Jay Leno’s 1958 Imperial Convertible Is One Massive Land Yacht

Massive and beautiful. Also massive.

bySean Evans|
People photo

Back in the Fifties, marques wanted to further distance themselves from their manufacturers. Lincoln pulled away from Ford, Cadillac peeled off General Motors and, when launching the upper-crust Imperial, Chrysler omitted their name and birthed the enormous behemoth under its own banner. Want to show your neighbors and friends you made it? Buy 5,600-pounds of American luxury car and let them hear that 392 Hemi V8 roar.

Jay Leno got this very Imperial convertible, one of only 560 made, from a movie producer who took the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin joy riding in it. It’s all original, save a paint re-spray which Leno wants to change back to the factory hue, and some custom Wilwood disc brakes. Fair, considering you really don’t want the original drums when trying to get the largest American car built (at the time) to halt safely.

The 345-horsepower whopper features Chrysler’s first wrap-around windshield, with the A-pillars set far back, great for seeing everything and “feeling like you’re driving a drive-in movie theater,” quips Leno. The “Torsion Air” suspension system means you don’t feel the road, per se, so much as you float over it, gaping potholes and all. All the niceties came standard, including power steering, power brakes, and instrument gauges as large as the 15-inch radial tires.

The car itself was virtually indestructable. Leno notes that demolition derbies of the Sixties and Seventies banned Imperials because they were tougher than a tank and thus held an unfair advantage. It’s a stately number and a bit of a time capsule with design cues like the gunsight taillights. Cruise along with Leno in the video below.