"Auto-Pilot" Repair Information for Your Imperial

Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Accessories -> Auto-Pilot

Tip from Dan:

I bought a unit made by "Equus" out of the JC Whitney catalog and tried it out on the Imperial. Installation was simple thanks to very clear instructions and a complete set of hardware for various mounting configurations. They offered a choice of measuring the car's speed at the driveshaft (most accurate) or at the coil (easiest to install). I opted for the first con- figuration. The cruise control did as good a job as it could, but as every- one who drives an Imperial knows, maintaining a constant engine speed in a 5,000-lb. car with an automatic transmission can result in a wide range of *vehicle* speeds. 

Later, in an effort to get the Imperial's "economy" firmly into the double- digits, I installed an MSD ignition box. (For those of you who do not know, MSD fires the coil multiple times per power stroke.) This confused the cruise control's sensing circuitry, which assumes one spark per power stroke in measuring the engine's speed. 

Now that I have sold my Imperial (to Heidi Mort, everyone update your rosters!), I am going to install the same system in my '73 Satellite, but run it off of the driveshaft rather than the coil. If it manages to keep the car going at as constant a speed as it used to keep the Imperial's engine, I will give this kit my highest recommendations.

Question from Jay:

I wonder if the Imperial Auto-Pilot would outperform the modern cruise control (regarding fuel economy) if both types were installed on identical Imperials. (my Auto-Pilot has not worked since I owned the car, so I am unsure just how it behaves.) On long trips through hilly terrain, I try to get the better fuel economy buy letting the 2 1/2 ton Crown slow going uphill (I'm sure that people think that I can't help that, but we know better, don't we!?!) and get a gravity-assist head-start on the next hill by letting the car "run-away" so to speak.

I don't "floor-it" to climb that 3 mile 8% grade like most people have to. That brings me back to the modern cruise control. I believe a modern cruise control would really screw-up a Imperial's fuel economy if used on hills by flooring the throttle to hold the speed within 2 MPH of the set speed. Most of us know that the stock Imperial isn't geared for Pike's Peak. When climbing longer grades, I will often find a mellow throttle setting, then throw the Torqueflite into 2nd and pull the hill at about 3,000 RPM.

Can anybody tell me how closely the Auto-Pilot typically holds the set speed when encountering hills? Does it "chug" the uphill or "run-away" on the downhill?


From ??:

My experience with the Auto-Pilot is one of smoothness - no "chugging" at all - there IS however, one irritation - the accelerator has some linkage that is attached, and it is disconcerting to manually (or foot-ually) override the AP for a quick pass of some inferior machine clotting your lane. Say the AP is set for 70mph. The accelerator pedal will progress smoothly from 0 to 70, as per normal. And there it stays !!!!!

Then, say something like a - - - oh - - - - Rambler is rumbling along in front of you, flat out, at 55 mph. You must, of course, take it at once. So, you pull out, and give the usual moderate foot pressure, and the pedal just pushes your foot back up !!!!!! The linkage is built to "remind" the Imperial driver that the AP is engaged, and you are required to really Stomp it to override the AP !!!

Once past the linkage, of course, your Imperial sweeps Majestically around the lesser machine, hopefully with a tap-to-the-trumpets !!!

Then, it will return smoothly to the more reasonable speed you've set. As to the hills and dales, the mechanical linkage is certainly far smoother than, for instance, a 66 Cadillac. I remember, with a shudder, riding in one of those with the cruise on, and it was shuddering as much as I was -

From Dan:

It all depends on the parameters of the system:

* how far above or below the set speed you can get before adjusting the throttle;

* how long you wait for the last throttle adjustment to take effect before adjusting it further;

* how far you will adjust the throttle before giving up;

* etc.

I don't think that the Imperial Auto-Pilot takes into account any information that modern electronic cruise controls do not, but it would not surprise me if electronic units take more factors into account or even adjust the above parameters based on driving habits or past road conditions. It is possible that the relatively inflexible Auto-Pilot parameters accidentally perform better than the most sophisticated electronic units, but I'd expect comparable performance from the Imperial Auto-Pilot at best.

Cruise controls respond to the moment. They have no concept of "average speed" over time, and have no way of knowing what road conditions lie ahead. "If the car is below the set speed, hit the gas; if the car is above the set speed, let off the gas." is the sum total of the thoughts going through the mind of even the most sophisticated cruise control. In contrast, even a novice driver can see the road ahead and decide that it's okay to slow to 5 or 10 mph below the "set speed" because a long downhill run is coming up. In situations like this it is not difficult to out-per- form a cruise control in terms of fuel economy.

Question from Keith (1958):

The person I bought my Imperial from told me that the auto pilot unit does not work on my car.  How repairable are these units?  Is it worth the effort to fix (i.e. are they any good when working properly)?


From Tony B.:

The FSM on the Auto Pilot is in the 1961, yes '61, Service Manual Supplement. I have a '59 Imp with Auto Pilot and found I had to go to the '61 Supp since my '59 manual did not show it..

From Tony V.:

The beauty of the old auto-pilots is that they are very repairable. The system is entirely electro-mechanical so there are no mysterious, sealed black boxes with complex electronics inside. I have installed an original auto pilot in my '61 and it has been reliable and effective for the last 2 years. It's my favorite gadget.

From Mark:

This may be wishful thinking, but your Auto-Pilot may actually work and the person you're buying the car from may not realize it.

When I bought my '68 convertible I was told the AP didn't work. When I got the car I took it out and tried it, and yep, it sure seemed like it didn't work. But when I was on a long trip later on I started fiddling with it again and discovered it did work, only there is a certain way you have to set it-- which is explained in the Owner's Manual.

People who are used to modern cruise control systems expect it to behave like a modern system-- in other words, click, it's instantaneous. The dial system on my '68 is not instantaneous. It takes 2 or 3 seconds to actually engage, and you can feel it grabbing thru the pedal. Also, the speed setting wheels are not always accurate. It may say "65" but you may find the Auto-Pilot doesn't engage and hold your speed until 70 or so. The way I set mine is I set the wheel 10-15 mph lower than the speed I want and gradually creep it up toward the desired speed. Once I feel the resistance in the pedal increase (the pressure you need to keep the car at a set speed will increase suddenly), then I let it stay there for a few seconds before removing my foot. If you back off the instant you feel the pressure it may not hold.

I don't know if this is a result of mine being off in some way or just the way they all are. The one in my '68 4 dr. behaves the same way. So it may just be that you need a little more patience to discover if it really works or not. If the green light comes on (at least in the 67-68s) it may in fact work.

From John:

I had a 62 that had a working autopilot & I thought it was great since you don't have to set it to stay on, you can also use it as a speed reminder since it feels as if your foot is pressed all the way to the floor at the speed you select. If you need to go faster, you just press the pedal harder & you will feel the resistance in the pedal. Once you let up a bit & get at the selected speed, you will feel a little "thump" in the pedal. If it doesn't work, check the fuses first, then check the cables. There are 2 of them. Also check that the wiring is plugged into the control unit & that the linkage rod from the unit to the throttle linkage is in place. If all these check out ok, there are other possible problems, none that I've dealt with, so someone else may be able to offer some other advice.

Question from Steve (1959):

My Auto Pilot seems to be electrically dead. I can dial in a speed and it will push back against the accelerator but I can not get it to activate and hold a speed.  I can find no reference to this unit in the service manual.  I would appreciate suggestions on common failures with this unit.

Reply from Jay:


If the Auto-Pilot in your '59 is anything like the "Perfect Circle" Auto-Pilot on our '62, It could just be corrosion of the electromagnetic switch in the dash control.

I did a full tune-up of the Auto-Pilot on our '62 per the FSM and for some reason it still did not want to work.

The more that I played with it (with the ignition on, driving or not) the better it got.

With the ignition on, pull the center knob out. If the Auto-pilot switch is receiving power, the center knob should stay in the "out" position. If is doesn't want to stay out, try rotating the knob while holding it in the out position. If the contact area on this electromagnetic switch corroded, rotating the pull-out while holding it "out" will start to pass some current through the switch and the contact area will start to clean itself up.

If you get the center pull to stay in the out position, congratulations!

Now turn the ignition off and the center pull should snap back inward to the "off" position. If this works, the best therapy for it is to use the control whenever you're driving. The operation of the switch will improve the more you use it.

Question from Ray (1960):

I mounted the auto-pilot that I got off my parts car under the hood, but where does the control knob mount in the dash?? I have a convertible so the 4 knob spots are taken (lights, top, wipers, key). Does this mean a convertible can't get the auto-pilot option !?!?


From Philippe:

See this page from the 1960 FSM and following (or previous) pages . Don't know if it's the same location on convertible.

From John:

Although I've never seen one on a '60, I believe it mounts to the right side of the steering column. I can't find any pics of the location anywhere in any '60 reference material, but feel certain it doesn't replace any of the present knobs as the '61-'63 does by locating the antenna switch next to the map light switch. If you have the correct control knob, which is 60 only, you should be able to get an idea of how it mounts.

From Dave:

It does fit on the right hand side of the steering column. It fits only an inch or so up from the instrument cluster bezel. Thus making it pig awkward to work on. Been there... done that.

Question from Glen (1960):

On my '60, I have autopilot. My speedometer has never worked since I bought it, apparently the pilot scrounges the cable and because the pilot is 03, I rarely have brake lights.  My mechanic wants to bypass the pilot and run a straight cable so I have a speedo. Does anyone have an auto that actually works? The only other '60 in town also has a dud auto. Mine lights up nice but does nothing else! I have the shop and parts manuals for the '60 but seems my mechanic can't get it.


Reply from Brad:

Has your mechanic proven that your speedometer works after bypassing the Auto Pilot? If your speedometer cables are not broken and the unit still doesn't work, it may be because it is not getting power or perhaps the motor is bad on yours. The Auto Pilot is so cool on these cars that I would have to repair it and the speedometer. Can you inspect the speedometer mechanism itself? In the '63, there is an interface that drives the tube that moves the arrow as the speed changes. Sometimes this interface is out of cal and doesn't really make contact to drive the mechanism. A simple change will make your speedometer work (although getting to this level of the speedometer is a huge effort). I would imagine the '60 Imperial is similar to the speedometer mechanism in the '60 Chrysler (AstraDome) but someone else may be able to comment better than I. I have a complete Auto Pilot from a '63 Imperial Parts car and I know DocMopar (a yard in Texas) has one as well.

Question from John (1961):

On my '61 Crown 4dr, the speedo cable is disconnected from the tranny (that's how I got the car). The cable ends in an internally-threaded cup with a square wire drive cable sticking out. The tranny has a corresponding male threaded boss. I have bought two 1961 replacement cables, but both came with a flanged end on the cable (like the shift cable fitting) and a plastic drive  gear on the cable end, too large to fit into the fitting on my tranny case. I'm confused! Do I have a replacement transmission from some other year? Where is the gear - in the tranny? Is there any hope of knowing how fast I am going?



From Bob:

On cars with "Auto-Pilot", the speedo cable goes through this cruise control unit. It's quite possible that replacement cables are set up for this option, but I'll leave a definitive answer to the '61 experts.

From John:

On cars with the autopilot, there are 2 cables used. One from the trans to the autopilot & the other from the auto pilot to the speedo. If no autopilot you should have the usual square cable the a round threaded nut on the speedo end & the other end looks as you describe, much like the shift cable with an oil seal around it.

Question from Jay (1962):

I was tinkering with the Auto-Pilot on our '62 yesterday in hopes of getting it to work as advertised. The previous owner said that it worked fine the last time he used it, but who knows how long ago that was.

I set the knob to the desired speed, accelerate to that speed until I reach a resistence in the foot pedal, then pull back on the center knob while releasing foot pressure on the pedal. This is how I interpret the instructions in the owner's manual. Am I doing it right? Seems that the Auto-Pilot wants to work. but it won't hold a steady speed (speed just drops-off like it's not functioning properly.) The "speed-minder" feature works fine however. With the unit on, I can rotate the knob until I feel a pulsating in the accelerator pedal. I think that when I feel this pulsing is where the drive mechanism is "matched" to the vehicle speed and should hold that speed. If I then let off on the gas pedal, the Imp slows down just as if the unit was turned off.

Before I started tinkering, I read and reread the section on Auto-Pilot in the '62 Service Manual. Yesterday I followed the instructions carefully and set the latching mechanism gap, the #1 and #2 point gaps, the control cable adjustment and the accelerator linkage adjustment. I found that "gauge bolt guide" tool that the service manual says to use can be substituted with a 8mm 1/4 drive socket. The inner and outer diameters are nearly perfect for this application. It was kind of tricky, but since I didn't have yet another special Chrysler service tool for the job, I was able to spread the centrifuge weights apart with one hand while checking the gap on the control arm and #2 contact points. I may have the accelerator linkage adjustment set wrong so I will double check that the next chance that I get. Are there any Auto-Pilot experts out there in IML-land that might have some ideas for me?


From Paul:

It sounds like the AutoPilot is basically working, but it might be your engage procedure that's flawed. I pull out the knob while maintaining pressure on the accelerator. It's almost as if the AutoPilot grabs the accelerator from me, and then I let go. If I release as I pull the knob, the AutoPilot doesn't take over.

Mine works fine, but did take some getting used to. I also had a problem with interference under the hood between the AutoPilot linkage and the power steering and A/C lines. Make sure they are quite clear of the AutoPilot linkage for its full range of motion. What happened was the accelerator got stuck down and I had to pull it up with my foot. Kind of scary driving in traffic!

From Michael:

I'm certainly no "Auto-Pilot expert" but I have one question regarding your description that might be a clue.

Your method to engage the auto-pilot sounds correct. However, you didn't say what happens to the center knob after you pull it out. Does it stay out, so that the orange fluorescent paint band around the shaft of the center knob is visible? It should when the auto-pilot is engaged. The knob pops back in when auto-pilot is disengaged.

I don't know what failure to stay out would imply, but it MIGHT be an indication that it's the latching mechanism that is at fault.

From Dick:

Sounds like the governor system and the cables are all fine. I wonder about the vacuum supply.

Your controls are different than on my 68, so I will not be much help there, but it sounds like you've done everything right. The brake light trip must be OK or you would not feel the resistance in the accelerator.

If the 68 was doing what yours is doing, I would suspect the dash switch.

On the 68, there are three modes of operation. #1 is off, #3 is full automatic speed control, and #2 is what you apparently have, which is a noticeable change in feel when you reach the set speed, but no "latching" at the speed.

Question from Brian (1966):

How do you set the auto pilot? Mine does not seem to engage.

Reply from Rodger:

In order to engage the Auto Pilot you need the vehicle to be on and running. After this you can do it in two differant ways.

You can turn the large knob to a selected number in the little window which means a speed ( ie 3=30 or 5=50 or whatever ) and then pull out the end knob. Press on the foot feed until you fell the unit "catch". The car will gain speed up to the number/speed you selected. There is a caution to be known at this point. If you do not have clearance in front of you, you will gain speed to the rear of what ever is in front of you. If you touch the brake pedal at any point the unit will dis-engage.

The second way is the same as the first but this time just do this to match the numbers with your speed as you are driving. You will feel the foot pedal move as they are matched. If you would like to increase the vehicle speed just turn the large knob from say 6 to 9. The same in reverse if you do not want 7 and would prefer 3.

If while engaged the vehicle in front of you slows to a lower number than what you was cruzin at just slow as you would with the brake and then press on the foot pedal until you feel it re-engage.

Question from Bob (1966):

I'm can't get my auto pilot to work, the center button will not stay out. The book says it is probable not grounding properly. But I can't figure out where to find or how to fix the problem. Anyone else got an idea or have had a similar problem fixed.

Reply from Norm:

Is the speed minder portion of the system working? In other words, if you rotate the speed knob ( while you are driving) without pulling out the set knob, does the gas pedal feel some resistance at some point in response to turning the knob? If not, there may be no power at all going to the system and I would start tracing down that situation first. Maybe it is simply a fuse.

Question from Gary (1966):

If the auto pilot was electrically disabled would the accelerator linkage rod still have to be attached to the auto pilot unit or can it be removed?



From Dick:

You can remove it, it won't change the operation of the foot control of the carburetor at all. Please save the pieces, though. Someone may want to put it back into operation someday. I use the auto-pilot on my 68 all the time, I really like the way it operates (preset speed, it never forgets!)

From Kerry:


Mine caused some feedback I did not like so I removed the linkage. No problem.


From Ken:

The auto pilot on the 64-66 can also be used as a governor to keep you from exceeding the preset speed. Yes the rod can be removed.

From Norm:

Actually, removing it will make the gas pedal easier to push. It was very common in the 60's to have the linkage removed-we did it back then with our 65 as my father never liked the rather stiff pedal that it had with the extra linkage attached.

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