Chrysler Imperial CL Convertible Roadster

Walter Percy Chrysler always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He rarely, if ever, appeared to make mistakes. His Chrysler Corporation, born in 1925, was flourishing. By 1929, his stable of cars included the Plymouth, DeSoto, and Dodge, which encompassed the low and mid-price ranges. His own name was reserved for his top of the line, and the Imperial moniker was the appropriate designation for the finest in the Chrysler lineup.

Ego might have persuaded Chrysler to join with other luxury car manufacturers in succumbing to the temptation of developing 12- or 16-cylinder engines, but he never did. A needless extravagance that he thought was unnecessary (and the Great Depression would prove him correct). Walter Chrysler didn’t replace the venerable six-cylinder engine of his Chrysler namesake until 1931. Its successor was the “Red Head” straight-eight, which referred to the red high-compression cylinder head; it was not remarkable technically, but it was good for a 96 mph top speed and 0–60 in 20 seconds, a first-rate performance in 1931. Chrysler’s road-handling was already esteemed, and its ride qualities were superb.

Chrysler was notably impressed with the handsome lines of Errett Loban Cord’s front-wheel drive L-29, which was introduced in 1929. He thought that the front-wheel drive was unnecessarily extravagant, but its good looks were undeniable. Not averse to borrowing, much of the looks of the new Chrysler Imperial were L-29-inspired, including its lowness to the ground, its graceful curves, and its deeply set-back, canted grille. Despite his admission of admiration for the Cord, it was a look that was Chrysler’s own and the envy of the industry in 1931. All the Imperials offered in 1931 boasted semi-custom coachwork supplied by LeBaron, including phaeton, roadster, coupe, and convertible coupe styles—a total of 330 produced. For 1932, the Imperial was divided into two series, the CH and the CL, with both carrying the 384.8-cubic inch straight-eight engine; the former being offered on a shorter 135-inch wheelbase, while CL’s continued on the long 145-inch version. Chrysler knew a good thing and stuck with the classic styling theme through 1933.

Most semi-custom bodies were again by LeBaron in 1932. Supporting the coachwork was a new double-drop “girder-truss” chassis with a free-wheeling, vacuum-operated clutch, power-assisted brakes, and drop-center wheels. Engineering, always a Chrysler hallmark, was highlighted by details such as a high-compression engine that operated virtually vibration-free thanks to floating power engine mounts. Ride quality is described as superb, both then and now.

Little did anyone know that Chrysler was experimenting behind the scenes, and the stunning Imperials from 1931–1933 would be replaced for the 1934 model year by the radical Airflow. Just 151 found buyers for the final model year, including a total of nine LeBaron Convertible Roadsters.

Part of the RM Auctions event in Arizona in January, 2013.

135 hp, 384.8 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder engine, four-speed synchromesh transmission, front leaf spring and beam axle suspension, rear leaf spring and live axle suspension, and four-wheel hydraulically-actuated drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145 in.

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Pawel Litwinski

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