1972 Imperial GT Coupe

Or, It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green

The idea for this project came from looking at the factory brochure, and what might be the definitive photograph of this car’s body style, showing the reflection of the landscape/horizon reflected in it’s utterly smooth flanks:

04/2009: I have been building my 1972 GT Coupe for a little over 2 years now, and it is finally approaching completion.

The image above from the 1972 Imperial Brochure inspired me, and created a desire to see a car like that as my own car. I normally restore, but on this one, anything that I thought would improve the car was added.

This would include extra horsepower, a beefed up transmission, stickier rubber, and creature comfort improvements.

       
  
 The car’s title is “The Twilight Zone” and there are a few puns that go along with getting into the car and going to in-laws, but there’s actually a bigger story to that which will be added in the future, so come back in a year or two for a surprise! 

While I generally choose to restore and keep things original, on this vehicle I have dropped all desire to stay stock and will make the modifications that I feel are best to yield a good, long-range highway vehicle that will be comfortable on the interstate, and will hopefully handle better and look different from anything else on the road.

Goals are to improve performance where possible without resorting to too many gadgets or silly tricks to get it. The car is heavy, and focus is on acceleration once in motion, rather than at take-off from a standing start.

The car was bought from a person in Washington State and shipped to me in the SF Bay Area. Thanks to www.craigslist.org for this (and so many other finds). The car had been offered for sale previously at $3500 and was in sad shape. Grandma had owned it and it was basically just loose, not really bad, but needed the steering box tightened and the starter relay replaced to be mechanically corrected. The seller wanted it to go to someone that would care for it, and was about to sell it to the demo-derby folks when I offered $1500 and the deal was done. I might have gotten it for less with a little effort, but how can you argue with a complete, rust-free car that really doesn’t need much and makes a perfect starting place for what I have in mind?

This has been the sad fate of so many of these cars — nobody interested, so they get crushed. This car is somewhat special — it is one of 2,322 made, making it one of the scarcer mass-produced cars from the 20th century around. The 1969-73 Coupes were all scarce and all were in the 2500 range for production quantity. With so few of these cars surviving in even the 4-door configuration, they’re a unique car. It had to be pointed out to me, but ever since I’ve been drawn to the sheerly immense expanse of sheet metal between the back edge of the door and the rear bumper. I’m sure that there’s a car that was made with a longer stretch of sheet metal, but I can’t think of what that might be! Simply an impressive stamping of sheet metal, and they made the dies for a mere 5000 cars! (72 and 73 had the same body).

Modifications:

Engine & transmission

Engine is a 1970 unit that I came into.  I had my machinist, Glenn rebuild it.  He’s done so many 440 engines that I avoided the headache of thinking and just told him to move the car away from stock and into the performance region, keeping an eye on having the engine street-able and not something that is lumpy or sensitive.

Engine compartment was pressure washed and then lightly sanded. It was painted the same color as the hood, with paint that is normally used for painting chrome trim panels on 1980’s and 90’s cars. It has a medium sheen that is not flat and is not gloss. It is also not terribly porous, so will be easy to wash and keep clean while completely hiding some of the cosmetic flaws that were present and not worth addressing underhood.

The cam is upgraded, and the internals completely redone.

There is a deep-sump Milodon oil-pan on the car that forced me to bend the transmission tunnel up to allow it to fit. That pan will likely need to be cut off if the engine ever comes out….it was a really tight fit going in, but looks good. It will require a skid-plate, as it sticks out below the cross-member, but I’ll get that made later.

The intake is an Edelbrock Performer aluminum intake manifold, which sits the carb above the original stock location. For this reason, the hood gets a hole for the air cleaner to stick through — a perfect excuse to put a mild, functional hood scoop and K&N filter with open top on.

The carb is also an Edelbrock, chosen because it’s newer and has the electric choke — the manifold has no choke well for the mechanical choke, and the Edelbrock is essentially a Carter AVS unit (which came on 440’s for years), so that’s a good fit.

The valve covers are aluminum MOPAR PERFORMANCE units. I got them because I liked the way that they look, but was pleasantly surprised at the additional bonus that comes from the aluminum casting: stiffness. They are unlikely to deform and allow leaks like the stamped steel stock ones, so that’s nice.

The exhaust manifolds are C-body HP units that are shaped differently for better flow than stock. The intake and exhaust manifolds were of particular interest, as I’m under the impression that between them and the cam, the greatest potential for improvement was to be had.

The rest of the engine accessories are all new, and the radiator was cleaned and re-habbed completely.

Transmission was rebuilt as a HD unit. I can’t recall what was done in there, but I think that the Imperial setup was pretty robust to begin with, and that there wasn’t much to do. He said something about adding an additional clutch pack, but I’ve been collecting stuff for this project for a year, and had the trans and engine rebuilt even before I got the car.

I made certain to ask that the warranty on the engine and transmission not be started until I got the car together and fired up, and both my machinist and trans guy were happy to live on the honor system.

The driveshaft was also rebuilt, so I’ll have a completely new driveline that is hopefully dependable. I’ll be relying on the rear end being happy with new fluid, since they tend to be pretty robust. I’ll deal with seals and whatever else as needed when it comes up.

Suspension:

Car will be lowered 2″ in the rear, and 2″-3″ in the front and outfitted with custom made steel wheels that are as wide as possible. Likely 17″ but I’ve not completed that portion of the planning yet. The wheels will likely be black with chrome moon centers and chrome beauty rings. The width of the tread will be widened because the tires are set so deeply into the body that the overhang to each side gives the car an overweight appearance. Hopefully thicker meat on the axles will balance this out a bit?

I’m planning to find a front spoiler that I can mount underneath, lowering the car’s appearance from the front even further. I’ve seen mid 1990’s Chevvy Suburbans that have a nice one that might suit just fine….

The car has no rear sway bar, and the one on the front is comparatively small. Plans are to have a 1.5″ bar out front, and a 1.25″ bar out back, in an attempt to keep the car flat when cornering, something that other people in traffic might not expect. Perhaps good tires and bars will make the thing handle like a car 2/3 it’s weight?

Shocks were replaced with KYB units because they are valved 30% stiffer than the factory units, although I’m not about to pretend that I’ll get rid of the loosey-goosey softness that was built into the car to start with.


Exterior:

The grille has been blacked out, and a NOS 1966 Imperial rear bumper gas-cap emblem added, with the deletion of the stock bird emblem that used to be on the center front of the hood. This makes the chrome surround of the bumper stronger, as well as making the IMPERIAL script on the headlight door stronger. I had considered going with a larger, more visible emblem, but when I wiped the stock one with thinner to remove the overspray, it gleamed and seemed right, so I left it there.

The hood and lower valence have been painted the same black satin as the engine compartment. This was done in an attempt to emphasize the large size of the queen-sized bed that is the hood of the car, while drawing the eye (hopefully) away from the hood and to the smooth sides that will be painted a highly reflective, glossy silver in an attempt to emphasize the smoothness of the body sides that I saw in the factory photo.

The top is complete, but there are rust-bubbles below the rear window. Current plans are to slice the cover on the sides and bottom, peel up and remediate whatever I can, and try to get the surface smooth enough to allow me to glue the top back down smooth. I’ll then spray it black. Making the top black will probably make the car look heavier and darker.

I am toying with removing the door handles and going to solenoid door releases with buttons in a continuance of the smooth fuselage theme, but don’t know if that’s worth the extra effort. I’ll make that decision before I do the bodywork/painting.

The rear end will be silver but the rectangular panel below the bottom edge of the trunk-lid will be painted black to match the top and front. I have a set of IMPERIAL script from a 1966 that I’ll arrange horizontally across the back of the car, so that I don’t get a bunch of “what’s that?” crap from the other idiots on the road. I’m also planning to look for a suitable “GT” emblem, for this car is to truly be a Grand Touring car if ever there was one.


Interior:

The interior is a most hideous shade of green, but otherwise in pretty good shape. I plan to dye or paint it black as much as possible. The front glass will come out to be replaced, so that’s a nice opportunity to do the dash justice. I’m optimistic that I can convert this thing out of Avocado and into something that isn’t so revolting.

I have sliced the center splined portion out of the original flat, round steering wheel and will weld it into the center of a 1962 wheel that I got. I filled the cracks in that wheel with JB weld epoxy and sanded them flat. I hope that this will work out, since I like the feel of the square Imperial wheels, but I launched into it without taking into account the fact that the 1962 wheel has tremendous depth to it, the wheel is about 5 inches farther out than the hub. When I line things up, the telescoping column may save me and allow me to get away with this stunt. It’s design humor that will be lost on everyone but Imperial people. Hopefully I can pull it off without it looking too goofy, but this is a custom car!

The car will get a good sound system, but I have yet to design that. Probably 2 10″ subs and 4 speakers in the conventional layout. The good news is that there are plenty of people spending good money on upgrading their systems, and I fully expect to find some serious deals on used equipment. If you know what you’re looking at, the people advertising on www.Craigslist.org are all in need of cash, and I’m just the kind of person to offer 50% of what the thing is new if I can determine that it isn’t stolen and is less than a year old.

I’m thinking of putting a center console between the seats. There is a metal one made for trucks and jeeps that allows you to lock the head unit in with a cylindrical key, and hopefully it will help hide the fact that there’s a system in the car.

I don’t like the look that an aftermarket stereo will have on the dash anyway, so hopefully hiding it in here will not attract the unwanted attention from thieves that I’d like to avoid. Besides, why give up your perfectly good 8-track if you don’t have to?

I’m not done planning it yet, but the other idea is to permanently mount a laptop computer atop the transmission hump, angled for easy viewing. This would accomplish 3 things.

1. GPS. I want it, and adding it to a CPU costs $100 and a USB connection.
2. DVD — I can show movies, although I’m not certain that I really need or want to, but since we’re there already….
3. Internet — plan is to mount a ball-mouse on a USB connection at each seat’s right side, and have a wireless keyboard. Combine this with a wireless card, and I’d be able to access the web for information, phone numbers, or whatever else regardless of location. That’d make getting a deal on hotels easier when on the road, although I’m not sure that it’ll pay for itself very quickly that way.

I figure that I can run the CPU on a secondary 12v battery with an invertor that is switched so that the battery does not draw on the car’s battery when the car is off, allowing long-term use of the laptop without having to turn it on and off all the time. The Microsoft Windows boot-up time is simply too long, and I’d prefer to leave the thing on and rely on the laptop battery and a second 12v battery than have to spend a couple of minutes turning it on and off each time I enter or leave the car.

Other:

The Auto Temp II unit appears to be fried on this car, as it is on so many of them. I have not bothered with it on the other 72 and 73 that I have, but recently bought a factory ATC II diagnosis tool that has to be pretty rare. I’ll play with it and figure out how it works, but am expecting that I’ll be forced to spend $250 for a replacement unit that is made with an aluminum base that will not crack when exposed to the heat from the exhaust manifold.

I’d also like to get my phone connected into the car somehow, so that I can go hands-free when driving. Maybe get an interface going through the computer or something? I’ll have to explore that later, when the car is running around and can be turned over to a car-audio person.

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