- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

After Mike and Mary Smetanick had left Pittsburgh, Pa., and resettled in Fontana, Calif., they went to the Foothill Motors dealership and purchased a luxurious 1958 Imperial Southampton two-door hardtop coupe.

The Smetanicks must have been captivated by the Imperial advertising of that era which claimed: “The soaring rear fins with their exclusive gunsight taillights, the gracefully sculpted rear bumpers with integral back-up lights, dramatically announce to other motorists that the triumphant Imperial has just swept ahead.”

They selected a light blue Imperial with an ermine rooftop accent panel. The $5,130 price of the car plus taxes but minus the down payment resulted in a finance plan of $149.40 a month for 35 months.

They took delivery of their new car July 11, 1958. It came with a 90-day, 4,000-mile warranty.

The dry climate around Fontana kept the rust monster at bay, that and always being garaged kept the car looking good.

Twelve years later Mr. Smetanick died but his widow stayed in Fontana with the Imperial until 1980. That is when she moved back to Pittsburgh where her daughter, Dee Chatak, and her son-in-law Elmer Chatak lived.

Mr. Chatak obtained the correct misty pale blue fabric and leather and had the car reupholstered. Afterward the car was stored for 15 years until 1997. Then it received some mild mechanical first-aid to get it running.

In 2000 the Chatak’s and Mrs. Smetanick all moved to Bethesda. That is when the long-dormant Imperial was almost lost. After the enormous moving van was loaded with their household goods there remained room for an 18-foot, 9.3-inch-long car. “Otherwise,” Mr. Chatak says, “It wouldn’t be here.”

The big car barely ran when it arrived in Bethesda. The four-barrel carburetor that drank from the 23-gallon gasoline tank was replaced with an Edelbrock unit on top of the 392-cubic-inch V-8 engine. It still delivers 345-horsepower.

Mrs. Smetanick died in 2001 and at that time Mr. Chatak took over the care and feeding of the Imperial. “I think it’s a beauty,” he says.

He learned that only 1,939 Imperial Southampton coupes like his were manufactured during the 1958 model year.

The Torqueflite automatic transmission is operated via five pushbuttons positioned to the left of the insturment panel. From top to bottom the pushbottons are:

• Neutral.

• Drive.

• Reverse.

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