Only 145 of these rare top-of-the-line 1938 Chrysler Custom Imperial C20 8 cylinder Limousine's were built out of only 519 factory built Series C20 models for this year and are now obviously extremely rare. Of this top-of-the-line Imperial C20 line; there were built: 252 4 door 5 passenger sedans, 122 4 door 7 passenger sedans and 145 4 door 7 passenger limousines and a further 11 individual Custom Imperial chassis that were supplied to coachmakers with most of them carrying Derham bodies.
Chrysler built this Imperial Limousine on its long 144-inch wheelbase and equipped it with their most powerful 'Gold Seal' eight-cylinder engine. (Standard Imperials were equipped with 110-hp engines and rode on a shorter 125-inch wheelbase). The interior features tan and light grey broadcloth upholstery, a division window, jump seats, rich carpeted hassocks, double glove compartments, clock, two vanities, dual floor heaters, seven separate lights, and of course, an electric intercom to the chauffeur. All interior trim is silver-plated. The car was prohibitively expensive when new and chosen by such contemporary icons of it's day such as Joe Kennedy as it's car of choice, when US Ambassador to London, between the years 1938-40.
Chrysler designed privacy into the body with blind quarters and a small oval rear window (with privacy shade). This limousine configuration was very much designed for 'VIP' service. The Series C-20 Custom Imperial were among Chrysler's largest vehicles available, resting on a 130-inch wheelbase. Power was from a L-head eight-cylinder engine, which it shared with the New York Specials. They were fitted with three-speed manual Synchromesh transmissions and had four-wheel hydraulic brakes. The seven passenger sedan and the limousine with divider were equipped with two auxiliary folding seats in the front seat back. For the five passenger sedans, this space was used for additional storage. The limousine examples had a division window between the front and rear compartment plus the additional folding seats. Most of the C-20s were built by the factory, with 11 examples being sent to custom coachbuilders, mostly Derham.
The engine powering the C-20 Imperials was shared with the New York Special models. Displacing 299 cubic inches, this L-head inline eight-cylinder engine was available in two levels of tune. The basic engine delivered 115 horsepower and 225 pounds-feet of torque with 6.5:1 compression, with the optional 7.4:1 compression ratio yielding 122 horsepower and 238 pounds-feet of torque. Most importantly, their peak torque was available at just 1,600 engine revolutions, perfect for carrying some of the prewar eras most spacious and luxurious bodywork.
The Imperial had arrived in 1926 from Walter Chrysler to answer Cadillac, though this would always be more of a prestige leader for Chrysler than a high money maker. Also, unlike GM's luxury make, Imperials built through 1954 were not the product of a separate division, just the finest Chrysler's built which rivaled Cadillac in most every way. A notable exception to the rivalry being that Imperial did not try to match Cadillac's costly foray into V12 and V16 engines of the 1930's - ultimately proving very wise considering how poorly these models sold in the devastating Depression market! By 1931 Imperial reached a pinnacle when it introduced it's first eight. These majestic cars could reach 96mph and the Cord influenced styling was immediately distinctive with gracefully curved fenders and rakish grille. They remain among the most beautiful cars of its era ever built, particularly the custom bodied examples from Locke, Derham, Murphy, Waterhouse and especially LeBaron. Though most of these coach-builders perished in the Depression market, Chrysler hired Ray Dietrich, one of the partners in LeBaron, to head its styling department in the late 30's resulting in the C20 cars. Walter Chrysler died in 1940 but Chrysler and the Imperial was to continue gloriously into the post war period.
This particular 1938 Chrysler C-20 Custom Imperial C-20 is bodied with Sedan Limousine coachwork and is one of only 145 examples produced. In addition to such features as a division window, the rear passenger compartment is fitted with a clock, jump seats, and a vanity set and smokers kit, each hidden inside discreet storage compartments built within the blind rear quarters. The upholstery inside the rear compartment is all original and very well preserved with unusual details including the storage compartments secured by glass doors. This car runs and drives extremely well and is well optioned and equipped with a factory overdrive that with the 299 cubic-inch straight eight power plant gives it remarkably quiet performance at highway speeds. During the prior ownership, no expense was spared in adding air conditioning which was discreetly installed to facilitate this Imperials comfortable use in all weather conditions as desired. Recently purchased by us from a renown collection, in terms of style, elegance, rarity, preservation, and presence, this 1938 C-20 Custom Imperial Limousine is simply an exceptional automobile suitable for the finest of American classic car collections.
Moving this over 4,500 pound limousine is its original 298 cu in 8 cylinder mated to its original standard floor shift 3 speed manual transmission which featured synchronized second and third gears. This rare Imperial will still run down the road at freeway speeds with no hesitation, she has no wobbles or creaks. This car is an all steel original car and has been in a private museum collection in a controlled environment for many years. Please keep in mind that only some 145 of these rare limousines with dividers were built in 1938, making these particular cars extremely collectible and prized amongst Chrysler enthusiasts.
This particular example has an older paint with some blemishes and it's mostly all original interior along with correct white wall tires and Imperial wheels. The original rear wool broadcloth tan and light gray interior is in absolutely exceptional condition throughout for its age but please note that the original headliner is now sagging somewhat. The floor boards, trunk and all the typical rust-prone areas are completely solid and rust-free and the car has no signs of any accidents - obviously an always garaged and cherished car since new! All the chromework is also in very good condition and the original 298 matching #'s 8 cylinder engine is extremely strong and powerful and this particular car drives magnificently - must be driven to be believed - drives straight as an arrow with no strange road wobbles, shakes or rattles - a truly remarkable daily driver that will give any modern day car a run for it's money!
This is a rare opportunity to own a great daily driving and never abused example of an obviously always garaged and rust free 1938 Chrsyler Custom Imperial C20 8 cylinder Limousine, and although obviously not a concourse example, this is a well preserved find and definitely a car you can enjoy driving immediately and an undisputed very rare, highly desirable, collectible and unabused example of one of the outstanding designs of late 1930's pre-war art deco period automobiles. These high quality luxury cars were built to be able to complete long distances both quickly, powered by state of the art 8 cylinder engines, and in the utmost of luxury!
This is one very desirable pre-war classic car for any classic American car enthusiast or collector to add to his collection, a very honest and unabused example and a sure-fire investment that's sure to appreciate over the years for any classic American car collector or indeed Chrysler enthusiast.