Back when cars were still magnificent expressions of freedom and adventure, and wealth, their makers had enough self respect to actually name them instead of branding them with a bunch of alphanumerics as if they were mere things, commodities.

Nobody did it better than the Americans. They made cars with names like Ambassador, Skylark, Starfire, Meteor, Comet, and Great Arrow. They made cars that made you remember. These days no one but the anoraks can distinguish between yet another QX or XV or Q or X, followed by some completely extraneous random numbers.

And amongst the Americans, nobody did it better than Chrysler. The Pentastar’s got a strong case: Airflow, Avenger, New Yorker, Royal, Thunderbolt, all great names. But Chrysler Imperial was the greatest. Introduced in 1926 Chrysler launched the Imperial to rival the best cars in the world, from Duesenberg, Cadillac, Pierce Arrow, and the Europeans too. The name perfectly fit Chrysler’s ambition to reign supreme over its competition.

Over several decades the Imperial served presidents, prime ministers, and America’s elite from Hollywood to Fifth Avenue. By the Sixties it was four times the price of, say, a Chevrolet Impala, and likely the most complicated and exotic car in the world at the time, with its electric everything including a trick power operated convertible top, and suicide doors.

Built in a dedicated plant west of Detroit reserved for Chrysler’s highest priced models, the Imperial even survived into the oil crisis era during the Seventies and somehow kept on going all throughout the Eighties, although by then it was merely a shadow of its former regal self.

In 1990, however, Chrysler really went overboard and soiled the Imperial name forever with one of the most depressing cars ever made. In fact the 1990 Imperial was so poor, based on Chrysler’s economy car front-wheel drive platform, that after just three years on the market they discontinued the thing and never dared bring the name back again. Only a little over 40,000 were sold during the car’s production run.

Chrysler toyed with the idea of an Imperial revival with a bulbous, ungainly concept released in 2006, but the brand damage done by that last generation model was deeply inflicted.


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