My Imperial Story
June 6, 2013
My Imperial story begins in 1968. I was six at the time, growing up in Michigan, the child of two school teachers. My father came from a working class family in the Pinconning area, my mother from an upper-middle class upbringing in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Every year we would spend a week or more visiting my mother’s family in Charlotte. I loved those visits. My grandparents were wonderful people and it was always a treat to see them. Charlotte became an almost magical place to my sister and me.
In 1968, my grandfather bought a ’68 Imperial Crown four door hardtop. It was white with a black vinyl top and a turquoise interior, and it was well-optioned. My grandmother liked it because it was longer than her sister’s Cadillac. I remember it as the most fabulous car I had ever seen. My dad drove it once and was very impressed; compared to his no-frills ’66 Bel Air it was quite something. As I got older I would wash and wax the car for my grandfather, but I never got the chance to drive it.
This is a picture of my grandfather and me in Charlotte in 1969, not long after he bought the Imperial:
By the early eighties, my grandparents decided to sell the Imperial. I was in college at the time, and when I learned that Papa was selling the car, I was desperate to buy it. He was trading it in on a new Imperial and the dealer was giving him $1,800 for the car. He thought this was far more than it was worth, but coming from salty Michigan, I thought that it was absurdly cheap for a rust-free southern car with 74,000 church-on-Sunday miles. The problem was that I did not have the $1,800 to purchase it. My father heard my pleas but did not advance the money to buy the Imperial. Looking back with kids of my own in college, I understand why my father said “no” and I think it was probably a lot harder for him to do that than I ever realized. I understand better now.
Years passed. I graduated from undergrad and went to law school. Somewhere in there I fell in love with Corvairs, another car from my childhood, and eventually ended up with two 1965 Corsas, a coupe and a convertible. In 1992, the opportunity to purchase a ’63 Olds Ninety Eight Holiday Sports Sedan came along. The car was exceptionally original and rust-free with acres of perfect trim. I fell in love with the car. I have always thought that it shared a lot of styling cues with the Imperial, which was one of the factors that influenced my decision to buy it. Our hometown of Lansing, Michigan is the heart of Oldsmobile country, and the Ninety Eight seemed a perfect fit. It became a beloved member of our family.
I never forgot the Imperial, though, and over the years told the story many times of “the one that got away.” With the advent of eBay, searches for Imperials became a regular part of my routine. And so I watched many beautiful cars come and go.
My chance finally came in May 2013 when I found a ’68 Crown four door on eBay, 108,000 miles in Navaho Beige with a red interior. The car had no vinyl top, which I prefer, and was nicely-equipped with power locks, Safeguard Sentinel, rear defogger, tilt and telescope, cruise, air, a power antenna and AM signal seeking radio and a rear speaker. The seller’s description was brief but the pictures showed what looked to be a rust-free, very straight car. The seller indicated that the clock and rear power windows did not work. The interior looked very nice, but the driver’s seat had been covered in vinyl. A number of conversations with the seller confirmed that the air condition did work, the car had new front brakes, new tires, and apparently original paint. At a buy-it-now price of $3,500, this looked like an excellent candidate to me. I clicked the buy-it-now and hoped I hadn’t just done something very stupid.
I then set about the task of getting it home to Lansing from Bremerton, Washington. A couple weeks later the Imperial arrived, surprising us by arriving a couple of days early. The first thing I did was to pull the Ninety Eight out of the barn and take pictures of the two grand old ladies, side by side. What a thrill!
This set of pictures was taken the morning the car arrived:
I promptly put the family to work detailing the car that Sunday afternoon.
I’ve had the car for several weeks now. Based upon documents in the car, this vehicle appears to have been purchased new by a woman who lived in Salem, Oregon. If she is still alive, she’d be 93; another Sunday church car, it would appear. It seems to have been well-maintained, with no signs of rust. There are a few dings that I hope can be removed without painting, and a number of stone chips that I will touch up. The original pin-stripe is worn through in many places, so I will polish it off and have the striping repainted.
There are a few more issues with the car that will need attention, which I expected for a car with so many accessories. The most pressing was replacement of the fan clutch, which returned operating temps to the normal range. It needs a new heater core, a job I will farm out because I don’t like pain. The front seats will be upholstered in original fabric which is working its own way east separately from Oregon.
Eventually, I will follow the tutorial on the Imperial club website, and refinish all the bronze in the interior. The dash board is currently disassembled while I replace the clock and burned-out lights, and generally clean everything up.
I’ve decided to stick to stock as much as possible, because the car is so original appearing now. So I won’t be adding options, upgrading the sound system or anything else like that.
The car came with the original owner’s manual in excellent condition, a factory service manual with the original owner’s name written on the cover, a couple of envelopes of receipts from the ‘80s and early 2000’s, and tucked away under the rear seat, the factory broadcast sheet.
Because of space considerations, one consequence of buying the Imperial is that I am going to have to sell my ’93 Firebird Formula. My kids all are bummed that I am selling the Formula, and the thought has crossed my mind that I should sell it to one of my college-aged sons. But how would they pay for it? Where would it be stored? Who would be responsible for maintaining it? In the end, it would still be my car and my burden, just with a different name on the title. As hard as it is to say goodbye and to disappoint the kids, the Firebird will have to go.
It’s funny how, years later, I have had to answer the same questions my father did. Funny how, years later, I have come to appreciate his wisdom. And funny how, in the end, I have gotten the Imperial that I wanted at a time when I could actually afford not only to buy but to own it. Perhaps my dad understood that they made more than one, and that this one might be out there waiting for me. Hopefully, my kids will understand my decision better in time; honestly, I think that they do now.
In the meantime, the whole family has been enjoying a special car named “Imperial.”
Here are some pictures of the car after we finished polishing it out:
Here are some interior pictures (some were taken before we vacuumed and cleaned the interior):
I will add engine compartment and trunk pictures later.
Here she is in her new home:
July 17, 2013 Update
Just adding some pictures.
August 6, 2013
From the video shoot with Fancy Werewolves
Data: info on the new yacht
Instrument Panel Restoration: adventures in pain
Imperial Heart Surgery: freshening the motor, and some other stuff
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