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1931 Chrysler CG Imperial Roadster by LeBaron

Chassis no. 7801798
125 bhp, 385 cu. in. “Red Head” straight-eight, four-speed manual transmission, four-wheel leaf spring suspension with beam front axle and live rear axle, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145"

- One of only about 12 examples in existence
- Known history, including two Pebble Beach entries

Walter Chrysler set out to build cars that incorporated quality engineering and affordability, but some of his firm’s creations compete for glory with the finest motor cars in the world. Offered here today is chassis 7801798, a 1931 Chrysler CG Imperial LeBaron Roadster. This roadster is the most sporting car that Chrysler had to offer for 1931 and is among the rarest, with only a handful of genuine examples known.

One of the four semi-custom offerings for 1931 was the LeBaron Roadster. Despite a production of 100 examples, the CCCA Directory lists very few examples with genuine coachwork, and indeed it is believed that only about 12 examples remain in existence altogether. Chassis 7801798 possesses special attributes; relatively early in production, it was delivered in February 1931 finished in Pembroke Gray and likely had a red leather interior. It also had a 3.82:1 rear end gear ratio which would have made it a very strong highway performer. The car has had only two owners since the late 1950s and is well known among marque enthusiasts. Knowledge of this Imperial Roadster dates back to the 1940s when it was owned by a gentleman in San Bruno, California. It then lived in Oakland, California before being acquired by Chrysler enthusiast Doug O’Connell of Sunnyvale.

O’Connell performed a restoration, and the car became the most prominent member of his Chrysler stable. It was shown at a number of concours events including Pebble Beach where it secured a class award. During this period the roadster was featured in advertising by Shell and most notably Hiram Walker, who compared the straight-eight engine to its bourbon which was aged for eight years. Much of Doug’s ownership history and experience with this Imperial is documented in a Motor Trend piece from 1973 and in a Car Classics interview in 1975.

The current owner acquired the LeBaron Roadster from the O’Connell Estate in the late ’70s, and in the early ’80s the car was stripped down to the bare chassis for a restoration to modern standards. Owing to its life in California, sandblasting revealed that there was no rust on the body or chassis. Stone Barn Automobile Restoration was instrumental in directing him to the best West Coast rebuilders of many component parts. Major overhaul work was performed by local shops, most notably the interior by Bill DeBucke and the paint and body by Avenue Auto Body, both of whom are very well known in northern California.

The current owner, a Chrysler enthusiast himself, notes that inspection of this car will reveal that the engine, which is not original to this chassis but reportedly a correct 1931 unit, does have the rare “Red Head” cylinder head as opposed to the “Silver Dome” head and in this case was likely added after delivery. The “Red Head” is a special attribute; a period advertisement proclaims that “Nothing has so stirred the motoring public in years as the Chrysler Red-Head high-compression engines... Through it the immense vitality and brilliance in speed, acceleration and hill climbing of the Chrysler have been accentuated.”

Also of note is the fact that this Imperial Roadster has a four-speed transmission. It was used by Chrysler for only a few years and is often found to have been replaced by a simpler three-speed transmission. The restoration had to be accurate, and the owner went to the length of having special bearings manufactured so the rebuild could be completed. Interestingly, the first gear is an ultra-low ratio which period literature states is only to be used in emergencies for climbing steep grades. This first gear also allowed the Chrysler engineers to install higher ratios for the other three gears, resulting in a higher top speed.

Finished in 2001, this example is finished in red with black cloth top and black leather interior. It won its CCCA National First Senior Badge #2331 in 2001 and was displayed for the second time in its life at Pebble Beach in 2002. The owner notes that the car is also accompanied by a black cloth top boot and correct black side curtains with isinglass inserts, both of which have never been used and come in special pouches made by the upholsterer. Today the restoration still presents extremely well. Adding to its appeal is the substantial list of features including dual Klaxons, radiator stone guard, Trippe lights, rear trunk, dual spotlights, chrome wire wheels with dual open sidemounts and mirrors, wind wings, dual wipers and altimeter.

For practical purposes the fuel tank and exhaust system were recreated in stainless steel. The electrical system is six volts, but there is a second battery for better starting amperage. Other considerations include a battery kill switch and an electric fuel pump which is not needed for touring but greatly aids starting after a month or two of storage. The documentation that comes with this 1931 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron Roadster is extensive. Included are restoration receipts and photography from the periods before, during and after restoration. With so few surviving examples, a LeBaron Roadster such as this certainly encourages close attention.
Addendum
Please note this vehicle is titled by its Engine Number CG2853.

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