Pro Luxury: This ’81 Chrysler Imperial Is Far From A Barcalounger

This 1981 Chrysler Imperial is improving everyone’s view of the 80s! When you think back to the early 80s, you’ll likely remember the pillow-top, split-bench seating, copious vacuum lines and all of the OEMs trying to figure out catalytic converters, fuel injection and improved ignition timing. That year, the fastest accelorating car tested by Consumer Guide in 1981 was the Chevrolet Corvette with a whopping 190-horsepower that churned all the way from zero-to-60 miles per hour in 8.9 seconds.

While the headlights hide behind closed doors, the Imperial’s air filter now feeds through a much better breathing opening thanks to that shaker hood scoop installed by Ted.

A lot has changed since then, but that doesn’t mean that the ‘80s don’t still have some valid contributions to today’s enthusiast. Take Ted and Beverly Wozniak’s 1981 Chrysler Imperial for instance. What caught our eye was the “oh-so-eighties” body lines and a “digital” dash that placed it squarely amid “Hulkamania” (millennials will want to Google that one). With some not so subtle touches from the Pro-street theme and additional reliability that only today’s technology can provide, this Day Star Blue beauty has not only exorcised some skeletons from its closet, but has also upped the cool factor on the street.

Burdensome Background

Lee Iacocca had been on the job for about three years when these Imperials were starting to work their way out of Chrysler factories. The joke was, sometimes they even did it on their own power. Turns out that the new ’81-83 fuel injection system would systematically shut-down at the most inconvenient time. There are even web pages committed to easing the effects of any owners who still might be plagued with these early EFI units.

Chrysler soon coordinated a retro-fit carburetion system for the Imperial that would be fitted to the car by certified Chrysler technicians free of charge. The kit not only included a new intake and tried and true carburetor, but also a complete new exhaust, a new dash assembly and even a new gas tank!

Ted, a long-time drag racer took it one step further. An updated 340 replaced the factory 318 and with the help of headers, a much better fuel system and aftermarket accessory drive assembly, Ted infused much more reliability and performance into the Imperial. The 340 is also  fitted to a similarly-updated A904 (three-speed) automatic transmission.

Under that hood scoop is a new helping of reliability.

Beyond The Burden

While Ted and Bev’s Chrysler still wears the same coat of paint and interior that it left the factory with, it’s the wheel/tire combination that first catches your eye. The Weld Racing wheels give the Imperial a well-deserved upgrade, but it’s what’s out back that really sets things apart. Ted has proven his fabrication skills with great results, and when it came time to make his street driver stand out, he dug deep into his basket of tricks, some of which weren’t all extremely high-tech.

Space gets tight when you start stuffing serious rubber under a vehicle!

Being retired, Ted had the necessary time to design and fabricate, which made fitting a set of tubs without losing the rear seating in his Imperial possible. He admits that the seat foam is a little thin in spots, but it’s all there.

The four-bar suspension is kept straight via a cross-bar and moves thanks to a set of QA1 adjustable coil over shocks.

Underneath, he fitted a four-bar suspension and coil over shocks. We use the term “fitted”, because Ted will attest, that even with such a large car as an Imperial, a set of 33×21.5-15 Hoosier tires will take up a lot of real estate pretty quickly. A narrowed 8 ¼-inch rear suspended by QA1 coil over shocks tie them together. He also needed to find room for the dual exhaust to squeeze through the shrinking space.

Another task was expanding the rear wheels to 17×15 inches so the Hoosiers would snap on without bulging. He had the rims widened by welding a larger dish on the outside of the rims, and then found out that smoothing the welds and polishing the rims was on him. He solved that task with a touch of ingenuity and a jack. While the process might not have been OSHA-certified, the results are quite acceptable. Ted sanded the rims and polished them by putting the car on jack stands with the engine running and the transmission in drive. Be sure to keep your garage door open!

A digital dash full of green digits and an 8-track! What could be more eighties?

For the hood, Ted carefully shaped a form that he could place the hood, top-side down so he could measure and cut for the shaker assembly. He then used an original under-hood bracing to help seal the deal and give the hood some strength. Being careful, he was able to do the deed without having to repaint the hood’s outer surface.

Ted's car has the only option available for an '81 Imperial, a power moon-roof. To keep it from binding, a 10-point cage ties the chassis together.

The rest of the Imperial is much like it left the factory, including its power moon roof, the only option available for an ’81 Imperial. As such, Ted reports that all of the gizmos that wowed buyers in 1981 are still present and working and those pillow-top seats are just as comfy as a pair of Reebok Pumps from back in the day.

Ted and Bev Wozniak enjoy many shows throughout the year in their Imperial. Ted is currently finishing a Nash Metropolitan for Bev.

Ted is understandably proud of their ride, “Our Imperial is still a luxury car with every possible power assist Chrysler had conjured up for 1981. And everything still works, including the power-operated moonroof; pushbutton conversion from Miles and Gallons to Kilometers and Liters; pushbutton calculation of trip miles per gallon, and trip miles available on remaining fuel, etc. Who knows, our Imperial may be the forerunner of the luxury Pro Street class?”

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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