When Jimmy Reaney straps into his 1958 Chrysler Imperial Crown convertible, it's reminiscent of a very familiar setting. Design cues for his drop top mimic the F-16s and F4 Phantoms the retired Air Force pilot has flown countless times before.
"The dashboard layout has a cockpit theme" with such elements as the gauge cluster, push button controls and center mounted rearview mirror. "Everything has a fighter plane placement," the Palatine resident said.
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Aviation may have been one design inspiration, but this rolling beauty wasn't built for asphalt dogfights. Its chief purpose was wrapping occupants in complete luxury and high style.
"The car is a classic example of American postwar opulence, with a little Flash Gordon thrown in," Reaney said. "No amount of chrome was ever enough."
Reaney's love affair with vintage rolling showboats began long before he embarked on any overhead sorties. "As a kid, our neighbors would get brand new 'finned' cars every year," he said. The wife would get vehicles in all the typical 1950s colors like coral, foam green and the like. The father always opted for a four-door Imperial.
"Of all the cars in their driveway, that's the one I never forgot." With that motoring inspiration, Reaney vowed he'd get one for his own.
"The Imperial was the first car Chrysler put through a wind tunnel. Aerodynamics was a major factor in the design and even as a youngster I could see that," he said. "And I really liked the gaudiness of it."
Despite the bold impression the neighbors' Chryslers had on Reaney, a second catalyst was needed to get him moving on finding his dream machine. "I was flying in Japan and attended a car show. There were several of these huge, outrageous American cars, which are highly valued in that country and known as 'Godzilla' cars."
That experience seeing the uniqueness of our Detroit vehicles rekindled the hunt. After returning stateside, a classified ad led Reaney to Reno, Nev., in 1997, where he found his Firestone Red convertible. While Reaney had envisioned finding a project car that required a full-on restoration, this drop top was mostly together and required very little.
"Prior to Nevada, the car was in Vancouver (Canada) for many years. That owner took the engine out and put in a hot-rod powertrain, not thinking of the car's rarity."
Not many were made; only 600 of these vehicles rolled off the production line in 1958. When someone informed the lead foot of his car's pedigree, the Canadian owner quickly returned it to its factory numbers matching specs. As such, the 392-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 was returned under hood. When Reaney took ownership only a few items needed attention.
"I put on some new rubber parts and gaskets and a lot of other small items. The largest replacement was a new dashboard. The installer said its one of the largest he's ever done."
Reaney won't be performing any barrel rolls in the mammoth cruiser, but piloting the Chrysler may not be how you would have expected.
"The driving experience is unlike competitors like Caddy and Lincoln, which have a more wallowy ride," he said. Despite being such a large car, the torsion bar suspension ensures a sportier cruise. One thing is for sure. His four-wheeled craft doesn't fly under the radar.
"It turns heads everywhere we go. There's something special about these really outrageous-looking cars."