Over the course of his long career, Z. Taylor Vinson collected and preserved thousands of examples of automobile literature. In his autobiography A Collector’s Life, he listed a small handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures,” which he was particularly proud of owning and considered to be especially significant. For this week’s blog, I decided to highlight an item that Vinson identified as being especially rare: a trade catalog for the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight.
The Custom Imperial Eight was a prestige luxury car built by the Chrysler Division of Chrysler Corporation. Aimed at a wealthy clientele and selling in the $2800-$3600 price range, it occupied the top rung of Chrysler’s 1932 model lineup. Essentially an enlarged and dressed-up version of the smaller and less expensive Chrysler Imperial, it was intended to compete with other American prestige cars of the day, including those manufactured by Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow.
Like other American prestige cars of the time, the Custom Imperial Eight was a truly extravagant and luxurious machine. It was a very large and heavy car, riding on a 146-inch wheelbase and depending upon model trim, weighing in between 4900 and 5300 pounds. Customers were offered a choice of 6 semi-custom bodies: 3 built by Chrysler and 3 built by famed coach builder LeBaron, Incorporated. The cars’ interiors were sumptuously appointed, featuring high-end upholstery materials, a walnut dashboard, and amenities that included a cigar-lighter and personal accessory compartments.
In terms of engineering, the Custom Imperial Eight was a very innovative car for its time. The car was built on a rigid “Double-Drop, Girder-Truss” chassis, which gave the car a lower center of gravity and improved its handling. Power was provided by a 384 cubic-inch straight-8 engine, a high-compression unit that was good for 125 horsepower. The engine was mated to a 4-speed transmission which featured free-wheeling and an automatic clutch that permitted gear changes without the clutch pedal. Passenger comfort was improved by installing the engine on “Floating Power” rubber engine mounts, which reduced the amount of engine vibrations transmitted to the car’s interior. The car also came equipped with self-lubricating springs fabricated from a porous metal called “Oillite,” which blessed it with a remarkably smooth and quiet ride.
A single example of the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight trade catalog is preserved in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. In his autobiographical manuscript A Collector’s Life: (an autobiography), Mr. Vinson describes this particular trade catalog as being very rare, stating that he had only seen one copy of it advertised for sale in over 40 years of collecting. He also revealed that he it took him nearly 20 years of searching to find it.
As for the 1932 Custom Imperial Eight itself, it is also quite rare. Due to its high sticker price and the bad economy brought on by the Great Depression, only 220 of these cars were built. Surviving examples are highly prized collectables today.
Brown, Arch, “Classic Chrysler, 1932 Custom Imperial,” Special Interest Autos, June 1988
Chrysler Imperial Eight Custom Models, Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Imperial, 1929-1935, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 317-318.
Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.