Category Archives: Imperial

K-car saves Mopar

Orange you glad they paid back the loans?

Orange you glad they paid back the loans?

Chrysler’s recent emergence from bankruptcy to become a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brings to mind an earlier time when the company’s continued existence was in doubt.  Thirty-five years ago Congress debated a measure that would reassure lenders who were hesitant about extending credit to keep Chrysler’s sinking ship afloat.   At the urging of President Carter,  the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act was passed — over the objections of General Motors Chairman Thomas Murphy who called the measure “a basic challenge to the philosophy of America.” Speaking of “basic challenges to the philosophy of America,” the Chevette was introduced during Chairman Murphy’s tenure at GM. 

Playing all the angles

Playing all the angles

But we digress.  Over at Chrysler, once Public Law 86-185 was enacted resources were poured into marketing the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, the legendary K-cars, so named for the company’s internal code for the front wheel drive platform shared by both.  We can’t get over this 1980 commercial for the Aries in which no less a light than the real Chairman, a certain Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra declares, “America’s not gonna be pushed around any more!” Give ’em hell, Frankie!

Pentastar star car

Pentastar car

The cars were well made, comparatively reliable (Reliant — get it?) but were, essentially, dull as dishwater.  Styling was straightforward in a way that recalls a child’s typical depiction of a car as one box atop another — with windows and doors.  Nonetheless, the K-car twins were smash hits, giving Chrysler Chairman Lee Iococca, the company’s onscreen pitchman (“If  you can find a better car, buy it!”), a tremendous public profile that obliterated thoughts about the role he had played in the Pinto disaster back when he ran Ford.  The loans that the government had guaranteed were paid off ahead of schedule and, as a result, the U.S. Treasury got a $350 million bonus, though it was probably all frittered away in the Iran-Contra deal.

MoPar goes topless!

MoPar goes topless!

Chrysler, cleverly, used the K-car platform as a kind of automotive Hamburger Helper, creating new products from the same basic components.  The Chrysler brand launched its tarted up LeBaron derivative which became the basis for the first new American convertible since the demise of Cadillac’s much vaunted “last” one back in 1976.  Dodge gave the Aries an upscale treatment (and a convertible) and, inexplicably, named the result “400.”

Dodge drop top

400 of what?

Sign of the olden times

Sign of the (olden) times

Chairman Lee seemed to be enamored of fake wood and, in short order, launched the LeBaron Town & Country station wagon and convertible, both festooned with gobs of grainy goodness. An early LeBaron convertible, slathered with bogus timber, is for sale for under $7,000 here in nearby Woodland Hills, CA.  One of these went for almost twice that much at a recent auction so we’re thinking this could be the buy of the century, if not the millennium.

The answer to the deforestation crisis

The answer to the deforestation crisis

The platform was stretched, like so much pizza dough, for longer models including Chrysler’s New Yorker and the Dodge 600, though, again the Dodge’s model number seems to be a reference to nothing in particular. The K-platform underpinned the wildly successful Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans and even the seldom seen (or purchased) Imperial, Chrysler’s line topper that had come back from vehicular purgatory for a short run beginning in 1990.

Up with U.S. Imperialism!

Up with U.S. Imperialism!

My how you've grown

Imperial cruiser

That Imperial looks like two or three cars were grafted together to make one strange, billowy barge. Profit margins on these rococo K cars were higher than bare bones Aries and Reliants so they found clever ways to squeeze some additional dollars out of a dumbstruck nation.

Behold: the top of the K line

Behold: the top of the K line

The K-car marched into the next decade under a variety of names.  This Plymouth Sundance gives some indication of the abuse these stout machines could take.

Undercover K

Undercover K

That’s not just a festering dent on the right rear of this ’87 LeBaron; it’s a mark of character.

Le K

Le K

We really like the profile of this ’89 Dodge Shadow as seen on the mean streets of lower Manhattan.  A tip of the hat to Feral Cars Field Scout and self-proclaimed “car guy” Jim Bessman for this stunner!

Still life

Still life

Oh K!

Oh K!

Dig this archetypal Chrysler commercial with Chairman Lee closing the deal.  “Buy it!”

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MoParmigiana: Chrysler’s “Italian job”

Rattle + Squeaks: musings, ramblings and rants from FeralCars founder Bob Merlis

You got a problem with this?

You got a problem with this?

Big news this week that there’s an agreement for FIAT to buy the remaining 41.5% of Chrysler from the UAW Trust for $4.35 billion.  When Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler (billed as a “merger of equals” but, in reality, a Stuttgart-led putsch that went bad) in 1998, the price was $37 billion. Cerebrus Capital took that smoldering wreck off Daimler’s hands for $7.4 billion in 2007 and left it for dead.  In 2009, the federal government interceded, as it had in 1979, this time putting FIAT into the picture.

Spicy meatball alert!

Spicy meatball alert!

We’ve heard all the Fix It Again Tony jokes for years but the fact is that FIAT’s infusion of technology and management expertise in the person of CEO Sergio Marchionne has made Chrysler profitable and competitive in recent years.

NASCAR will never be the same

NASCAR will never be the same

Chrysler, under Italian leadership, isn’t going away and that should be a source of comfort to MoPar loyalists and especially to thousands of its workers and dealers.  Let’s hope it’s also a good deal per i nostri fratelli Italiani.

Lee pimped Frank's Imp

Lee pimped Frank’s Imp

Which reminds us of Lee Iacocca’s quest for an Italian connection when he was Chrysler’s chairman. Lido’s parents had immigrated from San Marco dei Cavoti and he was so proud of his red, white and green roots that he  joined forces with Frank Sinatra to offer a special Imperial model with The (other) Chairman’s initials on it.  On his watch, Chrysler did a nutty co-venture with Alejandro de Tomaso  that resulted in the awkwardly worded “Chrysler’s TC by Maserati TC.” Yes, that’s an apostrophe.  He  got thisclose to selling Alfa Romeos through Chrysler dealers in a deal with — get this — FIAT in 1988 and, oh yeah, he bought Lamborghini!  Not a Lamborghini but the Lamborghini.  In 1987 Chrysler Corporation,  bought, outright,  Nuova Automobili F. Lamborghini, straight outta Sant’Agata Bolognese.

Could there a minivan in Maserati's future? A pick up?

Could there a minivan in Maserati’s future? A pick up?

Fiat's crown jewel?

Crown of Turin?

Sunday! MoPar/Fiat top fuel eliminator shuts down the competition

Sunday! MoPar/Fiat top fuel eliminator shuts down the competition

 

Next gen Sebring is looking great!

Next gen Sebring is looking great!

Iacocca’s predecessor? A finance guy name John Riccardo whose parents had immigrated from (see above).  The forthcoming FIAT+Chrysler unified entity may be be called Fiat S.p.A. but these two have been playing footsie with each other for eons.  Anybody remember the Chrysler, Desoto, Dodge and Plymouth Ghia-built (in Turin) dream cars of the early 1950s?

Solid deal

Solido!

And what about Italo-American Chrysler-powered Dual-Ghia? That same Sinatra guy had one as did Dean Martin and the other Rat Packers.  Check out Dino’s ‘bella maccina,’ here, co-starring in Billy Wilder’s “Kiss Me Stupid”

If the past is any indication, Fiat and Chrysler’s ever evolving relationship is going to be interesting so we’re keeping an open mind and roof about the matter.

Author with pets

Author with pets

Ciao!

Bob Merlis / feralcars.com

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Up with U.S. Imperialism!

Nothing succeeds like excess!

We espied a truly amazing sight in a Palm Springs supermarket parking lot: a dusty ’61 Imperial bearing British Columbia plates, at least 1300 miles from home.  A very elderly couple, perhaps the original owners, had apparently driven the beast down for the winter and we were duly IMPressed.  When all other car makers, even Cadillac which started the trend back in 1948, had abandoned or diminished their rear fender appurtenances, Chrysler equipped its luxury marque with the tallest, most extreme pair of tail fins the car biz had ever seen.  Would  you look at the size of those things?  What a pair!  Note the shadow they cast — seems like some kind of Bat signal projected on the blacktop.  These are bigger than even those on the ’59 Cadillac which usually serves as the definitive hallmark of 50s-era “jukebox” styling excess.  Imperial’s fantastic aft quarters were downsized the next year so this is something of a last hurrah for this kind of design think — the literal “end” of the line.

We offer this this rolling art statement of a ’59 Cadillac for comparison purpose.59 Cadillac Limo

It’s kind of telling that the voice over of this ’61 Imperial commercial makes no reference to the fins.  The emphasis is on the free-standing lantern style headlights up front as well as the usual luxury trappings of a “fine car.” The fin party was pretty much over and Imperial seemed to stay too long.

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