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In anticipation of greatly increased sales of its large bodied car for the 1969 model year, and especially the high end Imperial, the powers-that-were at Chrysler during 1968 decided to try a new approach to Imperial sales. It was decided that for the first time ever, they would offer the Imperial franchise to new dealers bringing them into the MOPAR fold. Although at the time nobody had ever heard of Acura, it was an almost exact move when compared to what Honda did to promote it's "near luxury" car division of Acura. Imperial had always been a slow seller when compared to Cadillac and Lincoln, and among the existing Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, the thought of independent Imperial-Only dealers did not rattle their cage, as no C-P dealers really depended upon Imperial for anything.
In many areas of the country, especially the more upscale areas, towns and townships, villages, and bedroom communities were pretty outspoken and verbal about not wanting used car dealers in their towns. The same feeling was not carried over to New Car Dealers however. Many used car dealers felt the ever present threat to their business, that they could be closed, if enough outspoken fat wallet influential residents took on the case of weeding out the huckster-image used car dealer from their upscale community. Most of these dealers could not afford the millions of dollars it takes to buy and run a mega-monster new car dealership.
Now, here comes Chrysler offering many of them the rights to become associated the Chrysler Corporation and sell their most exclusive and costly model, drive one as a free demo and protect thier used car license in the town - now that they were no longer "just" a used-car dealer. This is the exact type of set-up that Chrysler Dealer Development went after, looking for this type of dealer who also had a service department for warrantee work and after sale service. These places were generally small, but big enough to stock 4 or 5 Imperials and have a showroom for the display of at least one Imperial.
Well, for reasons unknown by this author, there were only seven (7) allotted nationwide. Either the used car dealers were not interested, or they were and Chrysler found their buildings or location not acceptable. Regardless, only seven were appointed. Basically the idea bombed. This however is not to say that the seven dealers bombed, however. Herewith is the story of one of those Imperial Dealers....
This dealer had been a NEW CAR dealer, selling MG, Triumph and Rover. Time frame: 1969. These three English cars were doing very badly in the U.S.A. in both sales and in service reputation. All three of them were ready to call it quits. That would have left "Dealer L" without a product to sell. A long time dealer, with a upstanding reputation he was approached, and signed on with Chrysler - booting out the "three Englishmen" ~ He had a 3-car showroom and space outdoors next to the showroom for at least 10 more cars. After a fairly dedicated renovation of all parts of the building exposed to prospective customers, (fancy plants were brought in, a new facade on the buildings exterior, repaving of paved areas, fresh paint, new windows, etc, etc), 13 Imperials arrived! What a sight to my eyes! I recall them, vividly. There were 8 Crown Post-Sedans, 3 LeBaron 4-Dr Hdts and 2 LeBaron Coupes. Then some major advertising broke, 85% of which was paid for by Chrysler & 15% by the dealer. THIS upset area long time I-C-P dealers!! They FINALLY began getting upset. Too late. Well, customers began coming in and looking. Slowly the Imperials began finding homes, one at a time. Soon all 13 originals were gone and 13 new cars appeared. Very unusual signage was up on the building, and I wish I had taken a picture of it. It was the Dark Blue background and the white lettering that proclaimed "IMPERIAL" on the (much more) familiar IMPERIAL CHRYSLER PLYMOUTH signage on normal dealers buildings. It was just the very top part, for those of you who recall. I do not know how many Imperials "Dealer L" did for model year 1969, but my educated guess was that all 13 (the stock he had on hand) seemed to change about every three months. So, I'd say he did around 4 to 5 a month, maybe 50 for the year. He was back in 1970, but in 1970 sales took a deep plunge. I noticed that he then kept just one car on the showroom and like 8 outdoors. He had just one salesman and the owner also sold on the showroom floor.
For 1971, sales REALLY took a slide and for some unknown reason, "Dealer L" vastly increased his inventory. I can recall stopping there and counting brand new 1971 Imperials all over the place! At one time I counted 27 new Imps. Across the street had been a furniture warehouse (closed to the public) where a big furniture store out on the highway, stored it's overflow and duplicate stock. They gave up that warehouse, and this dealer rented it, cleaned it up, fresh paint and all and filled it with 1971 Imperials. He had one on the showroom floor, 14 out front and a dozen in the warehouse across the street. Then big ads began appearing in the local newspapers and he was doing the deep discounts thing, selling them at $150.00 over invoice. It took him nearly the entire model year to move out those 25 cars. At he end of the year, Chrysler asked him to become a full line dealer, as they were ending the Imperial Exclusive franchise (heat from other full line dealers no doubt lead to this...). Dealer L said no, that he had enough and was going to sell his property and retire. (He was around 60 years of age). No 1972 Imperial ever set down on his pavement, he sold the building and did in fact retire. I do not know if he is still alive. If so, he'd be around 93 years of age. I have no info regarding the other 6 IMPERIAL EXCLUSIVE dealers, other than the idea was terminated by Chrysler in September of 1971.
Sandy Block 5/8/'04
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