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1957-1959 Imperial

1957 Imperial

It is important to appreciate that the classic design elements incorporated into the 1957 Imperial's front end were subtle and did not force themselves into the viewer's consciousness as did Exner's later efforts, like the individual headlamp pods of the 1961-1963 Imperials. To the thousands of Imperial customers who knew nothing of L-29 Cords, the front end appeared as futuristic as the rest of the car.

1957 Imperial
Curved side glass and a compound-curve
windshield were shared by all 1957 Imperials.

In 1957, headlights, for the first time since the switch to sealed beams in 1940, suddenly emerged as a major headache for stylists, engineers, and, yes, lawyers. All who saw the spectacular Cadillac Eldorado Brougham show car at the 1955 GM Motorama knew that quad headlights would be the next big thing. Trouble was, quads were illegal in some states and weren't likely to be legalized in time for the 1957 model year. What to do?

GM and Studebaker-Packard each took a pass, delaying quads until 1958 (with the notable exception of the limited-production 1957 Eldorado Brougham). Plymouth and Dodge cleverly mimicked quads by placing large circular park-and-turn lamps adjacent to the seven-inch headlights, while Lincoln attempted a four-light look by offering supplementary five-inch "driving lamps." Nashes in this, their final year, boasted vertically stacked quad lamps only, trusting that registrars in states that still had restrictive rules wouldn't object. (They didn't.) Mercury, Chrysler, and most DeSotos offered the customer the option of either duals or quads.

So did Imperial, whose quartet of five-inch headlamps were nestled into bright oval pods snuggled up under the fender crowns. The setup was a no-cost option on Crowns and LeBarons; otherwise, they were available at $34.65 extra where laws permitted.

On twin-headlamp Imperials, the traditional seven-inch headlights were each encased in a massive and elaborate chrome-plated circular casting. Each approach, incidentally, mandated its own unique grille, making the availability of quads or duals an expensive one from tooling and assembly standpoints. Of course, all this became academic when quads became standard in 1958.

Stretched between the lamps was the Imperial grille, a blend of wide and narrow anodized aluminum bars formed into an eggcrate pattern that bore a pale resemblance to the prior bold box-check. The divided grillework of 1955-1956, so distinctive and, more importantly, so easily adaptable to serve as an evolving trademark, was regrettably abandoned.

The new front suspension, which substituted long horizontal torsion bars in place of tall vertical coil springs, together with redesigned paper-element engine air cleaners, permitted the broad hood and cowl to be dropped even with the fenders. Mounted to the hood front was a new, more abstract interpretation of the Imperial eagle, elegantly modern with slim, delicate wings. For those desiring a traditional look, a hood-topping eagle ornament was available for $4.85 extra.

As sexy and futuristic as the Imperial's body styling was, even more innovation was apparent above the belt in the "greenhouse" where lovely roof designs and an expansive use of glass gave Imperials their distinctive silhouettes. For the first time in an American production car, the side glass was curved, accenting the tumblehome of the pillars and allowing the body to curve naturally into the roof.

See the next page for more on the 1957 Imperial's exterior styling. 

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