Simplified but Elegant

from Road Test, June 1972

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For a combination of reasons, the current model year produced very few "all new" car offerings. One of the handful which was considerably revised was and thus rates this status is Chrysler Corp.'s prestige auto, the Imperial LeBaron, subject of this ROAD TEST evaluation. For 1972, the Imperial got a new body and, in the process, substantially changed styling. It now has what Chrysler calls "simplified but elegant" lines. To many critics of car design the Imperial comes off as one of the most tasteful renditions on the contemporary scene. In all basic ingredients, Imperial's appearance looks like it will be good for several years and also stand the acid test of time and trends -- something some earlier versions (and those of the competition) didn't.

As was the case last year, the Imperial LeBaron lineup is super simple, consisting of but two cars. These are the 2-door and 4-door hardtops, both on 229.5" bodies, each with the same 127" wheelbase -- three more inches than Chrysler models. Variety, in the Imperial lineup -- and individuality -- are via the extensive option route, plus a wide choice of exterior finishes, interior colors, fabrics, other materials -- and bucket seats, to name just a few items. Standard equipment on all '72 Imperial cars makes a list so long we won't take up the large amount of space needed to name all of them. Highlights include vinyl top, air conditioning, tinted glass, power windows, steering and brakes (with discs in front). In addition, ROAD TEST's car had a group of options also too long to enumerate in this introduction, but covered later. Most important of these, and the only one we asked for on a "must" basis, was the Bendix Corp. 4-wheel anti-skid system, which costs a tidy $344 extra and, we feel, is worth every dime of that sum. Chrysler calls the Bendix system "Sure-Brake." We tested it at the firm's proving grounds at Chelsea, Mich. in June of 1970, prior to introduction for the first time anywhere as an option only on the '71 Imperial. We had another turn with it on the Bendix skid pad at the firm's South Bend, Ind. proving ground last July. But for this report a few weeks of typical commuter and out of town trip driving, plus some brake tests of our own were wanted to get an unsupervised feel of this all-wheel package, which no other U.S. car offers.

A few other basic details about ROAD TEST's car: it was a four door LeBaron finished in a tastefully attractive exterior finish called gold leaf metallic. Interior had a luxurious gold cloth combined with leather and high quality vinyl. The car was nearly new -- 08469 miles on the odometer. With the many options this car had you'd have to bring about $8,000 to the showroom. And not expect much -- if any -- change back. The "bare" base price in Detroit, without taxes, tags, preparation charge (or even a radio, for that matter) is $6762. And worth it. Unlike the case with most cars, the prospective purchaser of a 1972 Chrysler Imperial doesn't have to contend with a long list of possible variables in the drive train category. There's but one engine, one transmission, one axle ration and one suspension. Only driveline options are an anti-spin differential and a choice of tires -- there are two extra types. Powering the Imperial is the well-proven single 4-bbl. 440cu in V8, one of the best balanced, smoothest running auto engines in the world. It produces 225 hp at 4400 rpm and 345 lb. ft. of torque at 3200 rpm (both SAE net) and runs very happily on regular grade fuel, having a compression ration of 8.2 to 1. Most important improvement in this engine for the '72 Imperial is use of Chrysler Corp.'s new transistorized electronic ignition system, which avoids design requiring breaker points and is therefore maintenance free except for a few drops of oil on the simpler bearings every 24,000 miles. It's optional equipment and provides faster starts in all weather. Higher secondary (spark
plug) voltage particularly at the higher rpm's helps keep the plugs clean for peak performance and at the same time extends their life and for high speed driving output. Water pump design has been revised, again for longer service, now having a rotating ceramic element. Imperial's automatic transmission, unchanged since last year, continues as one of the smoothest and quietest in the industry. It drives the wheels through a 3.23 to 1 differential.

ROAD TEST's car had Chrysler's optional Sure-Grip rear, which costs an extra $56.80. It is well worth the price in better traction and reduced back tire wear. This is particularly true if the car will be operated much on ice, snow or poor friction surfaces and if the driver often has a tendency to punch hard in starts from a standstill, as will be covered. The typical buyer of a big U.S.-built luxury car isn't supposed to expect that a lot of engineering emphasis has been placed on the auto's power-performance capabilities. These attributes are usually pretty far down on the priority list of those who buy this kind of vehicle. However, an increasing number of luxury car buyers want more than sheer comfort and a lot of conveniences in today's prestige cars. There's a growing need for get up and go in traffic. Like getting onto a high speed turnpike and in hard-nosed and moderately high speed commuter traffic. Result has been a trend to make the previously somewhat sluggish large "quality" cars much better performers. Peak torque developed and the consequent acceleration rates are much improved over a decade or so ago. The '72 Imperial is a good example of this trend and even a little surprising for an auto which tips the scales (without passengers) at over 4900 lbs. If the driver puts his foot into it, this car will move out with just about everything on the road except performance types. It will probably out-accelerate over half the late model cars on the road. With transmission preloading, a problem with the Imperial, ROAD TEST found, involved initial rear wheel traction, even with the optional licking axle, which the car had. To avoid excessive tire spin on all but very abrasive surfaces anything close to maximum torque must be avoided until after the Imperial is underway a few feet. Otherwise elapsed times will suffer. So will the tires, from accelerated wear. Interestingly, the 440 engine is sufficiently muscular that ROAD TEST got ET's which were almost as quick from idle, with a fast, smooth flooring of the accelerator as when the brakes were set and the transmission loaded under maximum rpm. The Imperial was perhaps most impressive in runs from standstill to 30 mph. From idle, this required 4.8 sec. Transmission pre-loading cut it to 4.7 sec. Best zero to 45 mph times were 7.0 sec. from idle and 7.2 sec with pre-loading. From standstill to 60 mph required under 12 sec. with the best time from idle being 11.5 sec. Only 11.2 sec. was needed with the transmission loaded. With pre-loading 0 to 75 mph required 15.3 sec. and 15.7 sec. from idle. Best quarter mile  ET was 16.6 sec.
There was a significant variation between running times for specific types of runs depending on tire spin. Some difficulty was encountered in getting minimum burn consistent with quickest acceleration. It's easy to get excessive slippage from a standstill if the accelerator is floored too quickly. As might already have been guessed, Imperial performance in traffic doesn't leave anything to be desired unless the driver is of the confirmed hot rod type. Part throttle kickdown helps make the car almost nimble in operation at rapidly changing speeds and picking its way through the pack.

Roadability-wise, the 1972 Imperial is one of the best cars on the highway today. Very few of autos come close to
equaling it. One thing that makes it a great car for long trips at high cruising speeds is solid mass -- just a few pounds short of 2.5 tons. Chrysler engineers have brought the combination of torsion bar suspension in front, and long supple leaf springs in the back, with modifications in shock absorber design and valving, to a very high state of refinement. Helping too is one of the most sophisticated rubber bushing isolation packages in production. It provides an abundance of harshness absorption while maintaining a comparatively firm feel to the car. About the best way to sum up Imperial's overall roadability characteristics is to observe that the car gives a feeling of having been designed to run a lot faster than most state laws -- and the general level of highway construction -- permit. On an Autobahn in Germany, the auto could probably cruise rather effortlessly at 100 mph all day long without tiring the driver. We're assuming, of course, that he has the skills and experience to run a car at that kind of speed. All this may not seem to have any bearing on today's U.S. highways and traffic conditions. It has. Point is that by producing a car with the high degree of roadability at top speeds, Chrysler engineers have put together an auto which is almost tame in the 65-75 mph ranger. In a single day's time an Imperial can eat up an impressive distance and still not leave a driver particularly tired. In the handling category, of course, the Imperial can't be compared with autos which have the necessary suspension compromises (to ride quality) in order to excel in that respect. However, when subjected to rough treatment, the car does better than might be expected of a large luxury auto. It's a fairly predictable vehicle and a forgiving one, with no bad handling personality traits. Purists, however, might fault the car for some understeer in hard direction changing, and perhaps for insufficient steering feed-back, but pushing the Imperial that far is really measuring it against the standards for another type vehicle. For some drivers of big passenger cars, the Imperial may seem a bit massive, up front, particularly in overall broadness of the hood and fenders. But the car gets smaller the longer it is driven. It handles well in traffic. But for maneuvering in parking lots and other tight places, some planning ahead and a bit more than average jockeying is required. These situations make the driver aware that this car has that 127 in. wheelbase, is 229.5 in. overall in length and requires over 44 ft (curb to curb) for a turn. Still, for what is offered on the open road, the less maneuverable characteristics of a big car can be tolerated.

More than any other way, it's in comfort and convenience that the '72 Imperial stands out the most. The car provides a level of transportation which, to some tastes, is unequalled in a number of respects by any other U.S.-produced auto. Much that is standard equipment is of comfort-convenience type so that little is left for the prospective owner to order in the way of options. If the approximate cost of all these otherwise extra-cost items is subtracted from the car's price, the theoretical sticker total for the basic Imperial, seen in that light, is reasonable indeed. Miscellaneous standard items include an electric clock, courtesy map and glove box lights, rear seat reading lights, storage compartments with snap down lids in all doors, tripometer, 100% cut pile carpeting, automatic seat back release (2-door cars), rim blow steering wheel, four cigar lighters, inside hood release, 12-in. day/night inside mirror, remote control left outside mirror, remote trunk release and undercoating. All the above tends to insure pretty high level of traveling comfort and convenience.
Of other items available, at least one -- a radio -- is considered desirable. That item isn't standard on the Imperial, because there's a wide choice here and buyer's tastes vary so much it would be difficult to settle on a base model. The five currently
available installations: AM/FM with search tuner and floor tuning control -- $244.80; AM with 8-track stereo tape player -- $271.50; AM/FM stereo -- $301.60; AM/FM stereo with eight track tape player -- $410.75 and AM/FM Stereo with cassette tape player -- $436.40. All radios come with the power antennas at no extra charge.
Other comfort and convenience-related options include automatic temperature control, which may be added to the standard air conditioner for paltry $18.10. For hot weather areas, dual air conditioning with automatic control costs $250.80 additional. With it you must forgo the otherwise available rear window defogger, which is priced at $31.15. ROAD TEST's car had the accessory group ($46.90 extra). It consists of a right outside mirror, color keyed floor mats, carpeted spare tire cover, and door edge protectors. Usually it's our practice to devote the immediately preceding portion of our evaluation
to how a car rates in comfort and convenience, rather than take the space to cover what you get to contribute to these qualities, as we have done. Which leaves us no room to say much about our reactions to the car in this respect.

Suffice it to say simply: It was great! If there was an annual award for the safest car built in the U.S., Chrysler Corp.'s Imperial, equipped with the optional Bendix 4-wheel anti-skid system would surely be a top contender. Of all domestically produced passenger cars, only Imperial has a 4-wheel anti-wheel lockup package, to stress that point by repeating it. Similar systems offered by Ford and General Motors are of the 2-wheel type, operating in the rear brakes only. The Imperial all-wheel approach isn't twice as good as these, because preventing back wheel lockup is recognized as doing over half the job. But the Bendix design offers one important plus. By making it impossible to lock the front wheels, steering control is retained with the Imperial installation even on very slippery surfaces. There's no need to get into the philosophy behind the 2-wheel versus 4-wheel approaches, other than a few sentences to summarize each. It all comes down to a matter of dollars and cents, and customer acceptance. The Ford and GM 2-wheel systems cost around $200 while the Bendix-Imperial package runs $344.00. The latter sum has kept sales of the all-wheel system very low: Only 293 Imperial buyers out of 12,221 specified it during the 1971 model year -- 2.4% of total sales. In the '72 model year, the figure is a bit higher: around 5% of 7803 Imperial sales through Feb. 29th. But Ford and GM have done much better in selling optional 2-wheel anti-skid: Its cost is the apparent main reason. Still, Imperial's anti-skid is an impressive system. In addition to planned checks of the option's performance, as part of brake evaluation, there was some routine driving on packed snow in which the option automatically came into play. A few other incidents involved stops in traffic on both wet and dry roadway which were
sufficiently quick that there might have been wheel lockup. Here too the Sure-Brake installation operated -- it is in a way a tire saver, too, preventing flat spotting.
Aside from the anti-skating feature, Imperial's breaking system, with power assist front discs, is quite effective. In stops from high speed it might even be classed as impressive, considering the car's weight (4955 lb). On stops from 60 mph on dry but moderately worn pavement all were accomplished under 180 ft with the best measuring 169 ft. Imperial's brakes -- considered apart from the Bendix package -- exhibit very good resistance to premature wheel lockup. Unless excessive line pressures are induced by panic-type application, the anti-skid system didn't normally come into play on high friction road
surfaces. However, if line pressure isn't dropped a little towards the end of a high speed stop (by easing pressure on the pedal) there will be tendency for one or both rear wheels to stop turning. At this point anti-skid functions briefly.
Aside from Imperial's braking system, the car gets top marks in other safety-related aspects. Visibility is very good all around, with the rear glass providing a much better (broader) view than expected. It's actually more than the big (12-in.) inside day/night mirror covers. The remote-control left mirror adjusts easily and the matching optional right mirror (part of the accessories group) is a safety plus. Circuits (bot standard) which lock all four doors from the driver's seat, and inactivate the power window mechanisms may also be considered safety features. (Window locking prevents children from playing with these switches.)
The windshield wiper-washer system on the '72 Imperial represents an improvement over prior models. When the washer button is depressed, the wipers automatically begin operation. Nice washer feature is that spray is produced only when the button is kept pressed down, permitting the driver to use as little -- or as much -- fluid as is needed, but no more. This arrangement conserves fluid since a fixed amount isn't used when less is required. Adjustable headlight dimming, which may be varied for early or late switching to low beam is another safety feature. So is the time delay on headlighs which permits illumination for a minute or so after leaving the car at night.

To tell it like it really is, the current Chrysler Imperial is a far better automobile than sales suggest, when compared to those of the General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac and Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Continental. It's a good question why so many buyers of top line cars buy other than Imperial. Two reasons, in particular, are rather widely accepted by auto industry observers. One is image, which Imperial doesn't seem to have to the degree of the others. Then there's momentum developed over the years by the competing makes, particularly Cadillac. It is very hard to get a driver to switch from that estimable auto after he has owned a few, several or many of them over a long period of time and has been generally happy with most -- of not all -- of them. This road tester happens to fall into this category. Still, after a couple of weeks behind the wheel of a new Imperial, at least a few car owners -- and maybe more than that -- might well be tempted to switch to this car. It exhibits no defect in any respect, suffers only from lack of exposure. If and when a way is found to correct that situation, Chrysler Corp. will be selling a lot more Imperial cars; it deserves a greater following.

All of the information provided is courtesy of Road Test Magazine from their June, 1972 issue.

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