It was Bill Robinson who suggested reviving the LeBaron name for the 1957 Imperial LeBaron. Bill, who retired from Chrysler Styling in 1980 to begin a second career teaching automotive and transportation design at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, came to Chrysler from Briggs in 1955.
The four-door 1957 Imperial Crown proved to be
a better seller than the LeBaron.
To sell the name, he and fellow designer Pete Loda prepared a formal presentation set in a 30×30-foot area between studios. The presentation illustrated LeBaron's storied legacy, especially as it related to Chrysler. "We had to prove to the division people the value of the name," recalls Robinson. "I was always amazed that people in the automotive industry were so ignorant of its history."
A genuine attempt was made to put the classic name on a worthy modern candidate. Drafting records reveal that in early 1955, Chrysler was considering giving the LeBaron an exclusive 133-inch wheelbase, but in the end, LeBaron emerged on the same 129-inch chassis as other Imperials. The revered name was restricted initially to single body type, the four-door sedan.
Seeking to build an image as discreet as one could given those flamboyant fins, the LeBaron's exterior was available only in solid colors. Moreover, in an era when two-tone interiors were de rigeur, LeBaron interior selections were also limited to single colors with soft woolen broadcloths in blue, medium green, medium gray, or tan; the seats conservatively tailored in narrow vertical ribs or "fales."
The series nameplate, too, recalled LeBaron's rich heritage -- a variation on the classic LeBaron script, in gold, on a discreet black shield, set low on the front fender just about where it had been placed in the classic era. Special wheel covers with fluted outer rings and white sidewall tires completed the image.
With the revived LeBaron, the Imperial team was betting that there was a distinct luxury-car clientele for an expensive yet tasteful sedan in contrast to the ultra convertibles like the Eldorado and Packard Caribbean, or the Continental Mark II hardtop coupe. This policy proved just a bit too exclusive, however. By mid-year, with customer orders showing a decided preference for four-door hardtops in both the base Imperial and Crown series, a four-door LeBaron Southampton was quietly added.
Sedan prices indicate the level of separation maintained by the three series. The base four-door began at $4,838, the Crown sedan at $5,406, and the LeBaron sedan at $5,743, the last $145 more than even the Crown convertible.
Continue to the next page to find out how the 1957 Imperial did in the sales race.
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