1932 Chrysler Imperial Custom Roadster

Walter P. Chrysler Jr.'s 1932 Chrysler Imperial Custom Speedster at Pebble Beach.
I shot the photo above at Pebble Beach (circa 1990) of this 1932 Chrysler Imperial Custom Speedster, owned at the time by Sam Mann. This car was built by Walter P. Chrysler for his first born son, Walter Jr. (1909-1988). Walter Sr. had built a very successful automotive empire by this time - as well known for his engineering focus as his astute financial management of the company bearing his name - Chrysler is said to have had two similar cars specially built for his sons (Walter & Jack).

The Imperial was introduced in 1931 and represented the pinnacle of Chrysler output in the classic era. Few Custom Imperials were produced (only 4 roadsters are said to have been produced in 1932) with the model seeing a dramatic change in 1934 with the introduction of the Airflow.

Although Ralph Roberts and the LeBaron team were responsible for Imperial bodies, this car is said to have been styled by Herb Weissinger of Chrysler's Color and Art Department (Herb would leave Chrysler after the war and go to Kaiser, influencing their post-war design). Weissinger oversaw the production of the car in Chrysler's custom body shop, but it was Fred Zeder's engineering team that gave the car it's muscle. The car is said to have many experimental features (with many parts stamped "experimental"), including a shorter wheel base and high compression head which increased the horse power to 160.

The car was finished in May of 1932 and Fred Zeder as well as Barney Oilfield were photographed with the car - as can be seen by the photo, the car was originally finished in a lighter color. Ironically, 1932 was the only year that Chrysler Corporation lost money under Walter Sr's direction.

Walter Jr's interests never really included running an automobile company. He became a well known collector of art prior to attending college at Dartmouth. Walter Jr would leave college prior to graduation. However, he founded a publishing house and an art gallery around the same time. Walter Sr would build the iconic Chrysler building (financed by his personal fortune) and give over the management to his son's - Walter Jr. would sit on the board until the building was sold in 1953. Walter and his second wife opened a museum in Provincetown, MA in 1958 - a summer art colony. The car is said to have been found at their summer home in Provincetown in the 1960's. Sam Mann apparently acquired the car in the mid-1980s and it restored prior to its showing at Pebble Beach.

The second car shown is also a 1932 Chrysler Imperial Custom Speedster which I photographed at Hershey a few years back. I know much less of this car - it is said to be largely original and only to have had 4 owners. A car owned by Mark Smith of NH was shown at Pebble Beach after I took this picture and the two are quite similar (possibly the same car) - it was shown in the preservation class.

UPDATE: I was very fortunate to hear from the owner of the Speedster shown below and he has filled in some of the history of this significant automobile. The car is a CG model built in 1931 and shown at the New York Auto Show. It's first owner, Dr. Whelan of Philadelphia's main line, purchased the car at the show. However, as part of the deal, the car was sent back to Chrysler to receive all the 1932 Imperial upgrades. Delivered in 1932, car was stamped with a second set of numbers by Chrysler - there's two sets of build sheets in the Chrysler archives. Dr. Whelan would later take the car to the Derham Body Co., right there in his hometown of Philadelphia, and have the car modified to futher the speedster theme (sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s). The car was then shown at the inaugural CCCA meet in 1952 - in conjunction with the New York Auto Show. Dr. Whelan would finally part with his beloved speedster around 1959 or 1960. The second owner brought the car to Hershey in 1981, selling it for $130,000. The current owner purchased the car in 2001 and has had the car carefully returned to it's original configuration.

A different 1932 Chrysler Imperial Custom Speedster photographed at Hershey

The Walter P. Chrysler Jr. Imperial Custom Speedster when finished with Oilfield and Zeder (photo credit: theoldmotor.com)

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