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1957-1959 Imperial

1959 Imperial Interior

The 1959 Imperial interior featured an instrument panel with bold circular instrument bezels regrettably replaced with a strip speedometer and diminutive rectangular gauges. On the plus side, the cluster pod gained a row of transmission-matching pushbuttons to the right of the driver for control of the climate-control functions.

1959 Imperial interior
The 1959 Imperial instrument cluster was redesigned
and swivelling front seats were a new option.

LeBaron interiors were now offered in 23 combinations of wool broadcloths, heavy silks, and supple metallic leathers, all featuring a new biscuit pattern on doors and seats. On the LeBaron sedan, simulated wood inserts embellished the door trim panels, marking a return to the warmth of wood-grain as an interior accent.

Individual front seats that swivelled outboard to ease entry and exit were the trick new option, tempting 10,830 buyers. Other new goodies included electronically controlled rearview mirror dimming and a headlamp beam changer.

Underhood, the expensive-to-manufacture hemi-head engine was gone (except in the scant seven 1959 Crown Imperials made), replaced by a 350-horsepower, 413-cubic inch "wedge" engine that was 101 pounds lighter and delivered more torque.

Though Imperials could now be ordered with optional self-leveling air suspension (rear only), few were. Midyear, there was an apparent change back to 15-inch wheels and tires; ads show revised wheel covers with slots to improve brake cooling.

But the biggest change for 1959 wasn't the styling or the new V-8. In its greatest commitment yet toward building a true luxury car, Chrysler transferred Imperial production in the summer of 1958 from its Jefferson Avenue plant to an exclusively Imperial assembly site.

1959 Imperial
New 1959 Imperial Silvercrest variations introduced
stainless steel panels to the roof's forward section.

Containing more than 1 million square feet on one floor and occupying 48 acres on West Warren Avenue in Dearborn, just beyond the Detroit border, Imperial's "new" assembly plant already had a long history. Originally erected in the mid-1920s by the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company to build Jewetts, the greatly enlarged complex became home to Graham-Paige Motors Corporation in May 1927.

When Graham-Paige vacated the facility in 1946 to move in with its postwar partner, Kaiser-Frazer, at Willow Run, Chrysler purchased the property, converting it to build DeSoto bodies and, later, Firedome V-8 engines in addition. But profound changes in DeSoto's operations made the Dearborn plant available.

That same summer Imperial assembly was moving west, DeSoto assembly was headed in the opposite direction, back to the Jefferson Avenue plant, where DeSotos had been built prior to 1936. The switch made sense; DeSotos and Chryslers shared virtually all sheetmetal components, whereas Imperials and Chryslers shared none.

Having spent more than $5 million installing special equipment, the division moved quickly to let the corporate world know that Imperial was now its own car with its own facilities. In February 1959, Imperial's refurbished plant was featured in a special supplement in Fortune magazine.

According to the article, each Imperial underwent 700 different hand-crafted operations during assembly, where line speed was a leisurely 27 cars an hour. Every seam in Imperial's "Royal Coach Body," for example, was filled with pure solder and sanded smooth prior to painting.

The assembly process was overseen by a 75-man staff of quality control sleuths at 38 quality monitoring stations. When completed, each car received both water and road tests before it was cleared to ship. New Chrysler and Imperial Division General Manager Clare Briggs declared flatly that the 1959 Imperial had "the highest quality in our 34-year history." The plant also boasted an automatic static body switching system, an industry first.

To see how the move affected 1959 Imperial production, continue to the next page.

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