Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

1957-1959 Imperial


1957 Imperial Exterior

As long and as sleek as the 1957 Imperial exterior looked, in many dimensions it was actually smaller than the previous year's. Wheelbase diminished from 133 to 129 inches -- shorter than any previous postwar Imperial -- and overall length dropped from 229.6 inches to 224. But the new car was also 2.4 inches wider and nearly four inches lower.

1957 Imperial Southampton hardtop
1957 Imperial Southampton hardtops incorporated
rooflines unlike any in the Chrysler family.

Imperial was now so low that an average man could look down on the roof, which the stylists viewed as a new opportunity. Roofs on two- and four-door Southamptons employed a unique canopy design in which wedge-shaped C-pillars arched up and over the rear of the thin-section roof panel, meeting to form a vee in plan view.

The canopy was framed by bright moldings and stepped above the plane of the roof, the forward portion of which could be specified in a different color. (It was originally intended that the canopy itself be available in either a black or white textured finish, but that had to wait until 1959.) Inside, the canopy motif was cleverly repeated via moldings on the headliner. On both Southampton styles large, curving backlights imparted a light, airy look, but for the benefit of rear-seat passengers, "sun-shaded" glass was a prudent option.

Somewhat incongruously, the raciest of the new roof lines appeared not on the hardtops, but on the four-door sedans. On the Southampton hardtops, the roofline was nearly horizontal from windshield to canopy, but on the sedans, the roof surface and drip rail arched gracefully downward to nestle between the soaring fins. In common with the corporation's other new sedans for 1957, a six-window configuration was used, with the door uppers framed in satin-finish extruded aluminum.

As a finishing touch, each body type employed a compound-curve "Super Scenic" windshield that not only wrapped around the sides, but also wrapped up over the top. Its 1,622 square inches of glass -- a 48-percent increase over the glass area of the 1956 car -- permitted better visibility to overhead traffic lights. Brownlie was always quick to credit Chrysler engineer Les Parr (who worked with Chrysler glass supplier Pittsburgh Plate Glass) with being "very creative in helping to achieve the curved (side) glass, the big backlight, and the compound windshield."

Imperial was equally new inside, too. For the first time, it boasted an exclusive instrument panel. Lavishly padded top and bottom surfaces bracketed a car-wide concave sweep of brushed aluminum interrupted by an instrument pod under whose overhanging brow sat two enormous, chrome-plated circular bezels. One housed the speedometer, the other, the four auxiliary gauges. Each had bold, oversize pointers and graphics, and were illuminated at night by glare-free black light.

Arrayed vertically along the left side of the pod was a bank of transmission pushbuttons that terminated with a rocker switch to activate the turn signals. The stylists reasoned that if banishing the shift lever from the steering column was a good idea, why not zap the turn signal lever, too? Nice try guys, but the new switch location was both unfamiliar and, worse, inconvenient. Customer complaints led to a new vertical twist-type switch (still at the base of the pushbuttons) for 1958 and modified again in 1959.

For more on the 1957 Imperial interior, continue to the next page.

For more information on cars, see: