Cars We Remember – Rare 1957 to 1968 Shriners Chrysler Imperials; current owner gives inside info on lifelong plight to own one

Cars We Remember - Rare 1957 to 1968 Shriners Chrysler Imperials; current owner gives inside info on lifelong plight to own oneRobert Louis Brezout and Guy Equille, both from France, own this 1961 Shriners Imperial Convertible. They performed an amazing four year restoration to bring the Imperial up to top condition. (Photo compliments Shriners International)

Q: Greg, thank you for writing all the very interesting columns about collector cars. Back in November of 2017 you featured an article by me about my 1955 Plymouth and Earl Scheib’s paint jobs. In that article I mentioned my Imperial and you asked me to let you know about it. Well it is up and parading around so here’s the info on my rare car.

From 1957 thru 1968 there was an Omaha Nebraska Tangier Shrine parade unit known as the IMPs (Imperial Motor Patrol). The group was made up of 23 businessmen who bought identical new Imperial convertible parade cars each year, which they drove in parades and other VIP events.

Cars We Remember - Rare 1957 to 1968 Shriners Chrysler Imperials; current owner gives inside info on lifelong plight to own one
Paul Duff owns this beautiful 1965 Shriners Imperial Convertible and tells his story this week of his lifelong dream to one day own and rebuild one of these very rare Imperials. (Compliments Paul Duff)

These Imperials were the largest fleet sales of Imperials for Chrysler and each year before the new models were built, a Chrysler VIP would meet with the Shriners to decide the color and how they wanted their new convertibles outfitted.

Chrysler guaranteed no other convertible would be built exactly like them and that the Shiners cars would be the first convertibles off the assembly line. This made the 23 years of custom built Imperials extremely rare. During these years I was an Omaha Police motorcycle officer and one of our jobs was to escort the IMPs around town to parades and other functions. This made it possible for me to visit with the owners and to look over the Imperials up close. 

However, with my salary I was only able to dream of ever owning one of these magnificent cars.

In 1968, Chrysler decided to discontinue building the Imperial convertibles, which resulted in the demise of the IMPs. Over the next 50 years I often dreamed of owning one of these original IMPs and 10 years ago I started seriously looking for one. I had a special desire for a 1965 model and early in 2014, an ad showed up on eBay for a 1965 Imperial convertible in Lakeland Florida that sounded like it could be one of the IMPs. There was no way to tell for sure, but it was the right color and had the right equipment. I did find out that it left Nebraska in 1975 and turned up in Lakeland, Florida, where an elderly gentleman, who wanted to restore it, as the car was in bad shape, purchased it. 

Cars We Remember - Rare 1957 to 1968 Shriners Chrysler Imperials; current owner gives inside info on lifelong plight to own one
The Chrysler Imperials were built especially for the Shriners International members, and in Omaha, Nebraska, there were 23 members of the Imperial Motor Patrol (IMP) that purchased specially built Imperials every year from 1957 to 1968. This photo shows the special Shriners grille insignia. (Compliments Shriners International)

He bought it and put it in his warehouse and dismantled it, but sadly died before he could restore it. The dismantled car sat there until 2013 when the family decided it was time to get rid of that pile of junk. A Lakeland car dealer thought it had potential and bought it, but after a second thought he decided it was too big a project and he put it on eBay.

I had good feelings about this car and bought it sight unseen with only pictures and had it shipped to my home in Onawa, Iowa. It arrived on a Sunday morning in June 2014 on top of a commercial car hauler. There was no top – only the convertible frame.  The bumpers were laying in the body of the car along with loose seats, upholstery, and two five gallon pails of bolts and small parts. The front clip and hood had only a couple bolts holding them on so it could be shipped. Every tire was a different size and flat.  The doors and trunk lid were held shut with bungee cords. My wife told me to hurry up and get it unloaded and into my shop before the neighbors saw it!

Now five years later I have restored the car from the ground up. Everything was soda blasted, every mechanical part rebuilt and/or replaced. A retired Chrysler employee who worked in the engine development department and now builds race engines rebuilt the drivetrain from the radiator thru the rear axle. Everything on my Imperial has been restored to as close to original as possible. 

Cars We Remember - Rare 1957 to 1968 Shriners Chrysler Imperials; current owner gives inside info on lifelong plight to own one
Advertisement for a “normal” 1965 Chrysler Imperial. (Compliments Fiat Chrysler)

The color code for the car was listed as 9900, which indicates it was an unlisted special paint color. My paint supplier was able to duplicate the color using a paint chip obtained from underneath a chrome trim strip.  

Now that I had the title I was able to check it out with the Chrysler Historical Society and sure enough it is an original IMP car. It was sold new to the Shriners (International) on Sept 24, 1964 and picked up by the IMP members at the Chrysler headquarters in Detroit with much fanfare. It was then paraded back to Omaha over several days with many stops along the way.

This project has been a real challenge. New parts are almost entirely unavailable and whatever parts you might find are very expensive. There were only 633 Imperial convertibles built in 1965 so it must be the challenge that holds our interest in trying to save these old cars and hang on to our memories. Sincerely, Paul Duff, Onawa, Iowa.

A: Paul, what an amazing story of someone who followed their dream of owning one of these very rare Shriners Chrysler Imperials. Thanks so much for sharing your story as it is an inspiration to everyone out there, regardless of age, to enjoy this wonderful world of car collecting. You can take a bow for what you have accomplished.

As for the Shriners, although the IMPs of Omaha no longer exist, today’s Shriners Motor Patrol is stronger than ever and can be seen in parades across the country. Their Lodges and Hospitals do much good for needy children, and they, too, can take a bow.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader input and questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or at greg@gregzyla.com).

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