Judging at the annual Hemmings Concours d’Elegance is no easy task. With more than 150 exclusive cars on the show field spread across 17 classes, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer quality, rarity and overall condition of the show entrants. The difficulty comes when you need to split hairs and render a decision that awards one car a higher position over another, even if that “lesser” car would clean up at any other car show.
The flip side of that quandary is when a car makes an appearance, a grand entrance, if you will, and it soon becomes clear that its owner will leave with the Best in Show award. Such was the case this past Sunday at the Hemmings Motor News Concours d’Elegance, held in conjunction with the Saratoga Automobile Museum on the beautiful grounds of the Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Howard Kroplick’s 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 limousine with unique LeBaron bodywork wowed the record crowds from the moment it arrived on the show field just as the early morning dew was drying, until it made the last pass over the red carpet to accept the Best in Show award.
Recently featured in the September 2015 issue of Hemmings Classic Car, Howard’s Imperial is truly a one-of-a-kind automobile. The personal property of Walter P. Chrysler and his wife, Della, the town car limousine was built on an immense 144-inch wheelbase, the overall body measuring 228 inches end to end and weighing an estimated 6,300 pounds.
Considered an excellent example of streamline moderne (a style movement that you can also read about in another article in the September 2015 issue of Hemmings Classic Car that goes into great detail about the Imperial’s design), the massive car, which the Chrysler family used for decades at their Long Island estate, carries a breathtaking presence wherever it goes. Howard had the car restored beginning in 2012 by Auto Restorations of Lebanon, New Jersey, and has been collecting awards for it ever since, with Sunday’s win just more icing on the cake.
LeBaron built the car to Walter Chrysler’s desires to have something truly special for his wife. Based on a standard 140-inch-wheelbase 1937 Imperial, just about everything from the firewall on back was changed or fabricated from new, including cutting the chassis and adding several inches to the wheelbase. While most of the body was crafted in aluminum, the unique rear fenders are steel. Lengthening the body beyond the end of the frame spars required extensive use of wood to support it.
Inside, the luxury appointments for the passengers are the sort of stuff that today’s designers probably wish they could emulate in a private jet. An elaborate, handmade wooden vanity, fashioned in striking, light-catching “flamed” maple at the front of the enclosed passenger compartment houses a bar on one side and a compartment for perfume and other toiletries on the other.
From the judges to the showgoers alike at the Hemmings Concours d’Elegance, the massive Imperial grabbed eyes and interest like no other car. While there were plenty of worthy candidates of impressively restored classics and stupendously preserved original cars, the big Chrysler stood out to earn the Best in Show trophy for Howard.