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1957-1959 Imperial

1957 Imperial Styling

The 1957 Imperial styling was pure Virgil Exner. "A feeling of arrested motion is created by body lines in the general shape of a sleek wedge, a basic design incorporating the feeling of stability poise and direction," effused the press release that accompanied its introduction.

1957 Imperial
Classic Cord themes like front fender caps and
biplane front bumper appear in the 1957 Imperial.

"Mass is concentrated at the rear. The eye is led forward by the convergent lines of the wedge, the design concept of advanced aircraft, racing cars and racing boats." The catalog went on to add, "Following a personal preview of the Imperial for 1957, an artist and designer of national prominence said the Imperial was 'the most consummately designed and superbly styled automobile' that he had ever seen."

Like the 1955 before it, the 1957 Imperial was very much Exner's car. Bill Brownlie, who came to Chrysler from Briggs Body and who was intimately involved in designing the 1957 Imperial, recalled, "The Imperial was [Exner's] favorite. 'Ex' spent more time in the Imperial studio than any other; he seemed to live there." Others who were present talk of the tremendous enthusiasm in Chrysler's styling studios during the creation of the 1957s, feeling that these cars would put Chrysler "ahead for keeps."

In retrospect, Exner's design philosophy at Chrysler can be divided into two distinct periods: "pure automobile" and "the wedge." In the former, Exner celebrated the functional parts of what made an automobile an automobile like strong fender forms, open wheel cutouts, and lovingly-detailed individual elements like radiator grilles and taillights.

In the latter period, Exner strove (via his famous fins) to imply forward motion. And indeed, the aerodynamic wedge was the signature shape of high-speed jet aircraft and Gold Cup racing boats.

Photographs dated August 10, 1954, of a 3/8-scale clay model titled "Ghia Program Car A-496" reveal where Exner was going. It is unknown if Chrysler's gifted idea-car builder, Carrozzeria Ghia, of Turin, Italy, ever turned the A-496 into a full-size car. But the clay, with its big wedge-shaped fins towering over a severely sloped deck, captured the essence of Exner's thinking, although other variants were considered, including a bodyside with more abrupt, rudder-shaped fins.

Ghia A-496 concept car
Ghia concept car A-496 exhibited key features
of the 1957 Imperial.

In the 1957 Imperial, Exner achieved his purest production interpretation of the aerodynamic wedge. On all of the other Chrysler products that year, the trailing edge of the fins leaned rearward. But on the Imperial, the fins leaned forward, elegantly delineating the wedge for which Exner was striving.

Rising majestically from mid-car and tilting outward, Imperial's fins were an integral part of the design. It is impossible to visualize the car without them (as one can do on, say, a 1959 Cadillac). And whereas the fins on all other Chrysler products were "sheared off," ending in an opening for the taillights, the fins on the Imperial were complete forms in themselves; the taillights were incidental to the shape.

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

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