Chrysler CL Imperial Dual Cowl Phaeton

Chrysler mounted a serious assault on the American fine car market for 1931 by offering a more affordable luxury car but with the beautiful styling and strong performance to match. The result was the incomparable Custom Imperial series. With their long-wheelbase chassis, flowing fenders and custom bodies designed and built by LeBaron, many consider these stately automobiles to be among the most attractive automobiles of the Classic Era.

The 1932 and 1933 chassis was a refinement of the 1931 Chrysler CG series, renamed the CL Imperial. The 1932 styling was clearly an improvement over 1931. Changes for 1933 marked yet another leap forward and included a more imposing frontal view and a sharply pointed grille that blended into the remarkably long hood line, achieved by overlapping the cowl and extending to the raked split windshield. In many ways, the 1933 models represent Chrysler’s ultimate aesthetic statement of the classic era.

The design firm of LeBaron Carrossiers Inc. was founded in 1920 by two of the most respected names from the era of the great coachbuilders, Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond Dietrich. Most interesting, Hibbard and Dietrich chose to operate only a design office, without actual coachbuilding facilities. This arrangement allowed them the flexibility to work independently from, and with, both chassis manufacturers and coachbuilding firms.

Design work began to flow in, and soon Ralph Roberts, who knew Dietrich from his time at Brewster, approached the pair. Roberts wanted to design cars, and when he applied for a job, Hibbard and Dietrich liked him enough that they offered him a full one-third partnership, with the provision that he serve as the firm's business manager. Hibbard wanted very much to work in France, and in 1923, he left for Paris to investigate the establishment of an office there for LeBaron. While in Paris, he met another American designer, Howard "Dutch" Darrin. The two hit it off and decided to start their own company, Hibbard & Darrin. In turn, Hibbard sold his shares in LeBaron to Roberts and Dietrich, moving to Paris.

At this point, LeBaron hired Werner Gubitz and Roland Stickney as draftsmen, designers and illustrators. Dietrich continued as chief designer while Roberts managed the business. Before long, Murray recruited Dietrich, and he too left the firm. LeBaron, meanwhile, continued to prosper, even after the loss of its two founders. Roberts proved to have a good eye for design and an excellent rapport with LeBaron's clientele. He and Stickney made a great team, with Stickney refining and implementing Roberts' original ideas. In 1927, Briggs, one of Detroit's largest body building firms, acquired LeBaron. Briggs' clients included Chrysler, Ford, Overland and Hudson. LeBaron continued to operate within Briggs, whose strong Detroit connections soon led to prestigious custom work for Lincoln, Cadillac and Pierce-Arrow. In effect, LeBaron became Briggs' in-house design label, much as Dietrich had become Murray's.

Shortly afterwards, Briggs hired designer John Tjaarda, and he and Roberts assumed joint responsibility for running LeBaron. Together with their design staff, the two men were responsible for LeBaron's designs for the next several years as the company was now ideally positioned to take full advantage of the burgeoning demand for coachbuilt bodies that developed throughout the 1920s. Design work flowed in from Duesenberg, for which LeBaron bodies were among the most prolific, as well as Marmon and of course the stunning CG and CL Chrysler Imperials.

In total, Chrysler ordered 50 Sport Phaeton bodies from LeBaron in 1932. Fourteen were initially shipped, although a few are believed to have been returned to the factory for updating with 1933 sheet metal and trim. Other than these updates, 36 of the 50 cars were originally built as 1933 models, and today, it is estimated that just 17 remain, including a handful of restored examples. In fact, LeBaron’s own Ralph Roberts was so enamored with the design of the 1933 Dual Windshield Phaeton variant that he ordered one for use as his personal car.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in March of 2011 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida.

135 hp, 385 cu. in. L-head, inline eight-cylinder engine with nine main bearings, three-speed manual transmission with vacuum-assisted clutch, leaf spring and beam axle front suspension, leaf spring and live axle rear suspension, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 146"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

Gallery: Chrysler CL Imperial Dual Cowl Phaeton