Dan Melnik
The Plans We Make
By Dan Melnik
Life is strange! I would guess that all of us have had something happen to us at one time or another, good or bad, that affected us for a good part, if not all, of our lives. Sometimes it’s a decision we made. Other times, just making a ‘left’ turn instead of a ‘right’ turn. Maybe it was that place or party you went to where you met the person you would eventually spend your life with…and, like I mentioned, it can turn out to have been a bad thing or a good thing! In this case it turned out to be a good thing and has been part of my own life for 37 years (and counting!). I am referring to my “Imperials”.

In 1971 I was working for AT&T in New York City, living in Staten Island, and had gotten married about 6 months earlier. I needed a better car than the old beat up Lincoln I then drove. My then-wife, Margie, called me and said that after work I needed to come over to the address she gave me and see this car she had noticed ‘For Sale’ in the local paper. Please keep in mind that Margie, although a beautiful girl, could have easily driven in ANY Demo Derby anywhere and possibly won! (she was NOT easy on cars!) Well, for some reason she had called the people selling this car and even gone over to their place to check out the car though I have no idea just what she was ‘checking out’ other than if the color was ‘pretty’! So, I find the address and I see this VERY large 4-door car in the driveway which had a really nice black paint job and black vinyl top. It was a ’66 Imperial Crown and I had never heard of an ‘Imperial’ before. Looking around the sides of the car I could not find out who the manufacturer was since, as I now know, the word “Chrysler” does not show up anywhere on the outside of the vehicle. So, after talking with the really great people who owned the Imperial I find out the whole family is renting this house and they came up from Tennessee (all five of them plus their kids) to do the sheet-metal work for the AC ducting on the World Trade Center buildings. They needed to sell the car and get something a bit smaller for their commuting. The car was not ‘black’ as I first thought but was finished in Deep Plum and it had lots of factory options which all worked perfectly! These included the Black Vinyl top; Tele-Tilt steering column; AM/FM Radio with Local-Dist buttons and the Reverb as well. The Autotronic dash-mounted sensor and floor button for the Radio ‘seek’ feature was also working fine. The rear seats had the ‘straps’ and reading lights that may have been standard or options. A rear window defogger was also there and working as well. I paid $800.00 for that car and still think it was the best deal I ever made!

Well, I drove that car as my daily (and ONLY) driver for many, many years. Things didn’t last for long with Margie but I drove that car for another 8 years.

In my job with AT&T International I traveled a lot, especially to the Sacramento area where I eventually met Donna (the sweetest woman in the world) who became my wife in 1986. We got married in Sacramento and then moved all her and my stuff, to the house I had just bought in New Jersey. This was closer to work for me instead of the old 100 miles round-trip from Staten Island it was now a 40 mile roundtrip. Donna, being an Emergency Room RN had no trouble finding a job locally in central NJ. I still had the old ’66 Imperial though she was not ‘road-worthy’ anymore. NY winters will do that to a car! I eventually bought another ’66 Convertible (Ruby) plus a white ’66 Convertible which I thought I would restore using parts from the old 4-door. ‘Ruby’ was in reasonably good shape and I thought I could make the white convertible road worthy as well (Bet lots of you have heard that before???).

In 1998 AT&T made me an offer to retire that I could not refuse! So, after 30 years with good ol’ Ma Bell I left there and went to Lucent Bell Labs in Holmdel, NJ where I did more or less that same thing (Fiber Optic Systems) as I did for AT&T. Donna and I moved into a really nice house with 2 ½ acres of woods and I naturally brought the three ’66 Imperials with me.

The plan had been to eventually (someday) retire back in Northern California where Donna was from but she loved the house where we now lived so much that she wanted to stay there they rest of our lives. Now, this was just great with me since I had just finished having a 2-story 25x36 foot, concrete floored barn built for my workshop. I was a happy camper! I had the walls made 6 inches thick, (for the NJ winters), did all the wiring and had the whole place insulated so I could live in there if I had to! (smile)… I had an AC unit installed plus, I had just bought a car lift so I could actually work on the cars and not have to crawl around under them anymore; plus, I was just finishing off getting the heating system all finished. But then….

Just when you think you have some control over the way your life will go you find out how wrong you are. Donna was diagnosed with a type of Melanoma cancer and, as you might imagine, our world came to a screeching halt! At this point Donna, very understandably, decided she wanted to be back in California and closer to her Daughter and Grandkids. So, we sold everything!..the house, the cars and moved to Southern California to a over-55 community in Beaumont, CA which is about 1-hour from the Grandkids.

No, I did not, and still do not, miss New Jersey, with the snow, single diget temperatures in the Winter or all the woods back there (well, maybe the woods, just a little). I do however, REALLY miss my garage! But, like many of us, ……when something like this happens “You do what you have to do” and hope it works out. Since it was not possible to move the 3 Imperial’s with us I sold them all figuring that if there was ANYPLACE on the planet where I might find another Imperial it would surely be in Southern California, right??

Well, we moved to the new house in Feb. 2005 and Donna’s cancer got real bad, real quick. She passed away May 15th, 2005. I don’t even remember the following 6-months! Then, a year later, Kayla our Golden retriever, who had been my ‘anchor’ during all the sadness, passed away from cancer as well. Talk about a one-two punch to the heart! I don’t pretend to be the only one who has lost someone to cancer but I was truly shocked to find out just how many friends and neighbors have had someone in their own family or another friend that was lost to cancer of one type or another!! It is truly something I do not wish on even an enemy!

Well, eventually you get through the fog and realize you need something to keep your fuzzy brain moving! That was the main reason behind my buying the ’66 convertible (named Doris) to restore. Then, as usually will happen, I soon came across ANOTHER Imperial !!! This one I came across belonged to Chris Hawkins and was mentioned, along with some photo’s, in an article I read either from the IML web site or the Imperial Club of Southern Cal (not sure which!). I wrote Chris and asked that he keep me in mind if he ever wanted to sell his beautiful Deep Plum Le Baron. (the Deep Plum color has always been my favorite since my very first Imperial). Months later I got a call from Chris saying he was going to have to sell the car and was I still interested? Well, we agreed on a price and had the car shipped out from Atlanta to here in Southern California. Chris was considerate enough to send me a box with a binder of all the paperwork he had accumulated since he has bought the car back in 1993. The original owner, in the Ohio area, had passed away and eventually the owner’s wife sold the car to Chris. For some unknown reason almost all the rubber parts of the car, bushings and such, had deteriorated badly and he had to have them all replaced. When Chris brought the car to Atlanta it had only 18,000 miles on it, if I remember right. He used it as a daily driver of sorts for a number of years and eventually had the car repainted. I bought the car with 68,000 original miles on the odometer and have only added about 1000 more since purchasing it. Chris repainted the car from the original Gold color to the current Deep Plum and although the car still looks fine from 20 ft. the paint is in need of a good ‘refreshing’ as some bubbles have shown up under the paint here and there. I have had the entire front-end redone, new radiator and all hoses, water pump, starter, alternator, battery, center-bearing and driveshaft support replaced. I also had new brakes & wheel cylinders (that I had purchased about 8 years ago) put on all 4 wheels along with new wheel bearings, rear axle bearings and flexable front brake lines plus new tires as well. There are still a few things that ‘Baron’ needs to have fixed like the AC, the front passenger seat reclining lever and probably a rebuild of the front seats as the old foam is crumbling a little more every time I get in!

My plan is to shine up ‘Doris,’ the ’66 convertible, once I put the rebuilt carb back on and sell her to get the cash to have a really nice Deep Plum paint-job, and the AC as well, done to the Le Baron. I am hoping to get ‘Baron’ in good enough mechanical condition to allow me to go on a 1000 mile trip and NOT have to worry about being towed home by AAA….at least, that’s my plan! But, we all know how plans can get side-tracked! What I have learned so far is that when those plans do get completely ‘side tracked’, you go and make a new plan!

Donna was the most caring, wonderful person I have ever met which is probably why she was such a great Nurse in the first place. I am sure she would love driving around in these Imperials as much as I do. Now, if I can just manage to hit the lottery so I can bring the cars to a restoration shop and just tell them “…call me when they look and drive like the day they were new”!!

Would I ever have owned an Imperial if not for that ad placed in the paper back in ’71??? Who knows! Though I can truly say that Imperial’s are and have been part of me for over half of my life and, hopefully, will continue for some time yet!

Dan Melnik
Beaumont, CA
1966 Imperial Crown Convertible
(1 of 514)
1966 Imperial Le Baron (1 of 1,898)