loved those visits. My grandparents were wonderful people and it was always a treat to see them. North Carolina became an almost magical place to my sister and me.
In 1968, my grandfather bought a ’68 Imperial Crown four door hardtop. It was white with a black vinyl top and a turquoise interior, and it was well-optioned. My grandmother liked it because it was longer than her sister’s Cadillac. I remember it as the most fabulous car I had ever seen. My dad drove it once and was very impressed; compared to his no-frills ’66 Bel Air it was quite something. As I got older I would wash and wax the car for my grandfather, but I never got the chance to drive it.
One of the pictures I've attached shows my grandfather and me in 1969, not long after he bought the Imperial.
By the early eighties, my grandparents decided to sell the Imperial. I was in college at the time, and when I learned that Papa was selling the car, I was desperate to buy it. He was trading it in on a new Imperial and the dealer was giving him $1,800 for the car. He thought this was far more than it was worth, but coming from salty Michigan, I thought that it was absurdly cheap for a rust-free southern car with 74,000 church-on-Sunday miles. The problem was that I did not have the $1,800 to purchase it. My father heard my pleas but did not advance the money to buy the Imperial. Looking back with kids of my own in college, I understand why my father said “no” and I think it was probably a lot harder for him to do that than I ever realized. I understand better now.
Years passed. I graduated from undergrad and went to law school. Somewhere in there I fell in love with Corvairs, another car from my childhood, and eventually ended up with two 1965 Corsas, a coupe and a convertible. In 1992, the opportunity to purchase a ’63 Olds Ninety Eight Holiday Sports Sedan came along. The car was exceptionally original and rust-free with acres of perfect trim. I fell in love with the car. I have always thought that it shared a lot of styling cues with the Imperial, which was one of the factors that influenced my decision to buy it. Mid-Michigan is the heart of Oldsmobile country, and the Ninety Eight seemed a perfect fit. It became a beloved member of our family.
I never forgot the Imperial, though, and over the years told the story many times of “the one that got away.” With the advent of eBay, searches for Imperials became a regular part of my routine. And so I watched many beautiful cars come and go.
My chance finally came in May 2013 when I found a ’68 Crown four door on eBay, 108,000 miles in Navaho Beige with a red interior. The car had no vinyl top, which I prefer, and was nicely-equipped with power locks, Safeguard Sentinel, rear defogger, tilt and telescope, cruise, air, a power antenna and AM signal seeking radio and a rear speaker. The seller’s description was brief but the pictures showed what looked to be a rust-free, very straight car. The seller indicated that the clock and rear power windows did not work. The interior looked very nice, but the driver’s seat had been covered in vinyl. A number of conversations with the seller confirmed that the air condition did work, the car had new front brakes, new tires, and apparently original paint. At a buy-it-now price of $3,500, this looked like an excellent candidate to me. I clicked the buy-it-now and hoped I hadn’t just done something very stupid.
I then set about the task of getting it home to Michigan from Bremerton, Washington. A couple weeks later the Imperial arrived, surprising us by arriving a couple of days early. The first thing I did was to pull the Ninety Eight out of the barn and take pictures of the two grand old dames, side by side. What a thrill!
So many years later, I often enjoy driving my own Imperial and every now and then I can imagine my grandfather sitting there with me. For me, it's not just a car. It's a time machine.