Street Muscle was on the ground at Goodguys in Columbus, Ohio and our heads almost swiveled off our bodies looking at all the cool cars that showed up. There are so many fantastic rides that trundled in, that it takes a pretty unique car to sear into our memory. When we laid eyes on Randy and Carol Ransbottom’s screaming red 1961 Imperial Crown Coupe Pro Street cruiser we were determined to bring you back the story.
With huge batwing fins, close to 20 feet long and tipping the scales at almost 5000 lbs, Chrysler’s Cadillac competitor is hard to miss. Forget about factory-correct restorations and numbers matching exercises, Randy’s Imperial was built to take this gigantic Imperial coupe further out into the stratosphere. Think of this Imperial as Christine’s more experienced, curvacious older sister.
Let’s rewind a bit and review this long-gone era of Chrysler that produced gigantic road schooners. Back in the day, Virgil Exner, Chrysler’s renowned chief designer, was a champion of finned, space-age styling. His most influential work came in the form of the “Forward Look” design language, which he introduced in the mid-1950s. He had performed design duties at Studebaker and GM, but his finned Chryslers have cemented him as one of the all-time great automotive stylists. Maybe the most over-the-top Pentastar to wear that design ethos was the one-year-only 1961 Imperial.
The 1961 Imperial sports elements reflecting Exner’s love of neo-classical styling flourishes, such as a radiator-style grille, free-standing headlamps and taillights, and bombastic tail fins. The car’s styling was an attempt to outdo the 1959 Cadillac and the Imperial was more than able to hold its own for sheer audacity. The 1962 model was shorn of its gigantic fins and although this era of Imperials has grown on us over the years, it was never really the same after that.
Underneath its extravagant exterior, the 1961 Imperial boasted superior handling and performance compared to its competitors. It featured Chrysler’s famous torsion bar front suspension and new-fangled unibody construction. It was bigger than the Cadillac and Lincoln of that era but offered a more nimble feel. Inside the cabin, the car’s dashboard featured outrageous Sputnik styling, an unusually complete array of gauges, and acres of leather, cloth, and chrome.
The 1961 Imperial was just one example of Exner’s influence on automotive design. His work inspired future designs such as the 1968 Lincoln Continental Mark III and the Stutz Blackhawk. For some, Exner’s neo-classical designs were unloved, but they left an indelible mark on the automotive industry.
A New Beginning
Fast forward 52 years to 2013 and Randy, a retired power company lineman, buys the Imperial you see before you. It was maroon with a black interior when he took delivery of the car, and it was running the original 413 and an automatic transmission with a pushbutton selector. The car was in good shape with just a smidgen of rust in the floors and tubbed rear wheel wells. It had even spent time as a college kid’s daily driver. It wasn’t until 2019 that Randy, with help from a friend started to mold the car the cruiser it is today.
The 413 was replaced with a 440 V8 stroked to 512 inches. A period correct cross ram induction system sports two Holley 650 carbs, MSD ignition, and is rumored to produce around 600 hp. The engine bay is a nice combo of chrome, nostalgia, and patina. The big block Mopar exhales through Thermotech headers and side dump Magnaflow exhaust. Finally, this ornery mill is backed up by a TorqueFlite 727 transmission and spins a beefy rear end with 4:10 gears.
Then, the guys got going on the body of this gigantic coupe. The tin worm was banished from the floorpan, and the rear wheel fender cutouts were lengthened to give a smoother look and add a skosh more room for the big meats packed into the three-inch tubbed wheel wells. A key decision was made to keep all the mid-century chrome jewelry on the exterior and we think that was the absolute right move.
Be sure and check out the stylized eagle medallion above the trim on the rear fenders, magnificent. Randy even kept the “toilet seat” on the rear deck. Aside from the tweaked rear fenders, the only other non-stock mod to the exterior was a tastefully restrained hood scoop. The big coupe was sprayed out in Porsche red by Lee Rose at Claytor’s Body Shop in Chesapeake, Ohio. Since then, painter Rose has passed on but his talent and “fingerprints” are memorialized all over Randy’s Imperial.
Get In And Hold On
Inside the cabin, it’s another deft mix of old and new. The old gauge cluster is gone and replaced with a hand-made aluminum panel and AutoMeter gauges. The old pushbutton transmission selector was mothballed and Randy added a floor-mounted console and B&M shifter. Lastly, the interior was stitched up in red and black vinyl by a craftsman from the nearby Amish community. The result is a new take on an old idea and is a no-nonsense cockpit to pilot this big bird.
Since completion, Randy says he loves driving the car and does so any chance he gets. He says the car causes a commotion wherever he goes as many folks have never seen an automobile this outlandish. Some purists might not like customizing a classic like this, but we say the best thing to happen to this Imperial was when Randy got a hold of it.
A different shepherd might not have been so sympathetic. This car could have just as easily been parted out or ended up in a junkyard. Thanks to Randy, the Imperial is able to soar again, red plumage puffed up accompanied by the throaty call of its big block V8.
Specifications and Production Numbers of the 1961 Imperial
- Price: The original MSRP ranged from $4,925 to $6,428
- Engine: 413-cid V-8 with 350hp
- Weight: The car tipped the scales at almost 5000 lbs
- Length – 227 inches or 19 feet long
- Available models: Custom (2-door hardtop), Crown (2-door hardtop, 4-door hardtop, convertible), LeBaron (4-door hardtop), Crown Imperial (limousine)
- Total Production: 12,258 Imperials were produced in 1961.