All Chrysler-Plymouth showrooms did not undertake 1957 Imperial sales. Since the Imperial was no longer a Chrysler, selling rights were not automatic. Of the 2,854 Chrysler dealers in the U.S. as of January 1, 1957, only 1,834 held an Imperial franchise, the division seeking to retail its luxury car through carefully selected dealers willing to pamper Imperial customers.
At nearly 36,000 assemblies, 1957 was the best year
Imperial ever had in its era as a separate make.
Introduced October 30, 1956, this brilliant new Imperial proved to be a runaway success. By February, production had outdistanced that of the previous year, and by the end of the 1957 model year, a record 35,796 Imperials had been built. Even more impressively, Imperial accounted for nearly 24 percent of Chrysler Division assemblies in model-year 1957, compared to 7.5 percent in 1956. As Chrysler President L. L. "Tex" Colbert optimistically put it, "Chrysler in 1957 aggressively established Imperial as a volume automobile line."
Of course, compared with the production of nearly 147,000 Cadillacs, Imperial's numbers seem less impressive, but remember 1957 was the first year that Chrysler had fielded a credible standalone competitor to Cadillac. Imperial's new production record was more than three times the number produced in 1956, and within hailing distance of Lincoln, whose 1957 assemblies totaled 41,123. On a calendar-year basis, Imperial actually outproduced Lincoln.
To add to the good times, Imperial finished first in its class (at 20.9465 mpg) in the annual Mobilgas Economy Run. Piloting the winning Imperial was Hollywood, California, Chrysler-Plymouth dealer Mel Alsbury Jr., whose four-door Crown Southampton was, incredibly, also the overall sweepstakes winner on a ton-miles per gallon basis.
The most popular car of the 1957 Imperials was the
Southampton; 7,429 were built.
And the good news kept on coming. Praising the new torsion bars as the industry's "most significant achievement of the year," Motor Trend awarded Chrysler Corporation its coveted Car of the Year Award. Virgil Exner garnered double honors: a promotion from styling director to vice-president, and, together with four of his chief designers, the gold medal from the Industrial Designers Institute for the outstanding design of his 1957 cars, including Imperial.
Unlike today's designers, whose creations are marketed for several years without obvious change, stylists in the 1950s were under tremendous pressure to change designs every year. The annual model change was still a sacred tenet of the American automobile industry. To their credit, Exner's stylists resisted such pressures, feeling their radical 1957 cars were still far ahead of any competition. Consequently, Chrysler's 1958 offerings exhibited minimal changes.
To learn more about the 1958 Imperial, see the next page.
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