Repair and Maintenance For Your Imperial's Pushbutton Transmission Mechanism



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Question from Jeff (1956):

With the recent posts regarding the colors of the tranny pushbuttons, I've gotten to thinking that mine probably should be lit at night which they aren't. My spare parts bin includes a set of pushbuttons and the linkage assembly, all of which looks quite complex. Therefore, I don't want to open things up until I have a good idea what I'm doing. The FSM confirms my suspicion by listing a bulb size but doesn't say anything about how to access it for replacement.

Can anyone shed some light (pun intended) on the subject?

Reply from Paul:

It has been years since I replaced this bulb, but when I did it, there was no problem. If you remove the chrome bezel, I think that the placement of the bulb is obvious. You may need a little "blub twisting tool" to reach in and change it. If you don't have one, it can sometimes be fabricated out of a small length of rubber tubing.

The pushbuttons on '61, '62, '63 Imperials are illuminated with a section of panelescent lighting. 1960 and before utilize a light bulb.

Question from Bruce (1957):

On my '57 post sedan, "neutral" and "start" are the same push-button. If the car is running and I push the "neutral" button too hard (that is, with the normal force a non-Imperialist would use), the starter engages & ginds. There's a slight detent where "neutral" engages. Pushing beyond this detent engages the starter. Is this the way it's supposed to be, or should the neutral detent be harder and make a bigger click? Or is there normally some mechanism that keeps "neutral" from becoming "start" when the engine is running? Could I remedy this?

Reply from Philippe:

Problem on the vacuum switch located on intake manifold (driver side near vacuum tank hose fitting): the switch is shot or missing or not correctly wired: 2 wires, one (yellow) coming from starter relay ("ign" post) and the other (brown) which goes to neutral switch on trans. You could test the switch if you remove it, apply some "vacuum" (i tried with .. mouth and it's work ..) ; put an ohmmeter on the posts: with no vacuum the 2 posts are shortened, with vacuum switch is open.

Question from Peter (1959):

When I bought my car the pushbuttons were out. The garage was able to re-install them, but they say that the pushbutton assembly is broken. They checked that the cable from the transmission to the assembly is alright.

Does it require a special trick to re-install the pushbuttons? Since they have been out completely. I got them in a box.

And if the pushbutton assembly is broken, I'd be grateful for any hint on where to find one.


From Norm:

1. There is no Park in this car 

2. The correct pattern according to the 58 FSM is N D R 2 1 

3. The lever you see under the pushbuttons is the turn signal lever.

There is no transmission position called "park" in 1959. The Chrysler series cars have an entirely different looking quadrant and in them, and in only them, the Neutral pushbutton starts the car as well. This is not the case in the Imperial.

From Steve:

Starting from the top the buttons should be "D N R 2 1" There is no park on '59. You must put on the parking brake to keep the car still. The buttons can be a bit finicky to get seated! Get one in and two other ones pop back out :-)

Many times you can find NOS assemblies for sale on ebay.

From Phil:

Norm is correct.  I'm not sure when Park levers started, but I expect it was in 1960.

From Bob:

To my recollection, the sequence from the top is: D N R 2 1. 1956 thru 1958 are "N" button starts; 1959 on is key start. 1963 was the first year for a transmission 'Park' lever; the parking brake function was taken over by the rear wheel brakes.

Clarification from Hugh:

This is getting confusing. Parking Brakes were always available on imperials. They were either hand activated or foot activated. Up until 62 or 63 they acted on the driveshaft as a result of a small drum and shoe mechanism being mounted on the rear of the transmission tail shaft. A PARK position on the transmission selector is an entirely different device that actually sticks a pawl in to a notch inside the transmission and thereby mechanically locks the propeller shaft . In addition to that, you may chose to engage the parking brake.

Addition from Doug:

In 1964, the government sent a mandate which was actually a request to auto makers. It stated that all controls on automobiles should be standardized for ease of use. So either Chrysler had to shift to column mounted levers or everyone else had to adopt push-buttons. Thus in 1965, the restyled Mopars appeared with shift levers on the column or console on sporty models. Imperials should have followed the same pattern.

From Bill:

Yes, the 1959 Imperial, and Plymouth, both with vertical buttons, had D-N-R-2-1. The 1959 Plymouth with the 2-speed Powerflite had D-N-R-L. The rest of the Chrysler Corp. line used boxes with 2 rows of buttons.

For 1960, Chrysler standardized the buttons - R-N-D-2-1 on the Torqueflite and R-N-D-L on the Powerflite. The Imperial and the Valiant, with its mini-Imperial dash, used vertical buttons while the rest of the company's cars used horizontal buttons. The horizontal buttons were also standardized with either R-N-D-2-1 or R-N-D-L. The Valiant, with its new aluminum-cased Torqueflite Six, had a parking sprag, parking brake on the rear wheels, Bendix brakes and flanged axle.

And the change from 1959 to 1960 did cause some confusion amongst drivers. "Special-Interest Autos" did an article on the 1960 Valiant a few years ago, and the author related an incident where the wife drove a 1959 Plymouth with Torqueflite and the husband bought a 1960 Valiant, also with Torqueflite. One day the wife decided to borrow the husband's car and was quite shocked when she hit the third button (R on her car) and drove into the garage wall ahead of her!

For 1962 Chrysler came out with the new aluminum-cased Torqueflite 727 for the V8 models. Although the new B body cars (Plymouth, Dodge Dart/Polara) got a parking sprag, parking brake on the rear wheels and Bendix brakes, the Dodge Custom 880, Chrysler and Imperial did not get these improvements until 1963.

So, the first Imperial with a parking sprag was 1963, which also the first year for Bendix brakes with the parking brake on the rear wheels. And the last year for the pushbuttons was 1964, although the cables lasted through 1965.

Just as Rambler dropped its transmission pushbuttons for the 1963 model year due to sales resistance, so Chrysler dropped the buttons for 1965. All the reports of the change for 1965 were accompanied by statements that the move was due to marketing pressure, with no mention anywhere about any government edict, unlike the announcements concerning the introduction of seat belts, padded dashboards, PCV systems, etc.

From Bob:

Interestingly, the 1959 (housing and slides) assembly is shared between Imperial and Plymouth, and is unique to them. The 1957-8 assembly is shared with Dodge. The 1959 Crown Imperial, of course, retains the 1957-8 configuration.

Question from Bill (1959):

Today I took my 1959 Imperial to Sears to put new tires on it. When I went to pick it up, they couldn't get it started. When I got in it I noticed neutral and drive 2 buttons were both depressed. I hit drive, and then reverse slightly and the car went into neutral, and I was able to get it started, but the neutral button would not pop out, so I had to balance the drive and reverse button until I could hear it go into neutral. When I got home I took the plate molding off, to see if I could get the neutral button to pop out. This is where my problems started, since the foam/felt type gasket was partially gone, all the buttons were all over the place, I got them lined up and back in the bezel, but none of them worked correctly, and the drive button came right out. I worked on it for sometime without success, since it was dark, and I couldn't see what I was doing. Does anyone know how you're supposed to install these buttons correctly? and are they supposed t o be so unstable when you take the trim bezel off? Help I can't go anywhere without my gears. 


From Steve:

The buttons should be should be unstable without the front bezel on. Get a flashlight and you can see where and how they should go back in. Inserting them all back starting at the bottom seems to be the easiest way. From the top it should be "D N R 2 1". Good luck to you.. I know how aggravating it can be trying to get them all back in and happy.

From Jeff:

I've had this same problem with my 59 Custom. The buttons usually "pop" off track when someone pushes them way too hard. As Steve said, take the face plate off and take all the buttons out. You'll notice that there are notches at the end of each button that plug into the mechanism in the dash. Start with the bottom button and work your way up, using a flashlight to see what you can.

I guess that my neutral safety switch is not just right....sometimes I have to push the reverse and neutral button partially in at the same time to get my car to start.

From George:

The problem might be that when 'they' pushed both buttons, one of the internal springs or copper locks got damaged, if the button won't pop out it might indicate this.

Question from Brooks (1961 & 1963):

On the 1963, which has some remaining red paint left in the letter "R", what color is the paint supposed to be for all the other buttons? I am enough of a purist that I would like to paint the "green one green, the blue one blue, the red one red" -- but not so much of a purist that I
would try to match the exact factory paint codes for this. (:-D) Also, what kind of paint would you use for this? Some kind of brush-on model paint? Or spray paint? Or what?

So any help? What color are the other letters supposed to be? There does not appear to be any trace of any other paint on the end of the '63's buttons - I guess their "backlight" is all whatever comes out thru that panelescent panel -- with the letter "floating" on that background.


From John:

On the '63, all the other buttons are white.

From Steve:

In '59 the button text was white excpert for "R" which was red. Doesn't help with your '63 question but maybe this part will.. When I repinted mine I painted the whole buttone face as you are thinking of doing and then cleaned it off with some very fine steel wool. The buttons looked great!

Question from Joe (1963):

I recently purchased a 63 Crown 4 door. I am relatively new to Imps. and the push button gear selector. When I test drove my car the previous owner told me to 1) pull the release lever under the dash, 2) flip the bar up, 3) select D or R. I drove the car from Illinois to Philly. She ran great but once in a while(3X) the car got stuck when I stopped to gas up. When I got home I consulted the owners manual from the Imp. website, and realized something was wrong. My brake pedal does not pop up when I select a gear. A few times when I had this problem, I heard air escaping when I pulled the lever. This has not happened lately, although the car "stuck", just the other day. I waited 15 min. with the motor off, tried it again and she rolled free. Someone in the mailing list suggested that I cap off the vacuum line and continue to use the emergency release. This will work, but is not repairing the problem. Can anyone help or has anyone else out there experienced this? 


From Kerry:

The permanent fix is to remove the vacuum release and have it repaired or get a new one.

From John:

One thing I always do is make sure I have enough tranny fluid in my monster. The torque flight transmissions are sometimes leaky if the car sits too long. If there is not enough tranny fluid, I can not move in reverse.

From John:

Since most people don't set the parking brake, the cables may be sticking. I had a 63 LeBaron that the front cable would stick & needed to crawl under the car to pull it loose. I was only using the parking brake at the time because the former owner accidentally put the car in park while driving & broke the cable. Once I replaced the cable, I never set the parking brake again. I suggest that once you get your car unstuck to not set the brake again.

Question from Larry (1964):

My tranny buttons are stuck in neutral? I pulled the cover off and got the neutral button out and now will someone tell me what keeps them in place?  The plastic rail hooks to the metal shift selector and I am not sure how to make this work?  Do they snap in place?  I'm wondering if the snaps are broken because when I removed them it had silicone holding them on.


From Bill:

I had the same problem in my '59, and it's kind of a puzzle to figure out, but I took all the silicone off the ends of my buttons, and you just have to get a flashlight and look in the dash where the buttons connect. There are connectors in the dash which have two metal tabs sticking out. The button has two slots, one on each side. These slots should slide securely into the tabs, and hold without silicone. I think the reason people have siliconed them is when you take the bezel off, and are not careful when doing it, you stand a chance of pulling several buttons off the connectors. While you're in there spay the metal connectors with a good lubricant. I now have mine working like brand new!

From John:

Another reason someone may have used the silicone is that some uninformed people think you need to pull out one button before pushing in another. This happened on my 60 when I had it brought here to Arizona. The flatbed driver that brought it from the drop off location told me it wouldn't start. I saw several buttons pushed in at once & knew what had happened. I had also left a screwdriver in the glove-box, as I had a feeling this might happen. I removed the bezel, reinserted the buttons & started it up.

Question from Brad (1964):

The "drive" button for my transmission doesn't come back out properly. As far as I know drive works but it just doesn't pop back out. How would I fix this?  Is there was a spring that could have broken?


From Ed:

I too have a button, #2 that stays in when D=Drive is pressed. I am pretty sure mechanisms for 62 and 64 are same basic design?

It can't stay in all the way, otherwise car would not shift into D=Drive.

But it pops out just a fraction to allow the D=Drive button to activate the transmission.

I have to 'pull' # 2 out physically, when I depress D=Drive.

I have taken all of the buttons out, realigned them, the felt liner, etc.

Still, to no avail.

Lubrication does not seem to help either. I believe there is a spring or something inside the Gearshift Control Housing Assembly that may be broken. There is slight rust showing on the box, indicating some exposure at one time or another to weather, before the car was restored.

The manual says you have to remove the speedometer to get to the control unit. My '62 sedan works perfectly, but is in perfect preserved condition, with no rust showing..

This ain't much help, other than letting you know that others have the same problem.

If I get mine figured out when I have more time for the car, I'll say how..

Maybe some other member has their dash apart at this time, with the "guts" to the "control box" available to look at.

Manual doesn't seem to help as it treats it as a unit and doesn't show any springs, etc.

From John:

Are you sure the buttons are installed correctly on the forks & the correct button on the correct fork? It is fairly easy to get them mixed up & they will bind when not on the correct forks. This will also activate the wrong gear. I've owned many 60,62, and 63 Imperials over the past 32 years and all such problems were always solved by cleaning or resetting the buttons back in the proper spots. Usually, pulling the buttons back by hand will cause them to come off the fork and bind.




Tips from Tony:

I spent three days rebuilding the transmission-buttons in my spare time. I lavished all sorts of care and effort on making them pretty. I took apart the whole assembly and installed a brand-new shifting mechanism. The buttons are clear-plastic again (they had corroded quite a bit) and the stainless-steel surrounds are buffed, after removing them and setting them aside. I went to the hobby-shop and bought a small bottle of Antique White train-set paint and some clear finishing-gloss. I took my glasses off (I'm very nearsighted, and can see MICROSCOPICALLY) and carefully picked the old, remaining paint-particles out of the "P", "R", "N", "D", "2", and "1" inset numerals.

Using 1200-grit sandpaper, I sanded the long, angular, rectangular acrylic buttons down so they were smooth and even. I poked holes in a cardboard box so I could stand the buttons vertically while the paint dried on the numerals. Every few hours, I'd smoosh a droplet of paint onto the numeral, not caring if there was plenty of overlap. I'd walk away for 20 minutes, and then I'd come back to find the paint had "sunk" into the numeral as it dried. I would dab a paper-towel into a cup of paint-thinner, allow the towel to become evenly moist, and then I'd wipe the top of the button. Any paint that was outside of the sunken numeral was wiped away easily.

I'd drop some more paint onto it and then repeat the process, over and over. This was the part that took several days, since I let the paint do a lot of drying. When I was satisfied that the numerals were completely opaque with paint, I applied several THIN coats of gloss, making sure to sand lightly between coats.

I re-assembled the buttons, stainless-steel surrounds and the shifting-mechanism, marveling at the large, flat "Panelescent" light-source panel next to the buttons. The whole 4-inch-by-six-inch panel glows. It's a rectangular section of metal that has been coated with Electroluminescent ceramic. It lays flat next to the clear-plastic shifting-buttons, and the buttons "pipe" the light to the numerals, causing them to glow at night. It's SO futuristic!

I tested the dash-lights as the sun was going down, and the push-buttons are awesome, glowing radioactive bluish-green. Seeing them, I felt like I had accomplished something wonderful. All of the dash-lights (except for the warning and turn-indicator lights) are powered by 200-volts AC, and you had better believe I kept the battery disconnected while fishing around inside the dash for dropped screws! I have heard of fellow Imperialists getting zapped good because they forgot that their dash will bite!

I lubed the heck out of the shifting-mechanism, testing the shifting-action over and over, because I had been unable to shift into or out of second-gear in the past with the old mechanism. Well, it turns out that problem is NOT the mechanism - It's the dash itself.

As far as I can tell, the pressure of 36 years of having the transmission-cable pull has warped the pot-metal dash, and the shift-mechanism now jams against the side of the dash in a bad position. I'm resigned to avoiding second gear until we can get the new dash-cover-pads reproduced, at which point an entirely different dash will go into the car. I will be having everything repainted in the proper red color while I'm at it.

Tips from Brooks:

I have a 1961 Imperial custom and a 1963 Crown convertible. At different times, I've removed the transmission push-buttons and put them back. The '61 was a couple of years ago, but the '63 was last night. On both cars, I discovered if I pulled hard enough, worked them back & forth, finagled, etc., I could work the chrome piece off the end of the lucite (is that what it is?) buttons, in order to better clean. I now have some observations and a question. And I'll loosely call them "buttons" for this discussion, though they're about 5" long each.

On the 1961: In the very end of the buttons, where your finger hits, each button had had a dollop of color added to the end, which appeared to penetrate about 1/8" or 1/4" (it's been awhile since I did this) into the length of the button, to give them different colors when lit. I believe (thought I haven't looked) that the letter itself was then painted white (R-N-D-2-1).

On the 1963, it is an entirely different story. The buttons are clear all the way to the end. It appears that the only coloring is in the paint. Some of the red remains in the letter "R", but that's the only paint I have left.





Repair Tips for 1963 and 1964:

The 1963 N button is very difficult to find. Installing it is also a project. Be certain to follow the 1963 Factory Shop Manual (FSM) exactly as presented.

I don't know if you are a skilled "do it your-self-er" but you may find this interesting. I was in the same predicament last summer on a very low mileage car. None of the usual sources were able to help including Imperial Heaven. I was told the button could not be repaired. This is a one year and Imperial specific part. 1961 and 1962 look the same externally but are not, since they do not employ the Park Lever. The 1963 N button actuates the Park Lever and is often missing or broken. Also beware- the replacement N button is easily broken during removal from a parts car and/or installation into your car if Factory Shop Manual procedures are not followed exactly. I highly recommend you review those procedures thoroughly.

I eventually found a good N button and kept it to use as a pattern to repair the broken one. I successfully repaired the broken one by fastening a steel rod to the "Park Lever Operating Assembly Attachment End" with a high quality epoxy in place of the tiny plastic "catch" that was originally molded into the end and attaches to the internal Park Level operating assembly. I selected a metal rod that fit snugly into the preexisting hole in the clear plastic portion of the N button assembly (carefully inspect around the fastening end and you will see this convenient well placed hole), then VERY carefully wrapped the steel rod around the end of the button assembly using various bending tools and pliers, finally gluing it all into place with the epoxy.

Once cured (48 hours) I was able to shorten and adjust the protruding attached metal rod to match the attachment point for the Park Lever, double checking the match with the good N button before attempting installation. The repair is stronger than the original. The new metal rod end is adjustable enough to line up perfectly with the other buttons once installed and also if bent into the right configuration simplifies a fully secure installation without removing the entire push button assembly (and some other the dash components) from the dash. Again consult the 1963 (only) Chrysler and Imperial Factory Shop Manual to review this somewhat complex procedure. Once installed be sure that the metal rod or any part of the repair doesn't come into contact or interfere with the operation of any other buttons or parts of the assembly.

In case you haven't discovered this, the car can be driven without the N button by using the other buttons normally and lifting the Park Lever to take the car out of gear. The car can then be started with the Park Lever in the up position and put back into gear by lowering the Park Lever thus unlocking and allowing the other buttons to operate normally. -Paul Wentink



1963 - What I did about twelve years ago when the end hook broke off my neutral button- I used a 4-penny finishing nail (I'm a professional wood-worker, so I always have things like that around the house) and JB Weld, did the matching and bending, and there has not been even a whisper of a problem since. I have a complete button tucked away somewhere, but it is my pattern should the need ever rear its ugly head again, and as stated by Paul, the repair vastly improves on the potentially weaker original. - Kristian Oyen




1963 - I got the assembly out without breaking the neutral button. It is mounted in an S configuration thru the metal slider and it is a square hole. The other 4 buttons pull out straight as the 61-62's I have. I had to remove the mirror adjust cable, both cables going to the push button assembly that control the Park cable and the cable for selecting gears. Gage cluster assembly removed. Door was already off and made it a ton easier to get closer to the A-post area under the dash. I may have set a record of only 2 cuts while removing. Doing this for the first time took almost 3 hours. Time consumed eyeing which and what to disconnect or do. I already had the car on a concrete pad.

Someone who does this once in a while would be more efficient at removal and installing. I took pictures after removal and I reassembled it as a unit.

While removing, I had a hard time removing assembly with the neutral button still in assembly and got a slight twist on the end where the "S" configuration is. It is still strong and not broken off. Any one with a 63, I also highly recommend Not pushing the N button in, but move the Park lever to obtain Neutral. I would never push the N at any time since I saw the weakness of this connection. Since I do not have a 63 shop manual, I removed it as careful as I could to learn the complexity. Now, back to getting more paint on my 61 LeBaron. - Joe Machado




1963 - I can't agree more with Joe. Expect fragile transmission buttons. The park lever (when equipped) on the pushbutton models will move metal to metal instead of stressing the N button with 50 yr. old "plastlc" button pushing out the other parts. For that matter, take care with all the buttons. Things aren't as tough today as they were 50 yrs ago. - Doug




1963 - In addition, '63 owners need to be extremely aware/cautious of letting those less educated attempt to operate the transmission. I have seen the "D" and "R" buttons damaged/broken as well, due to operators attempting to engage the transmission without raising the "park" lever. Make sure that any mechanic to whom you must entrust operation of the vehicle, is shown (not just told) how to operate the transmission. - Carl B. - '63 Lebaron




1964 - I made this repair to a 1964 "N" button once. I was able to use one Screw to hold the metal replacement tang to what remained of the plastic button.

I don't have fab drawings for the part I used or the exact hole location but these photos do share the general idea. Someone looking at a 64's N button would recognize what I've done more easily, then generate a similar repair. (If they're as handy and as determined as I was!) - Dave G

Click here to see Dave's Repair


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