The Milhous Collection

24-25 February 2012

Previous Next

Lot 805

1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Five-Passenger Phaeton

  • Chassis no. 7803657
  • Engine no. CL-1357
  • Body no. 172-50

Sold for $1,210,000

Series CL. 135 bhp, 384.8 cu. in. eight-cylinder L-head engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 146"

• Stunning personal car of renowned automotive designer Ralph Roberts

• Unique custom features

• Believed to be the last example completed

• Exceptional quality restoration

• Known provenance from new, including Otis Chandler Collection

In July 1930, Chrysler introduced the Series CG Imperial. A vastly different automobile from its predecessor, it was larger, riding a 145-inch wheelbase, and had been completely transformed to what we now recognize as a classic icon. In place of the old 309-cubic inch six was an all-new straight eight, the configuration now favored in the industry. Actually, there were no fewer than four different Chrysler eights, but the Imperial got only the largest, a 384.8 cid, nine-main unit making 125 bhp. The Imperial line had been expanded too and now included four production bodies by Briggs, four catalogued customs and of course individual customs that one could order from a bespoke coachbuilder. The semi-custom bodies, roadster, coupe, convertible coupe and dual-cowl phaeton, were all furnished by LeBaron.

LeBaron and Ralph Roberts

LeBaron Carrossiers, Inc. was formed in New York City in 1920 by Raymond Dietrich and Thomas Hibbard. Their first customer was the New York branch manager for Packard, who commissioned them to draw up a seven-passenger limousine. Fleetwood built the body, and the customer was so satisfied that referrals began to come in. The New York agency for Lincoln ordered a short run of three body styles, a roadster, a berline and a dual-cowl phaeton. LeBaron was off and running.

Dietrich and Hibbard took in Ralph Roberts, a recent Dartmouth graduate, as a partner. Soon LeBaron was supplying bodies for chassis supplied by New York dealers for Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Minerva, Fiat, Hispano-Suiza, Packard, Cadillac and Pierce-Arrow, among others. Hibbard left for Europe in 1923, where he associated with Howard “Dutch” Darrin in Hibbard & Darrin.

Late in 1923, the owners of the Bridgeport Body Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut proposed to the remaining LeBaron partners that they become design partners, in exchange for stock. This had the win-win effect of providing Bridgeport Body with designers on tap and giving LeBaron a less-independent crew of constructors.

In 1923, Dietrich had met Edsel Ford at the New York Auto Show. The two hit it off, and a big order from Lincoln resulted. Before long, Lincoln became LeBaron’s best customer. Edsel was so pleased that he tried to get Dietrich and Roberts to move to Detroit. Both men were invited to the Motor City, ostensibly for technical discussions, but the agenda really concerned a buyout. Dietrich went alone because Roberts was ill and, overwhelmed by a generous offer, sold out his share of LeBaron and moved to Michigan.

Roberts and Stickney then soldiered on productively at Bridgeport. In 1927, however, Walter Briggs of Briggs Body Company in Detroit approached Roberts with a buyout offer. Finding it too good to pass up, Roberts accepted and departed for Detroit, where he and LeBaron became an in-house design studio for Briggs. Briggs was a major body supplier to the new Chrysler Corporation, so the supply of LeBaron designs for upscale series was natural. When Chrysler bought out Briggs in 1953, the LeBaron name was part of the package. Chrysler has been using the label on certain prestige models ever since.

Roberts and His One-off Imperial

In early 1932, the Series CG Imperial was succeeded by a new Series CH line, with double-drop frame, Floating Power and vee-type windshield. A long-wheelbase companion model, the CL Custom Imperial, was introduced at the same time. The CL line comprised six catalogued body styles, three of which were by LeBaron, and a handful of individual customs produced for specific customers. Unique to the CL was a longer hood, extending from the radiator shell back to the base of the windshield. Inspired by a car he saw in Paris in 1931, Roberts had a Lincoln so modified. Edsel Ford did not like the Lincoln’s experimental hood, but Walter Chrysler did and ordered it adopted for the new CL.

The CL was carried forward into 1933, with few changes. In 1932 the original dual cowl phaeton was replaced by what many call a sport phaeton with a crank-up rear screen, housed in the back of the front seat.

This Imperial Custom five-passenger phaeton is believed to be the last one completed. It is known to have been the personal car of Ralph Roberts, equipped to his order as a gift for his wife. As Roberts told writer Dennis Adler in 1985, “There were a number of unusual or experimental ideas tried on this car. One was the extended fender line and fender skirts on the rear. The radiator was painted, instead of chromed, the headlights were also different from those on the standard CL series bodies, and instead of having the spare wheels in the fender well, I had them moved to the back of the car.” This was reportedly accomplished with the mounting bracket from an old Locomobile. The wire wheels were also covered with “French discs,” making them look like disc wheels. With regard to the aforementioned headlights, they were placed much lower than usual, presumably an effort by Roberts to lower the frontal view somewhat.

Mrs. Roberts kept the car until the early days of World War II. The Roberts moved from Detroit to California in 1942. He told Adler, “it was hard to get tires and we didn’t want to drive the car across country, so we sold it in Detroit.” Later that year it was purchased by Bob Harrison of San Francisco, still in its original paint and with all the unique features. He kept it until 1960 but made some changes during his stewardship, including black paint and a stone guard. Fellow San Franciscan Bob Burkholder bought the car from Harrison and removed the top, using a canvas tonneau cover instead. The fender skirts became lost along the way, as did the wheel discs. By the time Adler’s article was published in Car Collector magazine in March 1986, the car still had its original upholstery, and the odometer showed some 75,000 miles. It was then in the hands of its seventh owner, Otis Chandler. Later owners would include Chrysler expert Joe Morgan in the early 1990s as well as Neil Wynn, who commissioned a complete restoration by Curt Austin, after which the car was awarded the Most Elegant Open award at Pebble Beach in the mid 1990s.

Prior to its acquisition by the Milhous Collection in 1998, the car resided in another prominent, award-winning collection. The Imperial continues to present fantastically in its correct original Moon Glow Polychromatic (a lovely shade of blue metallic that was introduced at the end of the production year), and great care has been taken to restore the original Roberts-ordered features: wheel discs and fender skirts. The restoration is exquisite throughout. The body contours, paint and trim are all exceptional. The interior is upholstered in tan leather and furnished with a rear seat arm rest. The floors have grey carpet, and the top is tan canvas, with matching tire cover at the rear. A set of side curtains resides in the trunk. The damascened instrument panel is superbly detailed, the odometer currently showing fewer than 78,000 miles, and the rear windshield raises and lowers with ease.

The engine compartment is correctly detailed, showing the red cylinder head with black hammerite block. The chassis and underbody are painted in body-color green, all well detailed. The motif is completed with B.F. Goodrich Silvertown whitewalls, nicely complemented with the reinstalled wheel discs.

Certainly one of the most stunning Chrysler Imperials ever built, this car’s presence is overwhelming. Perhaps Ralph Roberts summed it up best: “We built some really nice cars back then…to use a trite expression, ‘the right guys for the right job at the right time’.” Roberts and his colleagues were the right guys then, and the car holds up to their exceptional standards to this day.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more