As we celebrate Frank Sinatra’s birthday on December 12, it’s also the perfect time to remind ourselves about the exclusive 1981 & 1982 Imperial Frank Sinatra Editions.
Yep, Old Blue Eyes had his very own luxury car.
And it was a 1980s Mopar.
The Imperial nameplate can trace its roots way back to the 1920s, and was typically assigned to Chrysler’s top-tier luxury models. (It was so prestigious that Chrysler tried for years to establish “Imperial” as a standalone luxury branch on the Mopar family tree.)
While various Imperial models endured through the years, the 1970s hit the American luxury car market hard, and the Big Three scrambled to make its large luxo-barges run cleaner and more efficiently—with mixed results (see: Cadillac’s 190 horsepower 8.2L V8).
Alas, by the end of the decade, the Imperial had disappeared.
But the Imperial came back in 1981, this time riding on the downsized Chrysler J-body (which was very similar to the F-body platform underpinning cars like the Dodge Aspen).
As an upscale version of the Cordoba Coupe, all Imperials got Chrysler’s trusty 318 V8 with modern, though finicky, electronic fuel injection too. All told, the combo made about 140 horsepower.
As alluded to above, the Imperial was only offered as a two-door coupe in the distinctive bustleback styling that was popular for the era. The “Imperial” name was featured prominently, with slight nods to Chrysler in marketing materials. Up front rode a crystal Pentastar hood ornament—made by Cartier, no less.
The J-body Imperial wasn’t a huge success and only stuck around from 1981 to 1983. The car would largely be forgotten today if it hadn’t been for one Special Edition in particular.
Turns out, Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca was good friends with legendary crooner Frank Sinatra. (Frankie actually sang at Iacocca’s retirement party, but we digress…) As a result, they came up with the idea of a Sinatra-badged special edition for the nascent luxury car.
And it was going to be top-shelf, baby.
For starters, the custom interior was finished by the luxury leather goods designer, Mark Cross. It even came with a unique leather bag filled with cassette tapes of Sinatra’s favorite jams. You listened to them in the Imperial’s AM/FM stereo cassette player, perched atop a locking wood veneer cassette storage cabinet.
The Imperial also boasted a fancy electronic instrument cluster that did some space-age stuff, like calculate fuel range and mileage. The car was fully loaded from the factory, and the only thing on the option sheet was an available sliding moonroof. Special badging adorned the interior and exterior of the car.
And, of course, the car came in blue. “Glacier Blue Crystal,” to be exact.
While originally planned as a one-year-only 1981 offering, there was enough demand to warrant a 1982 issue. Slumping sales forced the Frank Sinatra Special Edition to be dropped in 1983 and the Imperial itself was discontinued after that year. Over its two-year production run, only a few hundred Frank Sinatra Edition Imperials were made.
But it’s important to realize that Sinatra didn’t just lend his name to the car, he drove one. The very first one off the assembly line in fact—a gift from his good buddy, Lee Iacocca.
One last thing to point out: The Chairman helped market the car too, cutting all-new custom music for radio and television ads. You can hear a snippet of the tune in this commercial from 1981: