Chrysler LeBaron

In Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1920 Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond H. Dietrich founded LeBaron company to provide bodies for luxury cars. The company supplied unique custom bodies for multiple car companies such as Chrysler Imperial line, Duesenberg, and Cadillac.

In 1926 Briggs Manufacturing bought the prominent company, integrating it as a subsidiary. Chrysler purchased Briggs Manufacturing in 1953 and set foundations for many joint models to come.

Chrysler management made the Imperial brand a separate luxury division in 1955, which also produced Imperial LeBaron models in order to enter American luxury car market and to compete with Lincoln, Cadillac and Packard car manufacturers.

The traditional rivalry was interrupted by stagnant sales and the 1973 oil embargo which signaled the beginning of the end for Imperial LeBaron.

This first Chrysler LeBaron, standing on its own, was a rear-wheel drive with deluxe trim and equipment sold from 1977 to 1981. LeBaron models were available to the general public in coupes, sedans and station wagons. As an interesting fact, a special police version was available only in 1981. The station wagons began producing in 1978 with wood paneling, which was later substituted with a plain base wagon.

Designers from Chrysler team decided to do important design changes in 1980, as new front and rear fascias provided an upscale appearance. Along with a shorter and steeper rear roofline the two-door coupe received new smooth rear sheetmetal.

The LeBaron interior also featured numoreous enhancements in an effort to make the brand more luxurious. Result was clear in 1981 when only 654 LeBaron models were presented in a limited edition "Fifth Avenue" package. LeBaron did not attract the consumer interest as planned, since the car had no significant technological advances.

To be fair, Chrysler company reputation for quality at the time was still under the influence of mistakes in the 70s. The fuel injection system was troublesome and the company eventually replaced many of them with carburetors. For the 1982 model year former LeBaron sedan actually became the Chrysler New Yorker. The station wagons and coupes were discontinued even earlier in 1981.

Chrysler LeBaron sedan was finally renamed Fifth Avenue for 1983 and it was produced through 1989. Chrysler put in a strong marketing campaign behind the new models, with commercials and magazine articles featuring popular singer Frank Sinatra. There was actually Sinatra edition of the model, developed with special blue paint which included a set of tapes with musical hits in a specially designed console.

The LeBaron unusual rear styling looked vaguely similar to controversial Cadillac Seville. Surprisingly, the car raced briefly on the NASCAR circuit, due to the fact that the front was more aerodynamic than other models. In time, competition such as the Cadillac Eldorado and the Lincoln Continental proved more attractive for the similar mechanical performance and consumer desires.

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