Since I have a 1957 Imperial convertible, albeit not (yet
* ) as
lustrous as the one shown above, it would be easy for me to fill dozens of pages about the
57s, driving away the reader with enthusiastic
descriptions of their 392 engine and splendid dashboard. Dont worry, I wont do
that. For more about my car, see "To Know More" below.
The story has been told before of how Chrysler in 1957 overthrew
the design primacy of GM, which had brought to the world the wrap-around windshield,
profuse chrome, and various enticements thought up by Harley Earl. "Suddenly
its 60" was not a slogan launched in vain. Since 1955 Virgil Exner had
planned a major coup for 1957, based on styling ideas from Europe, especially Italy. Exner
would sculpt a new, low, dashing series of cars, with commanding tailfins that were
perfectly integrated with the body. Torsion-bar suspension let him bring down the overall
height of a car nearly four inches, and allow for a hood no taller than the fenders. The
new system would moreover improve the cars handling, even if 14-inch rims cut down
the diameter of the brake drums and hence braking quality. The Imperial line too would be
lowered, and its perched "sparrow-strainer" taillights brought down to the back
surface of the tailfins. Legalization of the four-headlight arrangement helped reduce hood
height. The "Flite Sweep Deck" trunk lid, with its false spare-wheel decoration,
was a big hit. The Hemi engine was bored out to reach 392 cu.in. The dashboard, dressed in
anodized aluminum, was entirely redesigned, with two huge dials shielded by a hood against
glare. Another novelty was convex side windows.
From three Imperial models the choice grew to around 10 with the appearance of three
nameless series: The IM1-1. the Crown IM1 and 2, and the prestigious LeBaron IM1, 2, 3 and
4, the latter four introduced in January 57. For the first time since 1952 a
convertible was offered. As for the Crown Imperials (the limousine and 8-passenger sedan), they would be fitted with bodies
by Ghia in Italy from factory-supplied chassis and re-shipped to America nearly complete.
Chrysler had realized that subcontracting the coachwork, even on the other side of the
Atlantic, would cost less than making special body dies in the U.S. Considering the few
8-passenger models sold, this option was the least undesirable. Bear in mind that in the
1950s, Italian skilled-labor wages were far below their American equivalents.
Sales reacted explosively to the new Imperial allure. Production
of 1957 models reached 37,557, outstripping even Lincoln. It was the first and last time
for such a thing to happen. Only once in the years that followed would Imperial outsell
* : wroten in 1999 ..