Summery January Weather Made for a ‘Top Down’ Day at the Imperial Club Barbecue

Just as certain as the odometer eventually rolling over to 00000 in my antique Lincoln, the calendar has rolled over to a new year. It is now January and that can only mean one thing—-the Imperial Club of Southern California’s annual barbecue and car display at Marc Hampton’s great home in Palm Springs was a go. 

And, it was another terrific event with great cars, old friends, good food and lots of fun poolside. Fortunately, while there was plenty of car chatter no one fell in. It was a lovely 80-degree day, perfect for outdoor dining and displaying classic convertibles with their tops down. 

Models of vintage cars decorated each dining table. The catered barbecue featured enormous hamburgers, hot dogs and perfectly grilled chicken, plus the usual side dishes of potato salad, cheese and numerous chips and dips. There was coffee and lots of homemade cookies too.

For several years, the LCOC has participated with the Imperial Club members. In 2018 this resulted in an epic display of mid-20th century American luxury cars.  Imperials from the 1940s forward through several decades were there.  Lincolns, a jazzy red Cadillac convertible, a few Buicks, some Dodges, and Pontiacs were on display. And, there was even a Rolls Royce, rare Packard convertible, an AMC Gremlin and a tiny Japanese Figaro on view.

This event has become an annual happening attracting visitors from far and wide. Some attendees came from as far away as Salt Lake City. And our own Bob Blevins drove his 1952 Lincoln Cosmopolitan all the way from his home in Yuma, Arizona.  Ron Cressy on the other hand was able to motor his Lincoln Town Car from nearby Yucca Valley. Both Jim Ayres and I hit the California freeways before sunrise to get prime parking places and complete the nearly 300-mile round trip in our 1964 Lincoln convertibles.

It was fascinating to compare designs of the mid-60s Imperials and Lincolns. The influence of beloved designer Elwood Engel on both models was unmistakable. Engel was at Ford in the late 1950s and his Thunderbird concept for a 4-seater vehicle eventually evolved into the 1961 Continental.  It has been said that the Lincoln marque was on a fast track to cancelation at the time but that the 1961 Continental saved the brand. As a result, many current Lincoln owners owe Engel a very large debt of gratitude. The same can be said of the Imperial owners.

Everyone knows Lincolns of the early sixties are noted for their slab sides and peak moldings on top of the fenders. In 1961 Engel left Ford for Chrysler and the Imperials he designed there share both slab sides and the peak moldings starting in 1964. These are just the most obvious styling cues. Who knows what other luxury features these two classic brands also share?

 One characteristic they both have in common is rarity. In the early 1960s Lincoln production was under 35,000 units per year. Compare those numbers to 111,159 U.S. sales in 2017 or 231,660 in peak year 1990. Imperials were even rarer, with early ‘60s production averaging under 15,000 units annually.  Imperial sales went up after Engel’s designs reached the market in 1964 but still remained well below Lincoln’s, averaging under 20,000 units per year, and for both brands only a fraction of what Cadillac was selling. Obviously, as time has gone by, relatively few Imperials have survived so we give thanks to those members of the Imperial Club, who have preserved these wonderful classics for us to enjoy at the annual barbecue and other events.

For more photos of this event click here

%d bloggers like this: