By on November 24, 2021

Today’s installment of the Imperial series is our seventh and coincides with the seventh generation Imperial. Officially it was the second-generation car under the new Imperial marque, an independent arm of Chrysler launched in 1955 to compete with the likes of Lincoln and Cadillac. The move to independence brought with it a resurgence of interest in the brand, as the Exner styled ’55 and ’56 Imperials stood out from the rest of Chrysler’s offerings visually, and in terms of quality and luxury. We pick up in 1957 when it was time for another new Imperial.

The Imperial launched in 1955 used the same platform as the New Yorker with a four-inch extension, but for 1957 Chrysler granted Imperial its own platform. With a 129-inch wheelbase, new Imperials had four fewer inches between the wheels than in 1956. Unnamed at the time, Chrysler would assign the D-body name to the platform in 1964. The platform was notable for its very sturdy body-on-frame construction, which persisted on Imperial while other Chrysler offerings moved to unibody construction from 1960 onward.

Overall length shrunk about five inches for 1957, at 224.4″ overall. However, Imperial was over two inches wider at 81.2 inches (78.8″ previously). Imperial was notably wider than other Chrysler cars: The New Yorker was 78.8 inches wide in 1957, and 219 inches long. Coming with width meant Imperial had more shoulder room than any other contemporary car, with 64 inches at the front, and 62 at the rear. It was the start of the lower, wider era, as 1956’s overall height of 61.5 inches dropped to 57.5 inches in 1957.

That year was also the start of some road-hugging weight for Imperial, as the previous generation’s hefty 4,800 or so pounds was the starting point for the 1957 Imperial. Depending on year and trim, weight ballooned up to 5,500 pounds. Suitably to cope with all that extra weight, the Imperial’s Hemi V8 was increased from its 354 cubic-inch (5.8L) to 392 cubic inches (6.4L). Dual exhaust was standard on all Imperials. The transmission was the same three-speed TorqueFlite A466 as the prior year.

Chrysler introduced a new suspension design on the ’57 Imperial, Torsion-Aire. A torsion bar design, the suspension helped reduce unsprung weight and moved the center of gravity lower, and toward the rear.

The rear suspension was multi-leaf, and the combination promised better handling and a smoother ride. It was an unusual setup, as typically a torsion bar setup would have coil springs at the rear. Chrysler’s torsion bar suspension was a first for a major American manufacturer, and Chrysler spread it across its entire lineup for 1957.

The generous suspension gifting was another first for cars in the lower and middle segments of the market. Packard implemented a complicated four-wheel torsion bar on its pricier models in 1955, but that was the torsion bar’s only other usage by a contemporary American manufacturer. Elsewhere on the advancement front, Chrysler used curved side glass in the Imperial – a first in an American production car.

Imperial wore all-new styling in 1957, as Virgil Exner debuted the “Forward Look.” Smaller single (or double) headlamps replaced the larger lamps of the prior year and rested within a more streamlined visage that saw finer use of chrome detailing and more of it. Cadillac would debut a front end similar to the ’57 Imperial in 1959. Worth an aside, only a select few of the ’57 Imperials received single headlamps, as it seems quad headlamps were not yet legal in all areas. Imperial advertised both headlamp types within its literature.

The rest of the new Imperial was more flashy and Fifties, and a bit less formal looking. For the first time, rear fender lines were completely flush with the Imperial’s body. Block lettering from the year before was replaced by large, flowery cursive “Imperial” script on fenders and at the rear. Tail lamps were now integrated into the much larger rear fins, which wore rocket-inspired trim detailing. Rocket details continued at the large chrome bumper with dual ovoid stamping. And in that most Fifties of tropes, the trunk lid had an optional simulated continental kit, painted in matching or contrasting color. Chrysler called it FliteSweep, and customers loved the look so much the option spread to lesser Chrysler vehicles afterward.

The newly modernized Imperial was built at Jefferson Avenue Assembly, as it had been before. 1957 saw the loss of a long-wheelbase Imperial, as all Chrysler-built cars were the same overall length. Imperials’ former C-series numbering system went by the wayside and was replaced by Series IMI-, in numbers 1, 2, or 4. Base models (IMI-1) started at $4,740 ($47,500 adj.), while IMI-2 was the Imperial Crown at $5,400 ($54,100 adj.) for a four-door. IMI-4 was the Imperial LeBaron and was priced at $5,740 ($57.500 adj.).

Two-door bodies were available in hardtop or convertible guises (convertible a first for a factory-made Imperial), and four doors were either sedan or hardtop. Hardtops had no pillars and were called Southampton regardless of the number of doors unless they were a LeBaron. Trims became more complicated without the long wheelbase: The Imperial Crown was no longer the aspirational top model as it had been for years, but one might still purchase an Imperial Crown Southampton as an upper-middle Imperial.

The flagship for 1957 was the Imperial LeBaron, which recalled the name of the coachbuilder that built it some decades before. Indeed the advertising for the Imperial LeBaron even referenced the “custom-built creations” one could no longer purchase, and stated the LeBaron would only be available in small numbers. Also built in very small numbers by Ghia was the ’57 Imperial Crown limousine. Strictly a custom-order vehicle, it was not advertised with the Imperial lineup. Imperial Crown used the 1958 grille in 1957, and 36 cars were sold at the shocking ask of $12,000, or over $120,000 adjusted. That’s a car worth covering separately.

Imperial’s sales soared as the all-new styling in the company’s third model year made other luxury cars look stodgy and dated. 1957 would be the best-ever year sales for any Imperial, at 37,593. Though it paled in comparison to the sales of more established luxury marques like Cadillac, Imperial made very quick inroads into the market. But it was not without cost, as the redesign was hastily done and quality control suffered over the superb finishing of the 1955-1956 models. The yet-named D-body was a long-lived one under the Imperial, so we’ll be back with more on its developments next time.

[Images: Imperial]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

25 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The History of Imperial, More Than Just a Car (Part VII)...”


  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Cue jingle and singers

    Longerrr!
    Lowerrr!
    Widerrr!
    Heavierrr!

    The ad illustrations are a hoot. Just as realistic as real estate virtual tour pix where all the doors are 4 ft wide and the kitchen is pushing 1000 ft2. I especially like the one where a chauffeur is holding a rear door open for a delighted Madame, who is wearing some sort of swamp rat nutria fur stole.

    Thanks Corey. I’d forgotten these things even existed.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The “landau” roof treatment is just amazing on these.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Top illustration:

      (Guy in white, on the left:)
      “Good thing they parked the Imperial next to an ocean liner. In comparison, it looks less like an oversized land barge!”

      (Guy in the middle:)
      “Hey, you on the stairs! Quit sniffing yer armpit, ya idiot, they’re takin’ pictures!”

  • avatar
    Argistat

    That rear pic with the low slanted trunk lid looks so ugly, and the fake spare tire on the lid makes it look even worse!

    Love the wording in these old ads.

  • avatar
    relton

    Engel had nothing to do with the 57 Imperials. He didn’t show up at Chrysler till about 62. he 64 Imperial was his design, made to look like a 61 Lincoln.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Jay Leno has a white 57 or 58 Imperial Convertible which is a real beauty. Leno says on his review of his own Imperial that the frames were so heavy that they were used in demolition derbys until they were banned because they were so much heavier and better built that it was hard to destroy them. These Imperials were handbuilt. Leno added disc brakes to his Imperial to make it safer otherwise it is an original survivor.

    Chrysler rushed the 57s to the market and as a result they had mechanical, rust, and paint issues. My parents bought a new 57 Chrysler Windsor in late 56 tutoned dark metallic blue and white with push button drive. The Chrysler sat very low and was not that comfortable with 3 passengers in the rear. My father always said he wished he would have gotten a 57 Chevy instead but my mother loved the styling and the push button drive and many others loved the 57 Chryslers, Plymouths, Dodges, Desotas, and Imperials. A neighbor of ours in Houston had a beautiful white 2 door hardtop 57 Plymouth Fury with the gold trim down the sides. Chrysler styling for 57 was all new and very different but their quality was not as good as the earlier 55 and 56s.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      In my old hometown in Massachusetts, a group of veterans started a taxi company right after Korea. They were established enough to put in an order for a fleet of 1956 Plymouth Savoys with flathead sixes and the old 3 on the tree.

      By 1960, they were grateful they didn’t wait for the ’57s instead. By 1960 the rust, rattles, and paint fade were well-known. The taller ’56s were easier to get into and out of too.

      The company ran those ’56 Savoys into the early 1970s, well after the state switch from sand to road salt. It was smog requirements that put them out to pasture.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnster

      I’ve always heard that Chrysler was stung by the deserved criticisms to the shoddy quality of their new for ’57 models and the damage it did to Chrysler’s reputation. Supposedly, as a result, they buckled down and their next big project, the ’60 Valiant, which turned out to have been comparatively well-done in comparison.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The single headlight cars just don’t look right.

    BTW, the old Torqueflite was the A466, not A488. The A466 was a cast iron beast, replaced by the aluminum A727 for ’62.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @Lorenzo-My Aunt (my father’s older sister) had a pink and white Chrysler Windsor which she and her husband drove for 11 years and then sold it to a guy who worked with my uncle who drove it for at least 10 years with about 200k miles. My parents 57 Chrysler Windsor was a nice looking car but the paint faded and it had various mechanical problems in the 2 years my parents owned it. My Aunt’s 56 had hardly any issues as did their 66 Chrysler New Yorker which had at least 200k or more miles and kept going. My parents had a 51 Dodge that was also very reliable. The 57 and 58 Chrysler products were poor quality and by 59 they had improved but even those were not as good as the 56s and earlier. After our 59 Plymouth Sport Suburban 9 passenger wagon was totalled in an accident by one of my brothers that was the last Chrysler product my parents owned until my mother bought a new 84 Chrysler 5th Avenue which was overall good except the crappy body hardware and electronics and the computer controlled carburetor. Between the 59 Plymouth they had Chevies and a Cadillac which were good cars. GM made some good cars in the 60s and early 70s much more reliable than the ones they make today. The bodies on today’s cars hold up better but the small turbo motors do not last,

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Ah, yes, the Exner Imperials are my favorite. Excess to the max and proud of it. People talk about the befinned ’59 Caddies as the height of 50s flair and excess, but these Imperials were right there giving GM a run for it’s money. From their high fins and “toilet seat” Continental kit to their headlights in separate housings. Nothing said you had more money then taste like a late 50s/early 60s Imperial

    There are a surprising amount of survivors like this ’59 Convert for just $109,995 with a mere 16K miles on the odometer

    https://www.hemmings.com/classifieds/dealer/imperial/crown/2522837.html

    If your tastes run a little more formal here’s a Ghia built Crown limo for the same $109K With a very comprehensive back story on the Imperial

    https://www.hemmings.com/classifieds/dealer/imperial/crown/2467058.html

    Even Jackie Kennedy preferred the Ghia Imperial over her husband’s Lincolns. She found it the perfect car to bury him in…

    https://www.web.imperialclub.info/Yr/1960/Kennedy/JFKFuneral60GhiaLimo.jpg

    Who knows, if JFK had chosen Jackie’s Imperial to take to Dallas the course of history would be way different

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Thanks for those.

      My two cents. 1) Virgil Exner was an artistic genius. Hopefully when cars go electric/hybrid/etc we can return to true styling. 2) A continental ‘kit’ defines high status/class on a car.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Enjoyed the links. Great cars and I like them despite them being excessive.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Nice series.
    UGLY azz cars.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Arthur Dailey–I appreciate these cars and like them even though they are over the top when it comes to excessive styling but that was what the late 50s were all about and the hope of a bright prosperous future. I liked my mother’s 72 Cadillac Sedan Deville it was a beautiful and comfortable car. Having said that I do not wish to go back to the land yachts of the past but from a historical purpose I am want them to be preserved for posterity. I do admire Virgil Exner even though some of his early 60s Chryslers were a little more than my tastes. I have come to appreciate the cars of the late 50s and early 60s for what they were. I am happy with my 2012 Buick Lacrosse E-Assist and my Honda AWD CRV they both meet my needs and I am looking forward to my new hybrid Maverick.

  • avatar

    The rule of thumb is never buy first year production cars. Otherwise Forward Look Chryslers look like cars from the future, even today.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The irony is thick posing the massive Imperial Crown sedan beside naval officers in front of a warship.

    “Instead of just commanding a battleship, you can drive one too! See your local Chrysler dealer for details”.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      With the caveat that I know nothing about this, the first drawing doesn’t suggest ‘battleship’ to me. The portholes (scuttles?) weren’t found in the main hull on modern battleships by this time, there is a massive rectangular door (port?), the lack of hull flare is all wrong, and the riveted steel plates look suspiciously wimpy.

      The picture linked here gives an idea of the steel found on an Iowa class battleship:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa-class_battleship#/media/File:USS_New_Jersey_armor_citadel.jpg

      (Didn’t study that wikipedia article in depth, but note all of the weight concerns they ran across during design and construction.) [The armored steel door shown in the picture weighs something like two tons. Compare a 2021 Mazda CX-9, with curb weight of 4,236 to 4,409 pounds.]

      Today I learned that battleship armor is way more complex than I ever realized:
      https://www.navalgazing.net/Armor-Part-4

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    And steer that battleship with your Pinky.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • Arthur Dailey: I know that it is dangerous and downright moronic but one finger steering was one of my favourite...
  • Inside Looking Out: “Why would the British join the French Revolution? ” To replace unelected King with...
  • ToolGuy: With the caveat that I know nothing about this, the first drawing doesn’t suggest...
  • Jeff S: And steer that battleship with your Pinky.
  • RHD: Top illustration: (Guy in white, on the left:) “Good thing they parked the Imperial next to an ocean...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber