Junkyard Find (11/04): What Brown Beauty Have We Found?

Two weeks ago, we showed off one of the most impressively rusty cars we found in a Midwest junkyard. As several readers pointed out, it looks someone stripped this Jaguar XJ6 for paint and then just…never got around to doing anything about it. Good job if you spotted this one before clicking through. This week, we have a royally difficult cropped photo. Can you tell what car this is?

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OK, maybe that was a bit tough. How about this unmistakable wheel? Does that help?

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Ah, we thought that might help more of you recognize this early ‘80s Imperial. And don’t call it a “Chrysler Imperial,” Chrysler liked to consider “Imperial” as its own prestigious, royal marquee, a return to the glory days of the ’60s perhaps. We don’t get it, either.

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If you’ve watched enough Roadkill and Roadkill Garage, you might recognize its V8 as a Chrysler LA, aka the Small-Block Chrysler. However, these were truly the LA engine’s dark days. The Imperial came only with a 318 cubic-inch version that was choked down to a paltry 140 horsepower and featured an early (and therefore generally unreliable/often-replaced) throttle-body fuel-injection setup.

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The digital dashboard meant no odometer reading, but from the worn-through seats, we can guess this one ran a reasonably long time. Maybe it had the one good Lean Burn system, who knows? With no power in their luxury offering, Chrysler instead loaded these cars down with amenities like La-Z-Boy-caliber seats and thick shag carpeting.

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The door cards even had reflectors so you didn’t get doored when exiting a parallel-parked Imperial. Of course, if you owned an Imperial and had to street-park it, you were living the Imperial life wrong. Nevertheless, options are options.

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We’re glad this one wears the official colors of the Malaise Era: brown exterior with beige upholstery and brown shag carpeting. That’s some aspirational stuff. These cars kind of mimicked the contemporary Cadillac Seville with the bustle-back design, too. We can’t say it ever looked good, exactly, but it was very “of its time.”

The other arrow in the Malaise Era quiver for automakers was, of course, special editions. Lincoln had about 70 limited editions during the time and Chrysler followed suit. The Frank Sinatra Edition Imperial capitalized on name recognition and padded the already-steep price with a few more figures.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be Roadkill without some race-car versions. The Imperial and its Dodge Mirada sibling both raced in NASCAR during the early 1980s with a handful of drivers. Most famously, Buddy Arrington raced both the Mirada and the Imperial in the early ‘80s. While never dominating, he managed several Top 10 finishes in his cars.

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Of course, the Burnt Rubber Soul Racing Imperial has impressed in its two 24 Hours of LeMons outings. An Imperial really is perfect for Lemons: overweight, slow, and with a suspension hardly designed for corners at any speed. In 2016, Burnt Rubber Soul debuted their “Road Bummer” Imp with Limelight(ish) Green paint and graphics that mocked the classic Mopar package. That brought them the Organizer’s Choice award.

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They returned in 2017 with a Fox Mustang Pace Car theme that was equal parts sacrilegious and awesome. The Imperial handles a bit funny on road courses with the weird transverse torsion-bar front suspension, but the team never hurried it and it ran almost faultlessly all weekend at Gingerman Raceway. That earned them the top prize, the Index of Effluency.

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In a perfect world where we had endless money, we’d have plucked this Imperial from the junkyard and thrown a Hellcrate V8 into it. That 707-horsepower Dodge crate engine would have probably twisted the flimsy Malaise Era chassis into a pretzel, but we can’t help but feel it would have been a better Viking funeral than waiting for The Crusher’s jaws, as this one was.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover