1938 Chrysler C-20 Custom Imperial Limousine
Chassis no. 7805920
Engine no. C20-2188
Dictionaries describe "imperial" as an adjective, meaning "of or pertaining to an empire." Car people use Imperial as a noun, referring to the flagship model in the Chrysler catalog. The first Chrysler Imperial appeared in 1926, as the Series E80, and for 26 successive model years it reigned atop the marque lineup until being promoted to a make in its own right for 1955. Over time, though, "Imperial" gained a number of subspecies, Crown Imperial, Airflow Imperial, Custom Imperial, Imperial Crown, Imperial Airflow it all became quite confusing.
The 1938 model year was no exception. The basic genus was quite simple: six-cylinder cars were Royals, Series C-18, and eights were designated "Imperial," C-20. But within the C-20 Series were three wheelbases: 119, 125 and 144 inches, the latter designated "Custom Imperial." Moreover, Custom Imperials were divided into factory-produced cars, available as five- and seven-passenger sedans and a seven-passenger "sedan limousine" (with division partition), and a number of "individual customs" produced by outside coachbuilders.
The car offered here is one of those individual customs. The basic structure is of the Custom Imperial sedan limousine but where that style, which was built in 145 units, had rear quarter windows, this one has blind quarters for greater passenger privacy. In the interior, the former window location is used for small compartments, one a vanity and the other a smoker's kit. The jump seats fold out of the partition, which is deep enough for a compartment on each side, fitted with a glass door and topped by a small shelf in an art deco motif. The division window cranks down for communication with the driver.
Surviving Chrysler archives indicate that 90 limousines were built on the 144-inch chassis, but the identities of their coachbuilders are not recorded. In secondary sources, this type of limousine has been attributed to both Derham and LeBaron. Some historians feel that LeBaron, with its Detroit location and relationship with Chrysler's body supplier Briggs, is the more logical of the two. In any case, there are no coachbuilder badges on this car. The sill plates read merely "Chrysler Imperial," so its ancestry remains ambiguous.
This is a well-preserved original car, having had only a partial repaint and reupholstery of the driver's tan leather. It is equipped with overdrive for easy highway cruising, and a previous owner has discreetly installed air conditioning for passenger comfort. In combining superb originality with sympathetic updates for modern use, it is truly exceptional and a worthy addition to any collection.