Revisiting the 1981 to 1983 Chrysler Imperial

Revisiting the 1981 to 1983 Chrysler Imperial
By Greg Zyla

Q: Greg, I know you once wrote an article on the 1981 to 1983 Chrysler Imperial and I‘ve seen some for sale in Auto Round-Up. Since a relative owned an ’81 Imperial, can you give me an update on this car’s popularity in 2012? Thanks much, Henry L., Endicott, N.Y.

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Beautiful 1981 to 1983 Chrysler Imperial…last of the V8, rear drive, full size Imperials. (Chrysler photo).

A: Henry, the last real full size Imperial was produced in 1981 to 1983 after an absence of six years from Chrysler’s lineup. The 1981-83 Imperials were built when Chrysler was facing major financial trouble, and although a grand total of only 10,981 were ever built, it was a great looking car in my opinion.

These new Imperials were built on the B-body platform, home of the Plymouth Satellite and Dodge Coronets, and later the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare chassis. The new Imperial was then stretched to end up with the “full size” rear wheel drive offering. The Imperial also shared mechanicals with the very popular Chrysler Cordoba line, which debuted in 1975 and sold 150,105 units its first year! It would be the last Imperial to offer full size dimensions, rear drive and V8 power, although the engine would be way smaller than the 383 to 440 inch wedge V8s that powered Imperials of the 1960s.

The new ’81 Imperial came with a “first ever” fuel injected version of the popular 318 V8. It developed just 140 “government restrained” horsepower. Imperial’s 1981-83 styling was stunning and quite beautiful, as a Lincoln type front waterfall grille merged nicely with a rear deck that mimicked the second generation Cadillac Seville. The rear trunk was called a “bustleback” design, similar to the British cars from the Fifties like Rolls and Bentley. Some of the main features Imperial offered included Mark Cross interiors, electronic digital instrumentation and clearcoat paints. As for price, a fully loaded Imperial cost $18,311, and the only option available in 1981 was a power sunroof.
Imperials first year was not that great, as just 7,225 units were built. Thus, Chrysler head Lee Iacocca, who tried to mimic Ricardo Montlalban’s success in promoting the Cordoba on TV and in print ads, hired good friend Frank Sinatra to represent Imperial. Sinatra sang the jingle “isn’t it time for an Imperial” in commercials, but the economy wasn’t good at that time and consumers were purchasing gas savers and compact cars instead. Imperial sales dropped to just 2,329 in 1982 and only 1,427 the final year.

Today, a 1981-83 Imperial in good condition is probably worth about $5,500 to $8,500, although I feel in the future, these prices will escalate. Also, Imperials that appeared from the 1990 to 1993 were very small versions with V6 engine built on a tweaked K-Car front drive platform. These vehicles in no way resemble the Imperial line from 1981-1983, so If someone tries to sell you one of the K-Car Imperials, pass on it and look for a 1981-1983 Imperial.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions at or at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848).

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Originally posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2012 at 7:38 pm
Category:  Auto Round-Up News

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