19-20 January 2017

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Lot 132

1933 Chrysler CL Imperial Dual-Windshield Phaeton 'Ralph Roberts' by LeBaron

  • Chassis no. CL 1357
  • Serial no. 7803657
  • Engine no. CL 1357
  • Body no. 172-50

Sold for $1,300,000

Please note that Internet bidding is not available for this lot. Interested parties that are unable to attend the sale may register to bid by telephone or place a commission bid online at

135 bhp, 384.8 cu. in. L-head inline eight-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 146 in.

  • The one-off personal car of LeBaron designer Ralph Roberts
  • Believed to have been the final Imperial dual-windshield phaeton built
  • Best in Class at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
  • Known history from new; formerly of the Otis Chandler and Milhous collections
  • Spectacularly restored in its original color scheme
  • A Full Classic Chrysler of immense significance


Shortly after the formation of coachbuilder LeBaron by Raymond Dietrich and Thomas Hibbard in 1920, the pair took in recent Dartmouth graduate Ralph Roberts as a partner. LeBaron was soon supplying bodies for all of the great Classic Era chassis, supplied by New York dealers. Roberts and LeBaron prospered, and in 1927, Walter Briggs, of Detroit’s vast Briggs Body Company, approached Roberts with a generous buyout offer. Roberts wisely accepted, and LeBaron and its chief moved, lock, stock, and barrel, to Detroit.

LeBaron became Briggs’ in-house design studio and its most prestigious nameplate, as Briggs was a major body supplier to the fledgling Chrysler Corporation, also Chrysler’s de facto “Art and Color Studio.” In an era when Ford had Bob Gregorie, drawing Edsel Ford special speedsters and the original Continental, and General Motors had Harley Earl, breaking the styling mold with the advanced Cadillac V-16 Aero-Dynamic Coupe and Buick Y-Job, Chrysler had Ralph Roberts.

Roberts’ definitive design statement—his Continental, his Y-Job—was the car offered here. Based upon the last of 36 CL Imperial Dual-Windshield Phaetons built by LeBaron for Chrysler in 1933, it was drawn to Roberts’ own special design, with the intention of being a gift to his wife. As Chrysler’s design considerations were, frankly, not considered on this “one off,” Roberts was able to make his personal Imperial look as he wanted it to, as he told author Dennis Adler in a 1985 interview.

There were a number of unusual or experimental ideas tried on this car. One was the extended fender skirt and fender skirts on the rear. The radiator was painted, instead of chromed, the headlights were also different from those on the standard CL series bodies, and instead of having the spare wheels in the fender well, I had them moved to the back of the car.

It is worth expounding upon Roberts’ comments. The headlights were relocated much lower, between the crowns of the fenders and the radiator shell—a very modern position. The reworked fenders with the full “skirts” over the rear wheels clearly look toward the future Chrysler Airflow and Chrysler Airstream. A mounted bracket from an old Locomobile was used to mount the dual spares on the rear, clearing the fenders and increasing the clean visual length of the car.

The result was a long, sleek greyhound of a car, accentuated by its unique Moon Glow Blue polychromatic finish. More than beautiful, it looked a decade ahead of its time and foretold future Chryslers, created both with and without Roberts’ influence.


Mr. and Mrs. Roberts retained the unique phaeton until 1942, when they relocated from Detroit to California. Not willing to drive the car cross-country in the depths of gas rationing, they sold it in the Motor City. Ironically, however, the car then wound up in the Golden State, as it was purchased shortly thereafter by Bob Harrison of San Francisco, who would own it for the next 18 years. He thus ensured its survival and integrity, well into the era of the collector car.

In 1960, the car was purchased from Harrison by Bob Burkholder, also of San Francisco, who performed its first, largely authentic restoration. It was next acquired by longtime California Chrysler Imperial enthusiast Douglas O’Connell, and then in 1969 by Jerry Lindler of Fresno, who maintained it until the early 1980s.

Renowned enthusiast Otis Chandler was, at the time, building his esteemed collection of Full Classic automobiles, focusing on open phaetons of the finest quality. Naturally, when it came to selecting the right CL Imperial, the Roberts car fit the bill, and Mr. Chandler had soon picked it up from Mr. Lindler. It remained a feature of the Chandler Vintage Museum until the early 1990s and was then sold to Joe Morgan, the renowned Imperial expert in New Hampshire, who over the years has owned many of the surviving cars.

The next owner, Neil Wynn of Hillsborough, Florida, commissioned a complete restoration by Curt Austin, including finish in the original and correct Moon Glow Blue, and great care taken to restore the original, Roberts-ordered features, including the skirts adorning the long fenders, and the wheel discs, which are complemented by B.F. Goodrich Silvertown whitewalls. The completed restoration was exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1997 and was judged Most Elegant Open Car.

Shortly thereafter, the Imperial was added to Paul and Robert Milhous’ spectacular Florida collection, where it was the centerpiece for over a decade. Acquired from the Milhous brothers by its current owner, a respected East Coast collector, in 2012, it was subsequently consigned to RM Auto Restoration for sorting and detailing. This included making new metal covers for the dual rear-mounted spares, installing a new top and carpeting of a more complementary color, and extensive mechanical work, including new bearings in the powerful CL Imperial straight eight.

Today, the restoration of this car appears as fresh and spectacular as ever, and the judges still adore it. It was judged Best in Class at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and Most Elegant Open Pre-War Car at the 2016 Elegance at Hershey. Most prominently, it won Best of Show at the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s in 2012, and at the Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance in 2014. Simply put, few, if any, Imperials have been such a showstopper in recent years, with many more chances for trophies available to a new owner.

Further, the owner notes that the car is in superb mechanical condition, as well, having completed the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance.

As that career on the show field demonstrates, the presence of this car, one of the most significant Chryslers of its era, is overwhelming. Such is only fitting for an automobile that demonstrated the future for its manufacturer as clearly as the Continental did for Ford and the Y-Job did for General Motors. With few other Classic Era designers’ personal automobiles remaining, and fewer still in private ownership, it can be safely counted as the most significant American Classic to have come to market in recent years.

That would undoubtedly please Ralph Roberts, for whom this Chrysler, built by what he called “the right men in the right place at the right time,” was always more than just his wife’s car.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more