The Chrysler Imperial was the high end luxury brand of automobile produced by the Chrysler Corporation between 1955 and 1975. The Imperial made a short-lived return in 1981 until 1983.
Chrysler had made use of the Imperial moniker since 1926, yet it was not ever a distinct make, merely the top end Chrysler. Nevertheless, in 1955, the company made the decision to spin the Imperial brand off as its own make as well as division to compete more effectively with its rivals, Cadillac and Lincoln. Chrysler unveiled new body designs for the Imperial every two to three years. All variations of the Imperial were equipped with automatic transmissions and potent V8 engines, together with other technological advances that filtered down to Chrysler’s various other models.
The brand new Imperial, first produced in 1955, was the brainchild of Virgil Exner. Exner had been a successful automobile designer for General Motors, Studebaker, and Chrysler. Exner was recognized for his outstanding ‘Forward Look’ automobile designs that were altogether unique in his day, and for his fondness for fins for both aerodynamic and cosmetic reasons.
Chrysler launched an all new Imperial for 1957. It was obtainable in four body styles.
- Sedan (Pillared four-door)
- Four-door hardtop
Beginning in 1957, the Imperial was also available in three different levels of trim.
- The standard Imperial, or Imperial Custom
- The Imperial Crown
- The Imperial LeBaron
With these four body styles and three levels of trim, the Imperial was available in a total of nine different variations.
The Imperial Four-Door Sedan
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial four-door sedan had the pillared four-door body style. The illustration shown is from a sales brochure for the car. Here is a quote from the same brochure.
Finest Expression of the Forward Look
In the fine car field, both of foreign and American make, there is a new Look of Motion–a new motif of motor car styling of brilliant originality, distinctive design, and charming appearance.
It is the new luxurious, exclusive Imperial for 1957–the finest expression of the Forward Look–a car of such distinction, such obvious individuality of design, that it, with full justification, actually merits the use of the much over-used superlative “incomparable.”
It is another forward step in the evolution of the Flight-Swept styling that has set the new trend of motor car design, which is being followed, reluctantly, surely, in varying degrees, by so many of our contemporaries, not only in the fine car field, but also, in all price classes.
Your agreement with our assertion of its superb styling will most likely come after you have looked at, and studied the design of the Imperial, as shown in the beautiful illustrations in this brochure. And, we believe, your agreement will be even more enthusiastic, after you have had the opportunity to compare all of the other fine cars with the new Imperial.
The Imperial Two-Door Southampton
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial Two-Door Southampton featured the landau-type roof design. This body style had no pillar. Here’s another quote from the sales material for the car.
The landau section, defined by the gracefully curved chrome molding, has the same color as the body, with the forward section of the roof finished in a different color.
Dual headlights permit easier control of light patterns–one set for city and both sets for country driving. Optional on Crown and LeBaron, extra on Imperial.
The Imperial Four-Door Southampton
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial Four-Door Southampton was the standard base Imperial four-door non-pillared hardtop. I’m not exactly sure of the distinction between the Imperial and the Imperial Crown other than some of the trim package. There may also have been more options available on the Imperial Crown. I’m sure it’s really a matter of personal preference, but I believe the absence of the B pillar gives the automobile a more sporty appearance. I really enjoy the old illustrations from the original sales brochure for the car, as well as the sales copy in that brochure. Here’s what the Chrysler marketing department had to say about the car in 1957.
The Four-Door Southampton has the landau-type roof design, which adds a smart note of distinction and individuality. The landau section, defined by the gracefully curved chrome molding, has the same color as the body, with the forward section of the roof finished in a different color.
The Imperial Crown Convertible Coupe
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown Convertible Coupe was Chrysler’s luxury convertible for the year. The illustration is from a sales brochure, and here’s the quote from the same brochure.
The comparatively fortunate few who are proud possessors of the Imperial Crown Convertible cannot help but derive a deep satisfaction and a warm glow of pride out of the exclusiveness of the most stunning car America has seen in many years.
Wherever it goes, it will be the center of attraction, viewed and admired, not only for the smart beauty of the car itself, but also for the discriminating taste of the owner it its selection.
The assimilated rear deck tire mount adds just another note of distinction and exclusiveness to the car.
The Imperial Crown Four-Door Southampton
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown Four-Door Southampton in the hardtop four-door body style, distinguishable by its lack of a pillar. The Imperial Crowns were distinguishable from the standard Imperials by the crown emblems just above the headlights.
The Imperial Crown Four-Door Southampton–a car of exquisite beauty and charm, both inside and out. But, of equal importance is the spaciousness of the interior, both in the front and rear compartments; and the wide-opening doors that permit easy getting in and out of the car. There is legroom, and headroom, and visibility through the wide front, side, and rear windows that give you the freedom of the convertible body type. Note also, the beautiful lines of the windshield, roof, and rear window, and the low, long graceful silhouette of the car. Windows operate electrically.
The Imperial Crown Four-Door Sedan
Then of course there was the 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown Four-Door Sedan, which was the pillared four-door body style. Despite my opinion that the hardtops, without the B pillar, give the car a sportier appeal, I think I like the sedans a little better. It would also seem that the B pillar would strengthen the car in the event of a rollover, but I’m not sure that the ’57 Imperial really needed any strengthening. It was one of the most durable automobiles ever made. The quote from the sales brochure is very descriptive.
You will not find a car, anywhere in the world, that looks like the Imperial Crown Sedan, illustrated above. Whether or not you think it is the most beautiful car in the world is entirely a matter of your own decision. However, if you are tired of the similarity of all other cars, and want something different, something with smart individuality we suggest that you see, carefully inspect, and drive the Imperial.
The Imperial Crown Two-Door Southampton
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown Two-Door Southampton is the two-door body style with the mid-range trim. From the sales brochure:
The illustration of the Imperial Crown Two-Door Southampton gives a perfect picture of some of the many design characteristics of this beautiful car. The broad front fenders; the expansive windshield; the massive grille and bumper; the upsweeping rear fenders; and the spaciousness of the luxurious interior, all combine to make the Imperial a car of unique distinction, and a possession of unlimited pleasure and pride of ownership. Incidentally, the rear deck has plenty of storage space for a lot of luggage for the long trips. The floor and the spare tire cover have a rich gray carpeting and the torsion bar hinges make opening and closing the deck lid an easy matter.
The Imperial LeBaron Four-Door Sedan/Four-Door Hardtop
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron (not to be confused with the cheaper Chrysler LeBaron which came later) was the high end luxury Imperial for 1957. The LeBaron had a more conservative style. It was only available as a four-door in solid colors on the interior and exterior. The car could be obtained in either a sedan (with B pillar) or hardtop (without B pillar). From the sales brochure:
The Imperial LeBaron–America’s Most Distinguished Car
The LeBaron, a four-door body type, retains, of course, all of the superb, exclusive styling and the engineering excellence of the new Imperials. Its distinction and charm lie in the ultra-conservative design and decor of the interior; in the long list of standard equipment; and in several distinguishing marks of identification on the exterior of the car. It is available only in solid colors of rhe exterior and luxurious, conservative monotone interiors of the finest broadcloth. The LeBaron was created especially for a very distinct clientele, and will be available only in limited numbers.
All four of the 1957 Imperial body styles had more distinctive styling than the previous models. Sales were robust and quickly surpassed those of their competitor, Lincoln. The Imperial had its best sales year ever in 1957, selling 37,593 units.
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial is almost certainly the most popular and most sought-after Imperial in history. The incomparable Virgil Exner once again managed the styling for the automobile, and his affinity for fins shows on this model. The model was based on his “Forward Look” concept to an even higher degree.
The curved window frame of extruded aluminum and the curved window glass, which maintained the smooth flow of the body line from the roof to the bottom of the side sill, gave the Imperial a low, sculpted look. The curved glass was remarkable in that the Imperial was the first American made automobile to make use of such a thing. The complex front end of the car featured brand a brand new quad headlight arrangement and a bulleted grille. The model also had the Imperial signature gun sight taillights.
The Imperial was given its own unique platform for the 1957 model year, establishing it as a completely separate Chrysler division. The Imperial retained its own platform through the 1966 model year. Imperials throughout this time period were considerably wider, both on the inside and the outside, compared to other Chrysler products. The shoulder area in the 1957 Imperial was 64 inches in the front and 62 inches in the rear. This front seat shoulder room dimension is still an unrivaled record for Imperial and would remain the record for any kind of automobile right up until the 1971-1976 General Motors full-sized cars were produced. After Lincoln reduced the size of their cars in 1961, this particular generation of Imperial had absolutely no genuine competition for the title of the largest automobile for the remainder of its ten year life span.
Here are some of the specifications of the 1957 Chrysler Imperial.
The Imperial sported a “FirePower” high compression ninety degree V8, airplane-type engine with hemispherical combustion chambers and overhead, laterally inclined valve arrangement. This engine was, of course, better known as a “Hemi.” The Hemi in the Imperial had a displacement of 392 cubic inches.
The Imperial had a four-barrel carburetor with vacuum-controlled secondary draft system and an integral automatic choke. The Oilite fuel filter was located in teh gas tank, which had a capacity of twenty-three gallons.
Among other things, the electrical system included a push-button starter, electric power windows, and six-way power seat.
The Imperial featured Chrysler’s new Torque-Flite transmission with automatic torque converter and three speed planetary gear set. It was controlled via push-buttons located on the dash panel to the left of the steering wheel. The neutral button was also used to start the engine after the ignition key was placed in the on position.
One of the best features of the 1957 Imperial was the Torsion-Aire suspension. More about this suspension later.
The 1957 Chrysler Imperial was, of course, huge. The wheelbase was 129 inches. The overall length of the car was 224 inches (almost 19 feet!). The width was 81.2 inches, and the loaded height was 57.5 inches.
Optional Equipment Available at Extra Cost
- Airtemp air conditioning
- Solex glass
- Custom Condition-Air heater
- Instant-Heat airplane-type heater
- Transistorized Electro Touch-Tuner radio with rear seat speaker, power antenna and foot control
- Highway Hi Fi record player
- Rear window defroster
- Safety seat belts
- Two-tone paint
- Assimilated rear deck tire mount
One particular advantage that the Imperial possessed over the other cars of that era was its toughness. The Imperials were so durable that they were prohibited from almost all demolition derbies. All of the other Chrysler makes (Dodge, Plymouth, Chryler, De Soto) initiated unibody construction in 1960. The Imperial held on to independent full perimeter frames for stiffness and rigidity all the way through 1966. These substantive frames had a box-shaped section in which crossmembers formed an X. The drive shaft passed through a hole in the X-shaped frame. The emergency braking system gripped the drive shaft, and wasn’t attached to the rear drum brakes before 1963.
The Imperial had another big advantage in that all Chrysler products including the Imperial were given “Torsion-Aire” suspension in 1957. Torsion-Aire was an independent front wheel suspension system with torsion bar springs that decreased unsprung weight as well as moved the center of gravity rearward and downward. Tapered-leaf outboard rear suspension springs compounded with the new torsion bar suspension on the front delivered superior handling and a significantly smoother ride. Oriflow shock absorbers were used all the way around.
An opinionated automobile critic, Tom McCahill, quipped that the Imperial “cornered at speed flatter than a tournament billiard table, ” uncommon for a vehicle of its enormous weight and extreme size. He was known for his colorful metaphors. McCahill grew to be a devoted customer, purchasing a brand new Imperial every single year from 1957 all the way through 1964. His observable and eager recommendation made it easier for Imperial to forge a good reputation as the “driver’s car” among the big three luxury makes.
McCahill also offered this observation in 1964: This is what I told them in California. When I hit the road with hundreds of pounds of baggage, typewriters and testing equipment, I’m not out there just to have fun. I want to get from here to there, which may be thousands of miles away, with as much comfort as possible. Besides, Boji [his dog] now demands comfort. So does my wife. I’ve been on some pretty fancy trains, including private cars, and to this writing, I have never found anything quite as comfortable or more capable of getting me to my destination as the 1964 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron. It’s a great automobile.