OUT OF THE PAST

At­trac­tion to 1955 Im­pe­rial started 50 years ago

The Washington Times Daily - - Auto -

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 2inch-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-cu­bicinch 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 four­way seat, the power win­dows and footac­ti­vated 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.

Grac­ing the bumper is one of the pods the owner found in China.

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