10-11 October 2013
1933 Chrysler CL Imperial Convertible Roadster by LeBaron
- Chassis no. 7803565
- Engine no. CL1265
- Body no. 171-40
Sold for $704,000
- One of only nine built; one of six known to survive
- Multiple-award winner, including the CCCA Warshawsky Award
- Eligible for all CCCA Grand Classics and CARavans
Walter Percy Chrysler always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He rarely, if ever, appeared to make mistakes. His Chrysler Corporation, born in 1925, was flourishing. By 1929, his stable of cars included the Plymouth, DeSoto, and Dodge, which encompassed the low and mid-price ranges. His own name was reserved for his top of the line, and the Imperial moniker was the appropriate designation for the finest in the Chrysler lineup.
Ego might have persuaded Chrysler to join with other luxury car manufacturers and succumb to the temptation of developing 12- or 16-cylinder engines, but he never did. It was a needless extravagance that he thought was unnecessary (and the Great Depression would prove him correct). Walter Chrysler didn’t replace the venerable six-cylinder engine of his Chrysler namesake until 1931. Its successor was the “Red Head” straight-eight, which referred to the red high-compression cylinder head; technically, it was not remarkable, but it was good for a 96 mph top speed and 0–60 in 20 seconds, which was a first-rate performance in 1931. Chrysler’s road handling was already esteemed, and its ride qualities were superb.
Chrysler was notably impressed with the handsome lines of Errett Lobban Cord’s front-wheel drive L-29, which was introduced in 1929. He thought that the front-wheel drive was unnecessarily extravagant, but its good looks were undeniable. Chrysler was not averse to borrowing, as much of the looks of the new Chrysler Imperial were L-29-inspired, including its lowness to the ground, its graceful curves, and its deeply set-back, canted grille. Despite his admission of admiration for the Cord, it was a look that was Chrysler’s own, and it was the envy of the industry in 1931. All the Imperials offered in 1931 boasted semi-custom coachwork that was supplied by LeBaron, including phaeton, roadster, coupe, and convertible coupe styles, and resulting in a total of 330 produced.
For 1932, the Imperial was divided into two series, the CH and the CL, with both carrying the 384.8-cubic inch straight-eight engine; the former was offered on a shorter 135-inch wheelbase, while CLs continued on the long 145-inch version. Chrysler knew a good thing and stuck with the classic styling theme through 1933.
Most semi-custom bodies were again by LeBaron in 1933. Supporting the coachwork was a new double-drop “girder-truss” chassis with a free-wheeling, vacuum-operated clutch, power-assisted brakes, and drop-center wheels. Engineering, always a Chrysler hallmark, was highlighted by details such as a high-compression engine that operated virtually vibration-free, thanks to floating power engine mounts. Ride quality was described as superb, both then and now.
Little did anyone know that Chrysler was experimenting behind the scenes, and for the 1934 model year, the stunning Imperials would be replaced by the radical Airflow. Just 151 Imperials found buyers for the final model year, including a total of nine LeBaron Convertible Roadsters, with one of which actually being used as an official pace car for the Indianapolis 500 that year.
CHASSIS NO. 7803565
According to a supplied copy of the original build sheet, this car was originally delivered new on February 25, 1933, in Chicago, and it was finished in beige with a leather interior. It had made it into the hands of collectors by the early 1960s, with the first being Paul Hammond, of Lansing, Michigan, and then later with Joe Loecy, of Chardon, Ohio. By the time that it was acquired by James Rumsey, of Grand Island, New York, it had been restored in cream, with brown fenders and a burgundy leather interior. Rumsey held onto the car for over 20 years, before eventually passing it in 1988 to well-known Imperial specialist Ed Perkins, of Connecticut, who has described it as being a highly correct and authentic example.
In 1991, Perkins was driving his Imperial around the Stowe, Vermont, area while he was attending the annual car show there. The current owner, a well-known, long-time CCCA member, spotted the Chrysler, followed it around until Perkins parked, and then started a conversation, which ultimately resulted in the acquisition of this car.
Six years later, a fellow collector made the owner an offer that he accepted, because, by this time, the owner had acquired another 1933 Imperial Convertible Roadster that was fully restored. It soon passed to Dr. Ed Rittenhouse, of Seattle, Washington, who, in 2002, commissioned Walt Johnsen, of The Auto Shop in Bainbridge Island, Washington, to fully restore the Chrysler to the highest of concours standards.
Johnsen, a highly regarded restorer from the Pacific Northwest, performed all of Rittenhouse’s restorations, with a number of Firsts at Pebble Beach to his credit. In order to make this car as correct and accurate as possible, a visit was paid to well-known collector Dave Kane, who had recently completed one of the other six known surviving Convertible Roadsters from an unmolested original.
With the assistance of Rittenhouse, who assisted greatly in order to occupy himself in the early years of his retirement, the car was disassembled down to the bare chassis, and every component was rebuilt and restored, as necessary. Even the engine, which had been fully rebuilt by Perkins, was disassembled and rechecked. Johnsen recalls that this was likely the first time the body had ever been removed from the chassis, as the disassembly revealed a great deal of original paint.
The result was, and still is, simply stunning, with the car finished in a highly attractive straw color, with beige fenders, a beige leather interior, and a tan cloth top. With the work completed in 2006, the car was debuted at Pebble Beach in 2007. It achieved the recognition of winning a class award, followed by being judged 100 points and winning the CCCA Warshawsky Award for Best of Show at a meet in January of 2008. In June of that year, it won a Senior Award, followed by the Designer’s Choice Award and Class of 1933 Award at Meadow Brook Hall and a Best of Show Award at Forest Grove in 2009.
Following its showing, it was re-acquired from Rittenhouse by the same noted CCCA member and collector that owned it in the early 1990s. Now, with the need to downsize his collection, he has opted to pass it on to its next owner. Retaining its original engine, body, and chassis, this example is a pleasure to drive and is exceptionally restored.
Highly regarded by marque specialists as being as correct and accurate as can be, chassis 7803565 will always remain one of the superlative examples of the Imperial, as it is from the most sought after and renowned year of production.
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