Kerry's 1957 Imperial Restoration - part 1

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It was a dark and stormy night (early November 97). I was reading the want ads and picked up the phone to call about a 57 Imperial ($1500.00). My wife hates for me to read the want ads. The guy who answered the phone said the Imperial belonged to his son who did not have a phone. I got his work number, called him the next day, and arranged to meet him after work. He lived 17 miles west of nowhere so I followed him from his work. When we arrived there was someone else waiting to see the car but the owner said I had first shot at it.

BIG beast. Air in all four tires. Some brake pedal left. All the chrome and stainless decent although the bumpers have several small scratches. Glass perfect. Interesting decal in rear window. Naked cartoon guy pointing to a lipstick print on his buttock...caption reads "All Yall Kiss.." Well I guess everyone's entitled to their own taste or lack thereof.

The kid said he had driven it to Birmingham a few months ago and it was great but he blew the motor in his challenger and pulled the 440 out of the Imperial. He claimed to be the 3rd owner but someone had pulled the 392 and replaced it with a 440 and aluminum 727 complete with big Hurst shifter in the floor.

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There was some cancer in the lower rockers but overall very solid. I've done much worse. He had a 440 in his carport that was included. He turned it with a ratchet and I heard it stop and suspected rust in the cylinder (sometimes I'm physic...I should learn to listen to myself). I offered him $1000. He countered with $1200 throwing in a late model "chunk style" rear end which does not require a wheel puller. A rear cylinder is leaking and he hadn't fixed it because he did not have a puller. I recountered with $1100 and he could keep the other rear end. We shook on it. The other guy was really not interested in the Imperial but some other stuff but did cramp my negotiating style somewhat.

I knew the beast would be a pain to get on my trailer so I arranged for a rollback wrecker to haul it the 30 miles to my house. I picked the 440 up another day since the Imperial completely filled up the rollback. The wrecker driver exclaimed "Damn..that's a big car!" when he got to my house. As he rolled it back it was so long a tailpipe dug into the yard and bent slightly. ( was a brand new exhaust system)

The next weekend I pushed it back behind my shop so my neighbors wouldn't have to look at my junkyard as my wife calls it.

First things first...what is the state of the motor? Supposedly it came out of a 75 model RV that the kid had actually driven. The motor was complete with all accessories but no carb. The weather was still warm so I hung it on my motor stand and pushed it outside to begin teardown. I put small parts in an egg crate with cardboard in the bottom. Bigger parts went on a pallet.

Valve covers first. A few taps with a rubber mallet and it pops off. CLEAN AS A PIN! NO SLUDGE!!! You could see the green color on the intake springs. Hope flared. Accessories fell off like the autumn leaves. Air tools are wonderful!

Twenty minutes later I get to the first cylinder head...darn thing won't come off. Tap it slightly for 10 minutes or so and then realize it has more bolts still tight. DUH! Once they are out it comes right off. OH NO! Water in the cylinder!!!! That explains the block not being completely free. The other side was the same. Two cylinders had an inch or so of water in them and rust pops 1/8 inch on the walls. So much for a low cost rebuild. Since RV's usually have VERY low mileage I had HOPED...

After scraping the rust off, pouring in some WD40, and working the crank a while, I was able to get it to rotate. Didn't look that bad after all. Only two cylinders were messed up. No ridge or wear on the others. I dropped the pan and finished stripping the engine, making sure to keep the pushrods and lifters in sequence.

All the external parts I soaked in EZ off oven cleaner and let sit overnight. EZ off (and the like) are GREAT degreasers but will take the paint off also.

Back to the rusty cylinders, the pits did not look TOO deep, maybe they will hone out. My trusty hone was soon chucked in my sturdy AMERICAN MADE Milwaukee 3/8" drill (Love Milwaukee tools...lifetime warrantee!) and 1 hour later I was hopeful again. I think these cylinder walls will be OK! The bearings are perfect.

Early December 97 - To make a long story somewhat shorter, I cleaned up the motor, honed the cylinders and decided to put it back together standard, that is, not have the crank turned or the cylinders bored. Other than the to ex-rusty cylinders the rest are great. It might not be perfect but I think it will be ok.

It might be low miles but it has enough crud on the outside to make up for it. I used about 6 cans of EZ off and steam cleaned for about 4 hours. ( I found a steam cleaner in the want ads the Sunday night before I found the Imperial $200.00. Now you know why my wife doesn't like me to read the want ads...) It turns out the motor is a 73 manufacture RB (raised block). I am hoping since it came from a truck it is not a pollution controlled POS. In the mid 70's horsepower went from over 400 to 280 in the 440's as Detroit tried to meet federal standards by decreasing compression and all kinds of add on stuff. So far I can't tell. My pistons are flat tops. (Any suggestions as to how to determine which compression would be appreciated.)

Week before Christmas 97 - The heads were pretty grungy even after the EZoff and steam cleaning. My valve spring compressor would not phase the valve springs so I ground some 'holes' in the side of a 1" piece of 3/4" pipe, put it on top of the valve spring, and out a 12" C clamp to work. Valves were perfect! I hand lapped them just for fun, cleaned the carbon off and put them back together after a bath in HOT soapy water. I discovered a trick that might be useful. My shop is separate from my house so hot water is not easily available. Besides my wife gets ill when I come in the house with greasy hands. I have a propane 'torpedo' heater (similar to kerosene but smells better) and a large wash tub. I put the wash tub on concrete blocks and filled about half full of water. About 1/2 hour after I put the heater about 4" from the side of the wash tub the water was steaming! A friend suggested SUAVE shampoo as a degreaser and it works great!! Be sure and spray some WD40 on them as soon as you blow them dry because cast iron will surface rust before you can drink a cup of coffee. WD40 and similar products are water displacers but get all the water off you can first.

This is my first Mopar and I've noticed that the castings suck! I've never seen so many sharp edges and casting flash. My hands are cut to shreds in spite of considerable time with an air grinder taking off all the sharp spots.

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It's now December 26 and I've just laid the crank. I notice that the thrust bearing was not the right one for my motor. It's too deep. Of course by the time I notice the bearing is scratched and unreturnable. The rest of the new mains are ok. I look at the thrust mains (#3) that came out and decide to use them because they look great. Plastigage shows all are between 15-25 thousands which is within spec. Out comes the crank to get cleaned up again. Before the crank goes in I coated the cam with assembly lube and put it because it's harder to do once the crank is in and you can't reach it any longer. Lube the crank and torque it down. 80 foot pounds is harder than it used to be. Or maybe I'm getting old. Of course I could blame it on global warming or El Nino!

I got my son to help steer the beast while I pulled it into the shop with my tractor. Something is tight and it doesn't roll easy. I suspect the leaky brake cylinder is locking the rear wheel. Once it's on my lift I get my first look at the bottom of the beast. (By the way, I'm in the market for a name for her. Something feminine, IMPERIAL, and exotic...the beast is just an affectionate token) I have never seen such a frame in all my life. I've seen dump trucks with smaller chassis. In fact, my 1 ton Chevy pickup has less metal in the frame! No wonder these things have a reputation for being solid. And no wonder the demolition derby gang like them! It'd take a tank to dent this frame!

The is some oil around the rear end and of course the leaky wheel cylinder, some around the transmission and otherwise pretty good shape. The gas tank has a dent and some epoxy on it so I'll have to have it fixed or find a new one. A friend told me of a radiator shop that fixed his fairly reasonably.

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December 27 - I've never done any pressure washing or steam cleaning inside my shop before but am going to try. I have an above ground lift "Rotary brand". LOVE IT. I'm afraid that the grease will get into my concrete and be a bear to get up so I'm going to put plastic on the floor and drape plastic from the car to water from getting all over my shop. I'll put a fan at one end and open the door. If I work from the back to the front perhaps I won't get too wet. I'll let you know how it turns out. This weekend, I plan on finishing the motor and cleaning the undercarriage. I can see already I am going to need all new front end rubber and bushings. I'm off next week so I hope to get a lot done.

If this type of story is interesting to the list, I'll continue. If not I'm sure someone in this shy group will let me know. If anyone has experience with something I'm going to get into some advice before I have to learn it myself the hard way will be gratefully appreciated.

I am determined to fabricate a converter in order use the aluminum 727 with the pushbutton control cable. The Hurst shifter has got to go! My 57 has NO options. If anyone has any spare parts....

Looking for List:

- Drivers door handle trim

- The semi rectangular dish the door handle sits in.

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This page was last updated October 19, 2003.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club