- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

When Neal Herman was a teenager in Ventura, Calif., he learned to drive in his grandmother Dorothy Grunewald’s 1964 Imperial. Driving that big Imperial on the California freeways is a memory forever etched in his mind.

Many years later, Mr. Herman was in his home in Northwest, electronically browsing, when he was stopped by a picture of a car for sale. “What caught my attention was the pearlescent white leather back seat,” Mr. Herman says. The seat was in a haze green 1966 Imperial Crown four-door hardtop with a Persian white vinyl top. It wasn’t exactly like his grandmother’s car, but it was close enough.

Further investigation disclosed that the original sales receipt, dated March 25, 1966, was from Normandin’s Chrysler dealership in San Diego.

To the base price of $5,824 for the very well appointed Imperial was added a list of options including:

• Air conditioning….$452.25.

• AM/FM radio…….227.75.

• Dual power seats….210.85.

• Vinyl top…………129.70.

• Leather seats……..102.25.

• Tilt/telescopic wheel.92.45.

• Electricdoor locks….70.70.

• Reverberator………36.90.

• Rear defogger……..21.05.

A few other accessories — plus the inevitable taxes, tags and freight — brought the total close to $8,000.

The original owner was a California roofing company executive who, after a decade of use, stored the 4,990-pound car for 15 years. A contractor in San Diego became the second owner.

Mr. Herman was determined to be the third owner if the Imperial lived up to the images. Fortunately, he has trusted friends living in the area who were able to inspect the car in person.

The big Imperial, one of 8,947 such models manufactured, was given a definite thumbs-up.

An elated Mr. Herman sent money to his friends and informed the seller that he would be buying the car sight unseen and that his surrogates would be around to pay him and to take possession. They even stored the Imperial for six months until Mr. Herman found time to fly to San Diego.

When he first saw the car, he had to step back to take it all in. Bumper-to-bumper, the Imperial is only an eyelash shy of 19 feet long.

The 440-cubic-inch V-8 engine eagerly came to life and, with 350 horsepower at his command behind the two-spoke steering wheel, he set out on a pleasant test drive. The pleasant part ended when the left rear wheel bearing began smoking on a freeway in Long Beach. That problem was resolved in California, where brake work had been done on the car.

The white sidewall tires looked good, but dry rot and age had taken their toll so Mr. Herman decided a new set of tires was in order.

Mr. Herman arranged to have his super-sized car trucked from San Diego to his home in Washington via Phoenix and Detroit.

It finally arrived on a Sunday afternoon this past October and was majestically unloaded, rolling out on a 129-inch wheelbase.

Inside the 80-inch-wide luxury car, there is an abundance of space for everything.

A pair of dashtop vents are where they should be to direct cooled air to the passengers. As befitting a top-of-the-line automobile, a courtesy light is found in each door as well as under the dashboard and on both “C” pillars. To make life easier for the front-seat passenger, the seat reclines.

The three-speed Torqueflite transmission is quite capable of handling the powerful engine. The car can be refueled through the filler pipe hidden at the rear of the car behind the Imperial eagle emblem.

Style evidently won over practicality when it came to placing the taillights, which are incorporated in the bumper.

The odometer has registered 123,000 miles. However, mechanically the car is running strong.

In April he plans to drive about 750 miles to Anniston, Ala., for the annual Imperial Club gathering.

Mr. Herman has a habit of naming his cars and when he displays his Imperial in Alabama, it will be identified as “Miss Dorothy” in honor of his grandmother who taught him how to drive.

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