- - Thursday, March 8, 2012

Nick Anderson’s family owned a 1955 DeSoto when he was growing up in Dallas. Although it was a very nice car, he knew that in the Chrysler hierarchy the Imperial was the car to have. He even saw a few on the streets and admired the sculpted metal and distinctive taillights.

Along about 1980, he says, ‘I rediscovered my interest in 1950s-era cars.’ He began looking for a 1955 Imperial and five years later found a coral red two-door hardtop. ‘There it was in Rapid City, S.D.,’ he recalls.

The original owner, a farmer, was offering the car for sale. He had not driven the Imperial in 15 years.

Not wanting to buy the car without seeing it, Mr. Anderson made arrangements to inspect the car. But first he telephoned his Uncle Jim in Washington state who had been a Cracker Jack Chrysler mechanic for advice on what to be on the alert for on a 1955 Imperial. Uncle Jim warned him about a 2-inch-diameter power-steering hose. Early models had a smaller hose but Imperials built in the second half of the year had the larger hose.

In February 1984 Mr. Anderson flew to Salt Lake City to catch a plane back to Rapid City. True to his word, the farmer was there to meet him and insisted that he spend the night in his farmhouse.

I was so excited about seeing the car,’ Mr. Anderson says, ‘I couldn’t sleep.’He rose with the sun the following day and after a hearty breakfast raced out to the barn housing the Imperial and threw open the door. ‘It was so dusty I couldn’t tell what color it was,’ Mr. Anderson says. He spent the next three days with the farmer changing the crankcase oil, transmission fluid, differential oil, gasoline, antifreeze and replacing the battery and all four tires. With those basic tasks completed, he turned the key in the ignition and ‘varoooom,’ the 331-cubic-inch V-8 roared to life. ‘It drove fine,’ Mr. Anderson is happy to report.

With the Imperial cleaned, Mr. Anderson was happy with what he saw, except for marred pods on the bumpers and a small piece of chrome trim that was missing. Those imperfections weren’t enough to be a deal breaker, so on the fourth morning he bade the farmer farewell and motored off to meet a friend in Milwaukee. The odometer had registered 101,000 miles.

After resolving some mechanical woes at a Sioux Falls, S.D., truck stop, he was able to resume his journey. He arrived late at the Milwaukee airport but his friend was still waiting. They motored on through the night with the 250 horsepower under the hood of the Imperial running stronger every mile - too strong. ‘I got a speeding ticket for going 80 mph in Ohio,’ Mr. Anderson confesses. ‘The car was so comfortable,’ he says, that he had no idea he was going that fast with the 130-inch wheelbase smoothing out the imperfections in the roads.

After that encounter, he drove on home to Alexandria with one eye on the speedometer.

The Imperial is equipped with black leather on the bench seats with inserts of cloth. The headliner is red, as is the pad on the top of the dashboard and the steering wheel. Since arriving home, Mr. Anderson has purchased original seat material for the day when his car needs to be reupholstered.

A decade after he purchased the car, Mr. Anderson received in the mail the missing piece of chrome that the farmer eventually had found, testimony to the honestly of South Dakota farmers.

Soon after he got the car to Virginia, one of the window switches stopped working. A call to Uncle Jim rectified the problem. After that Uncle Jim helped solve - by telephone - a balky starting problem. He even talked Mr. Anderson through a rebuild kit for the master cylinder. Unfortunately, Uncle Jim died in 1996.

Before he retired, Mr. Anderson’s job with the World Bank took him to Beijing in 1989. As he was being chauffeured through the city, he spotted a 1955 Imperial limousine parked in a small marketplace. After tending to World Bank business, he returned to inquire about the unlikely appearance of the Imperial in Beijing. He was told that for 30 years it had been the official car of the Canadian ambassador.

It was then sold to the current owner, a Beijing resident. Before he could do anything with it, the car was mysteriously burned.

Mr. Anderson observed that the bumper pods were in good condition, so he made a deal for them. The deal included his having to remove them himself.

He rushed back to his hotel for a change to old clothes and to borrow some tools from the concierge. He returned to the marketplace and crawled beneath the burned-out Imperial. Then he began working to free the bumpers, because the pods resisted all removal efforts. At one point in his labors he looked about him and from under the car all he could see, he says, ‘were hundreds of Chinese legs surrounding the car.’ He surmises they must have been curious about the crazy American under the car.

After both bumpers were removed, Mr. Anderson hailed a cab and carried both bumpers back to his hotel. He left the bumpers with hotel security for four months until he returned on World Bank business with his own tools. He then removed the pods from the bumpers and returned to the United States with the four pods as carry-on luggage.

Research indicates that Chrysler manufactured only 3,418 of this model, each once selling for a base price of $4,720.

The odometer on the handsome Imperial now has recorded 110,000 miles. Mr. Anderson enjoys the four-way seat, the power windows and foot-activated radio signal-searching device.

The gear shift level protrudes perpendicularly from the dashboard with Reverse at the top, followed by Neutral, Drive, Low. A parking brake was not included

‘It’s fun to take to special functions,’ Mr. Anderson says. He is particularly found of the tenor/alto/bass horn, which emits an appropriately commanding three-tone sound.

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