Imperial Home Page -> Mailing List & Club -> Member Spotlight -> Jim Byers
Here is a brief interview we recently had with IML member Jim Byers. All the pictures displayed on this page are from Jim's Tour around Washington DC. All the pictures are thumbnails click on the small picture to see full screen images. If you have questions for Jim, please feel free to send him a message!
Question: When did you purchase your first Imperial?
Answer: In 1994 - a 1960 Crown two door Southampton in Midnight Blue. I was actually looking for a 1960 LeBaron like I currently have, but none were for sale at the time.
Q: Do you still own it?
A: No, sadly in 1998, I found myself in a situation where I had to sell the coupe and take a four year break from the hobby. Ironically, I sold it back to the man I bought it from! He would call me three and four times a year, just in case I decided to sell the car.
Q: What, if any, restoration did you do to that car?
A: Over the course of four years, I had most of the necessary mechanical work redone (brakes, steering, radiator...), and installed a very straight replacement grille, and rechromed front and rear bumpers. I was gearing up to have the nylon-cord & leather bench seats reupholstered when circumstances forced the sale. The car had 72,000 miles when I sold it, and the engine was just fine...
Q: What is your favorite year Imperial?
A: 1960, without question.
Q: Why is it your favorite? What do you find appealing about that particular year?
A: I 'discovered' the 1960 Imperial while leafing through old National Geographic magazines in my grandmother's living room as a kid in the early 1970's. It was the ad for the red 1960 LeBaron Southampton ("How's Your Sporting Blood...?") that got me hooked on the design of 'mid-century' cars. Personally speaking, I find the 1960 to be a perfect balance of Exner's earlier 'Forward Look' concepts, with shades of the more formal 'Neo-Classical' look that followed. To my eye, the 1960 looks like Virgil Exner's modernized, 'longer, lower, wider' interpretation/abstraction of classic 1930's automotive styling themes. And while I love ALL Imperials, including the aforementioned 1961- 63 'Neo-Classic' generation, the 1960 is (again, in my personal opinion - please, no hate mail - LOL), a less 'literal' interpretation of those same themes.
Old Capitol Building columns, now located at the National Arboretum
Q: Do you have a favorite Imperial gadget or styling feature?
A: The Automatic Swivel Seats in my LeBaron thrill me every time I open the door.... As far as styling, 1960 Imperial taillights are a wonder at night - like two floating neon rings suspended behind the car... It's simply awesome!
Q: Any other automotive gadget or styling feature that you like or would like to own?
A: The 1958/59 Ford Retractable Hardtops...; the '58-60 Continental retractable rear backlight...; the 'gyroscope'-like clock on 1960 Dodges.... just to name a few.
Q: What does your Imperial collection consist of?
At this point in my life and career, I'm a one-car-at-
a-time guy. But as much as I admire a wide range of '50's-60's cars, my attachment to the 1960 Imperial is so strong as to make the choice easy. I found my personal 'dream car' in October, 2002: a 1960 LeBaron Southampton hardtop sedan. It is in #3 condition. Its main 'flaws' are an imperfect "10-footer" paint job, and new and well crafted - but incorrect - two- tone blue vinyl interior. It's virtues? It's a mechanically sound, 54,500 mile, rust-free California car loaded with options, including: Dual Air Conditioning, Swivel Seats, Flitesweep deck, Mirror- Matic, automatic headlight dimmer, Touch-Tuner radio w/ power antenna, right-side mirror, and Auto-Pilot. Combined with the standard LeBaron goodies (ie: pwr. windows and vents, pwr. seats, etc...), the car has every major option EXCEPT power door locks and the Highway Hi-Fi.
Q: What other collector cars do you own today?
A: Just this one.
Q: What other collector cars (at least 20 years old) have you owned in your lifetime?
A: I purchased my first antique car at the age of 12 in 1979 after two years of cutting lawns and shoveling snow to earn the money. I bought and sold cars through my teens, upgrading in condition as I went along. In order, I've had: 1954 Cheverolet; 1954 Ford; 1954 Pontiac Chieftan; 1958 Buick Century hdtp.; 1958 Buick Limited hdtp. (the previous were all 4drs); 1972 Continental Mark IV; 1960 Imperial Crown 2dr.
Q: Which car has been your favorite and why?
A: As stated, the '60 LeBaron Southampton is my 'dream car', mostly because of the dramatic styling. The convergence of 'compound curves' on the LeBaron - where the fin rises past the enclosed rear roof panel..., the landau roof bar lunges forward and the sloped deck trails away... To me, the styling is positively bewitching.
Q: What are your future plans for your present collection? A: I feel like I got just what I was looking for: a mechanically solid, presentable car that I'm not 'afraid to drive' on sunny weekends... Down the line, I'd like to have the car repainted in the correct metallic Midnight Blue (current paint is non- metallic), rechrome the bumpers and a couple of minor parts, and have the interior redone in correct full metallic leather.
Q: Do you have any, "I can't believe I let that car get away from me" stories?
A: I passed up a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham with a straight body, very minor surface rust and a good original interior for $1,500 back in 1982. It wasn't running, and the broken air suspension had the car down on it's haunches, but still... It makes you think. I bought a 1958 Buick Limited instead.
Q: Do you have any funny or interesting stories about purchasing an old car?
A: As a 12-15 year old kid running around buying old cars, every transaction was 'funny' - LOL. My parents came with me, but I 'took the lead' and bought the cars (driving them was illegal - not owning them...). It was fun to watch people's eyes bug out at this little 'pint-sized' car buff. It was funny, though, when I pulled into a used car lot to 'trade-in' my 1958 Century 4dr Riviera for a 1958 Limited 4dr Riviera (the sales people got a kick out of that....).
Q: Are there any other collector cars (besides Imperials) that you would like to own?
A: The very first car I would add to my collection would be a 1957 De Soto Fireflite or Adventurer. The design is so singularly striking. I also admire: 1960 Chrysler New Yorker (my dad had a black coupe when I was small...); 1960 Dodge Polara; 1953, 1955 or 56 Packard Caribbean or Four Hundred; 1956 Lincoln Premiere; 1956 Continental Mark II; 1954 Pontiac Star Chief ; 1961 Thunderbird; 1966 Pontiac Bonneville; 1965 Buick Riviera,
Q: Do you belong to any other antique car clubs?
A: The Chrysler Product Owner's Club; the WPC Club; and the Straight Eights - the Washington, DC chapter of the Lambda Car Club);
Q: What is the best car museum you have ever visited?
Oddly, I haven't been to very many car museums, but I really enjoyed the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. I guess I really prefer experiencing cars 'al fresco' as opposed to 'under glass' (LOL).
Q: What was the best car show you ever attended?
A: Mopar Nationals/Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Summer, 2002, where I finally got a chance to meet several IML members face-to-face. It was my first big car show in four years, and I could literally SMELL the Mopars... I was truly light-headed. Besides, just KNOWING that I was finally in the market for another Imperial had me dizzy. LOL
Q: Do you have a favorite car related book or movie?
A:Book: a forgotten tome from the late 1950's called "The Hidden Persuaders" by Vance Packard. It was, I believe, one of the first books to explore the 'science' of corporate marketing. It has a very insightful chapter on the factors that REALLY drive most people to buy cars (ie: image, and not quality/merit. as one might think). It explains much about the Imperial Division's difficulty establishing itself as a luxury marque.
Movie: "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) - In convincing 'Joe' (William Holden) that he won't miss his reposessed Plymouth convertible, 'Norma Desmond' (Gloria Swanson) sums up how every antique car hobbyist feels about their personal rolling museum, telling him: "What do you need a car for...? We have a car!! An Issotta- Fraschini. Have you ever HEARD of an Isotta- Fraschini? All hand-made... Not made of chromium and SPIT like these new contraptions...., cost me Twenty- eight THOUSAND Dollaaaarrrs!"
We would like to thank Jim Byers for sharing his wonderful Imperial with us!! Please check back next month when we will be spotlighting another Imperial Club member.