May 31 2012

New York Times Wheels: A Barn-Find Chrysler Tidies Up, Just a Touch, for Greenwich Concours

Reporter Rob Sass of the New York Times reports on the Chrysler's Chrysler at this weekend's Greenwich Concours d'Elegance.


Howard Kroplick

New York Times Wheels

May 31, 2012, 2:40 pm

A Barn-Find Chrysler Tidies Up, Just a Touch, for Greenwich Concours


This weekend, the 17th edition of the Greenwich Concours d’Élégance will do much to stoke the allure of the barn find. To some attendees, an unlooted 1937 Chrysler Imperial limousine, complete with cigarette butts in the ashtray and peeling paint, will represent a gilded sarcophagus with the mummy inside. The car was exhumed recently, wearing a thick patina of dust, from the former estate of William K. Vanderbilt II in Centerport, N.Y., on Long Island, and is scheduled to be featured at the concours, its first public viewing since 1986.

Commissioned by Walter P. Chrysler for his wife, Della, the custom Imperial C-15 Town Car was not idly named; it was the prewar equivalent of an imperial sedan chair.

Howard Kroplick, a Long Island resident, car collector and automotive historian, said he noticed the limousine, which was designed by the coach builder LeBaron with an open chauffeur’s compartment, garaged in an outbuilding on the estate. Mr. Kroplick is a research volunteer at the Vanderbilt estate, or Eagle’s Nest, as it was called by its former occupants, which was converted to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in 1950.

It was while organizing an exhibition about the Vanderbilt Cup Races, a series of road races held on Long Island in the early 20th century and financed by Vanderbilt, that Mr. Kroplick first considered acquiring the car, which was tucked rather forlornly in the curator’s cottage, its bumpers having been removed to get the nearly 20-foot-long form inside.

Mr. Kroplick set about learning the Imperial’s history.

“The car was donated to the Vanderbilt Museum in 1959 by a collector named Harry Gilbert, a millwork executive,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was shuttled from garage to garage by the museum and occasionally displayed until 1986, but it was never particularly well cared for.”

When he made inquiries, the museum did not seem to know what to do with the majestic old Chrysler, only noting that the car would likely be sold to raise funds at some point, to which Mr. Kroplick responded that he would be a likely bidder. When the museum offered the car in a private auction last year, Mr. Kroplick won with a bid of $275,000.

“It’s completely unrestored. Only 25,000 miles on it,” he said.

Until last weekend, the Imperial had not run since 1986. “There were dried-up old cigarettes, maybe even Walter P. Chrysler’s, still in the ashtray,” Mr. Kroplick said. Other than a cursory wipe-down with a chamois, the Imperial has not received much in the way of beautification treatments.

Mr. Kroplick is not certain whether he should keep the car in its original condition or perform a sympathetic restoration. He seemed genuinely surprised that people would want to see the car in its present state. “I certainly hadn’t planned on showing it at a concours this year,” he said.

The Greenwich Concours d’Élégance is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $30 per day or $45 for both days, and children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.



The custom Imperial Town Car, as it appeared in the ’30s.


Jun 03 2012 ROGER YACKEL 9:09 AM


Jun 03 2012 JeRita 11:33 PM

Howard it was super to see you and even better to see the Chyrsler It is in much better condition than I imagined and sounds outstanding They can only be original once and I hope for a conservation rather than a restoration There is history in every stitch. Many years of good luck with it and thank you for sharing your passion with us

Jun 05 2012 Ken Wiebke 12:31 PM

Nice to talk to you Saturday. Love the period Long Island Chrysler dealer license plate frames.  Maybe you can have the number 10 Transporter plate reproduced, at least for display.  I believe the current King Point maritime academy was previously home of the Chrysler family so perhaps some photos or records of the car exist in their achieves..  Look forward to see the car at future events regardless of what you decide ( am partial to a full blown restoration).

Jun 07 2012 Tom 7:13 AM

Would have loved to see the car in person.  I’ll bet you put a lot of smiles on people’s faces with that special Chrysler!  All the best with however you preserve the car.

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