- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

“The turn signals make no sense,” Jim Byers says, “But I’ll defend the push buttons to my dying day.”

The marketing director of Arlington’s Cultural Affairs Division is, of course, referring to his 4,835-pound 1960 Imperial Southampton LeBaron four-door hardtop sedan. Instead of a common stalk on the steering column, the turn signals are activated by a switch on the dashboard.

Of the push buttons that select the gears in the transmission, Mr. Byers states, “They have never given me a moment of trouble.” From the top the push buttons activate Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Second and First. There is no parking gear; just a very good emergency brake.

Years earlier Mr. Byers owned a similar Imperial and sold it in 1998, immediately regretting his decision.

He set about to rectify the automotive situation. A wide variety of Imperials in far-flung locations were inspected and found wanting. Eventually, Mr. Byers decided to advertise in the “cars wanted” section of the Chrysler Product Owners Club newsletter.

When the September 2002 issue of the publication arrived in the mail, Mr. Byers checked on his ad to make certain it was correct. He saw a picture of the car he had described and thought the editors had decided to illustrate his ad. Upon closer examination, he saw that the picture of the Imperial was attached to an ad adjacent to his, placed by a man in Tulsa, Okla., hoping to sell his Imperial. The odometer showed about 56,000 miles.

Mr. Byers contacted the seller and examined pictures that were sent to him. He liked what he saw but was reluctant to buy a car sight unseen. He also had no time to make a trip to Oklahoma.

The solution came on the Internet. Mr. Byers, a card-carrying member of the Imperial Club, found Jeffrey Cutler, a fellow member in Texas, a mere 500 miles from the car in Oklahoma.

Mr. Cutler volunteered to inspect the Imperial for Mr. Byers.

Acting on the “thumbs up” report from the Texan, Mr. Byers purchased the car in October and arranged to have it transported to Washington in a closed truck.

“It arrived in Southeast on a Saturday in November,” Mr. Byers recalls. “It was a cloudy day.”

He stood behind the big truck, anxiously awaiting the appearance of the car he had yet to see. “What’s going to be behind that door?” Mr. Byers wondered.

The beautiful blue Imperial with gunsight taillights made its appearance. Bumper-to-bumper the car stretches almost 19 feet. “My spaceship limousine had arrived,” a happy Mr. Byers said. The Texan’s evaluation was exact, to Mr. Byers’ relief.

“I fired it up and went for a drive,” Mr. Byers recollects. The 413-cubic-inch V-8 develops 350 horsepower.

The two stainless-steel slivers on each side of the roof work to diffuse all of that blue. Mr. Byers surmises that his Imperial was a California car because there is no sign of rust. “I really lucked out,” he says.

The car is loaded with convenience features such as the two front fender-mounted mirrors and a Mirror-o-matic interior mirror that dims when bright lights from behind strike the surface. There is a cruise control that is set with a dial, much like a thermostat, as well as a speed minder. When the driver exceeds the pre-selected speed, the pedal pushes back against the driver’s foot.

A Chrysler Airtemp dual air-conditioning system is in place, one for the front seat and a second one in the trunk for the rear-seat passengers. A pair of vents top the dashboard with a second pair on the package shelf in the rear. Both the upper and lower parts of the dashboard are padded.

Mr. Byers’ favorite features of the car are the two front automatic swivel seats that rotate whenever the corresponding front door is opened. “They thrill me every time I open the door,” he says.

The driver controls the enormous automobile with a squarish steering wheel and all six windows are electrically controlled, even the wing vents.

The panoramic windshield is swept clean with electric wipers.

About the only problem Mr. Byers has had to address was some sluggishness, which was corrected with a tuneup and a new four-barrel carburetor.

With that work accomplished, Mr. Byers reports highway mileage of about 16 miles per gallon.

“It’s a lot of car,” he says. He buys the highest octane fuel he can find and then adds a can of octane booster to the 23-gallon tank to keep the big engine happy.

“It’s a people magnet,” Mr. Bryers says. Everyone seems to be attracted to the big fins.

“Parking an Imperial is simple,” he says, “if you can find two parking places together.”

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