The 1933 Chrysler Imperial CL Dual Cowl Phaeton still redeems itself in the early morning light. Born in dark times, it was one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Even though it was the last of an elegant line of motorcars which symbolized the life of the rich and famous, an era ended just as the elegant classic motorcar first appeared on the American scene.
The world-wide Great Depression was in its fourth year and the American automobile industry was reeling. As the economic woes of the country continued, people were out of work and bread lines and soup kitchens kept failing families alive. Despite the economic woes, some of the most majestic cars ever produced emerged during those times. One of these was the 1933 Chrysler Imperial CL Dual Cowl Phaeton you see here offered for sale by the Legendary Motorcar Company. (Follow this link to find more photos and information.)
Few cars can boast the provenance of this vintage marvel. First it was purchased new by a famous powerboat racer and race car driver, Lou Fageol from Cleveland, Ohio. It didn’t take long before Fageol replaced the L-head straight eight motor with a Cadillac V-16. It still had the V-16 Cadillac engine when Hollywood movie star Turhan Bey owned it, as well as Jack Passey a well known car collector of the era. Playboy Laurence “Baron” Dorcy of the Great Northern Railroad fortune would own it in his stable along with his racing boats and cars on the island of Maui. Richard Orchard, expert at restorations, then performed a complete automotive refurbishing on the car from 1985 through 1987. Then, more recently, a period correct L-head straight eight was installed to bring it back to original.
The 1933 Chrysler Imperial CL Dual Cowl Phaeton had a longer wheelbase at 146 inches. The cowl-less hood which stretched nearly six feet long was the main design feature that Walter P. Chrysler wanted to accentuate. The look was developed by Ralph Roberts of LeBaron Carrosiers. The new Imperial was offered in two series: a standard line with production Briggs-built bodies and a more prestigious Custom line featuring semi-custom bodies, finished to order. LeBaron designed and built all but one of the Imperial pre-packaged designs. The custom line set Imperial in company with some of the great marques of all time, such as Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard. It addition to the cowl-less hood, fender flares flowed in the full-length running boards topped by dual side-mounted spare tires.
It classic design benefitted from pronounced separated two-piece windshields and hood ventilator doors. The dual-cowl phaeton had a fixed second cowl into which the rear windshield could be cranked down.
Unfortunately, 1933 was a bad year for Chrysler so there were only 151 Imperial units ever produced. One article we read had it that only 36 of these were custom line packages such as the LeBaron. Today it is thought that only 17 of the LeBaron bodied cars still survive.
It currently looks like it has a 384 c.i. inline 8 cylinder high compression Red Head (6.2 to 1) engine which would have been correct for the period. It is rated at about 135 bhp. The Stromberg downdraft carburetor was innovative and powerful. It is thought that the 2-and-a-half ton car could achieve 96 mph. Big as it was, the massive car ran smooth and quiet because of Chrysler’s patented Floating Power engine mounts.
The 1933 Chrysler Imperial CL Dual Cowl Phaeton was a “driver’s car” built for performance with special steering that took corners easily.
The turned-aluminum dashboard is impressive and complements a very interesting interior covered in leather.
Back in 1933 this car would have cost $3,395.
1933 was the swan song for the Imperial because Chrysler updated to the Airflow design starting in 1934.