Oct 4, 2016

The Imperial Convertible...

Yours truly driving the '66 Imperial convertible in 1970.
Photo courtesy of James R. Kahrs, who took it from his 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible.
In 1970, I had returned to school at the University of Oklahoma after fulfilling my obligated service to the U.S. Navy.  I was enrolled in the College of Engineering, working in the Office of Financial Aids 40 hours per week, managing an apartment complex, receiving GI Bill benefits, and serving in the Navy's active reserve.  I don't recall any time during which I had more discretionary income.  And, I was horse trading cars just for the fun of it.

One day, driving on the streets of Norman, Oklahoma, I spotted an Imperial convertible.  I couldn't have told you the model year, but I knew I had never seen one before and that it had to be quite rare.  At the next traffic light, I asked the driver if he might pull over so I could look over his car.  He accommodated me and I got to check out the car and was informed that it was a 1966 model.  It was a stunning powder blue with a white top and white leather upholstery.  It looked pristine and had a little over 66,000 miles on the odometer.

I asked the gentleman if he might consider selling the car.  I'll never forget his response -- "I'd sell my grandmother if the price was right."  He informed me that he'd take $1,100 for the car.  That seemed to me to be in the right ballpark for a four-year-old Imperial.  The next day, the car was mine.

Over the next few weeks, I drove the car quite a bit.  It was quite peppy for such a huge, heavy car, with its 440 cubic inch engine.  It weighed about 5,300 lbs!    I learned that the car had cost well over $6,000 when delivered.  I wrote to the Chrysler Corporation to inquire how many convertibles had been produced in the 1966 model.  I also discovered that this particular Imperial convertible loved to consume oil -- lots of oil.  I had to add a quart of oil about every 100 miles!  It didn't produce any noticeable smoke, nor did it leak any oil in my parking place.  It just consumed massive quantities of engine oil.

One weekend I decided to detail the engine compartment.  As I examined under the hood, I noticed the original Protect-O-Plate.  This was a credit card sized plate that was issued to the original owner and was part of Chrysler's warranty program.  Embossed on the plate was a gentleman's name and the name of a dealer in Kansas City.  I called the information operator in Kansas City and got the person's phone number.

I called the individual whose name was on the warranty plate.  He was surprised to hear from me.  "Where's the car now?"  I told him it was in Norman, Oklahoma.  "Is it still burning a lot of oil?"  I told him it was and that that issue was the reason for my call.  He explained that he bought the car when his son was 16 years old and was learning to drive.  The car had been driven very hard from the day it was delivered and had never been broken in properly.  He complained to the dealer but they knew exactly what had caused the problem.  They wouldn't cover the cost of the needed engine rebuild because the car had been subjected to "racing events."  I had my answer.

I drove the car for a few more weeks while I priced the components I would need to rebuild the engine.  1966 was the first year of the 440 engine, and Chrysler really liked their parts.  Pistons were $30 apiece, valve assemblies were similarly expensive.  A full gasket set was nearly $100.  I didn't want to put another several hundred dollars into the car.  I decided to sell it.  I advertised it at $1,200.  The first couple to look at it bought it.  I had been totally up front with the oil issue, and even provided them with the price list for the total rebuild of the engine.  They bought it and drove off with smiles on their faces.

A few days after the car had departed, I got an answer from the good folks at Chrysler.  There had been only 514 of these cars produced.  This had been the rarest car I had ever owned.  I have often thought back, wondering if I had made a mistake.  Oh, well.  The memories are almost always sweeter than the reality.

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