Imperial was all-new for 1957,
bearing second-generation “Forward Look” styling from
design chief Exner, marked by huge tailfins (with vestigial gunsights
in the trailing edges), airier rooflines which curved side glass
(an industry first), a finely checked full-width grille, and, were
law allowed, quad headlamps in lieu of conventional dual units (where
law didn’t allow).
Seeking higher sales, Imperial expanded
from one series to three, adding more elaborately trimmed Crown
and LeBaron versions of the standard pillared sedan and Southampton
hardtops. The Crown also offered the line’s only convertible—the
first soft-top since 1951. Arrivng in January was a pair of LeBaron
models, recalling the famed prewar coachworks closely associated
with Chrysler—a pillared sedan and four-door Southampton.
Both new series were priced considerably higher than the standard
Imperials: $5400-$5000 for Crown, and $5743 for either LeBaron.
Standard for ’57 Imperials was
Chrysler’s superb new three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission,
plus a Hemi enlarged to 392 cid for 325 bhp with 9.25:1 compression.
Also shared with other ’57 Highland Park cars was torsion-bar
front-suspension (called “Torsion-Aire Ride”). It made
for fine roadability, the best in the luxury field. With all this,
Imperial showed surprising sales strength. Volume more than tripled
from ’56, reaching near 35,000 units. That was still far behind
Though the Crown Imperial sedan vanished
for ’57, the limo returned at a breathtaking $15,075—which
largely stemmed from the fact that the car was now built by Ghia
in Turin, Italy. With such low sales, Chrysler could no longer justify
the time and space necessary to build such cars itself, especially
with projected tooling costs of some $3.3 million.
Each Ghia Crown limo began as an unfinished
two-door hardtop body mounted on the more-rigid convertible chassis
and shipped with all body panels intact. Ghia cut the car apart,
added 20.5 inches to the wheelbase, reworked the structure above
the beltline, fitted and trimmed the luxurious interior, and finished
off the exterior with 150 pounds of lead filler. Each car took a
mounth to complete, and initial delays made the Crown Imperial a
very late ’57 introduction.
Sales were not impressive: only 132
Ghia Crowns would be built by the time production was ended in 1965,
but all were impeccably tailored. Exactly 36 were built to ’57
specifications, followed by 31 of the ‘58s and only 7 for
A predictably minor facelift was ordained
for ’58. The main differences were circular parking lights,
standard quad headlamps (by now legal everywhere), and a simpler
grille. Prices were marginally higher across an unchanged lineup,
and the 392 was tweaked for 345 bhp. Reflecting Exner’s fondness
for “Classic” styling themes was an optional round decklid
hump suggesting a spare tire, a 1957 option that continued to find
favor in ’58. But this proved a poor year for the industry
in general and Chrysler in particular, so only about 16,000 Imperials
were built for the model year. To the frustration of dealers, people
still though of these cars as “Chrysler Imperials”—and
Chrysler, though prestigious, didn’t have the charisma of
For 1959 came a more-extensive facelift
of the basic ’57 styling, highlighted—for some, anyway—by
a toothy grille and broad brushed-finish appliqués on the
lower rear flanks. Standard models finally got a name—Custom—but
the lineup was otherwise again switched from Hemi to wedgehead V-8s:
a new 350-bhp 413-cid units shared with ’59 Chrysler New Yorkers.
It proved comparable performance, but was more economical to build
and maintain than the fabled Hemi. Production inched up to about
17,000. Imperial would outsell Lincoln in 1959 and ’60, but
would never do so again.