The Chrysler Imperial, introduced in 1926, was Chrysler's top of the line vehicle for much of its history. Models were produced with the Chrysler name until 1954, and again from 1990 to 1993. The company positioned the cars as a prestige marque to rival Cadillac, Lincoln, and Packard. According to a feature article in AACA's magazine The adjective ‘imperial’ according to Webster’s Dictionary means sovereign, supreme, superior or of unusual size or excellence. The word imperial thus justly befits Chrysler’s highest priced quality model.
In 1926, Walter P. Chrysler decided to compete with North American marques Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard, and Duesenberg in the luxury car field. Chrysler offered a variety of body styles: two/four-passenger roadster (four passenger if car had the rumble seat), a four-seat coupé, five-passenger sedan and phaeton, and a seven-passenger top-of-the-line limousine. The limo had a glass partition between the front and rear passenger compartments.
The Imperial's new engine was slightly larger than the company's standard straight 6. It was a 288.6 cu in (4.7 L) six-cylinder with seven bearing blocks and pressure lubrication of 92 brake horsepower (69 kW). Springs were semi-elliptic in the front. The car set a transcontinental speed record in the year it was introduced, driving more than 6,500 miles (10,460 km) in the week. The car was chosen as the pace car for the 1926 Indianapolis 500. The model was designated E-80, the 80 being after the "guaranteed" 80 miles per hour (129 km/h) all-day cruising speed. Acceleration was also brisk breaking 20 seconds to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). Four-speed transmission was added in 1930.
The Chrysler Imperial was redesigned in 1931. The car received a new engine, a 384.84-cubic inch (6308.85 cc) Straight-eight engine. Marketing materials for this generation of Imperial referred to the car as the "Imperial 8", in reference to the new in-line 8-cylinder engine. The engine would be found in many other Chrysler vehicles. The Imperial Custom had rust-proof fenders, automatic heater control and safety glass. The limo even came with a Dictaphone.
The redesign also saw the introduction of new wire wheels that became a standard wheel treatment until the 1940s. Stock car driver Harry Hartz set numerous speed records with an Imperial sedan at Daytona Beach, Florida. It was introduced shortly after the Rolls-Royce Phantom II, Mercedes-Benz 770, Packard Eight, Duesenberg Model J, Cadillac Series 355, and Lincoln K-series appeared in the 1930s.