Rightly billed as "The Triumphant Imperial," the 1958 Imperial's most obvious difference was its new extruded aluminum grille. Composed of six banks of slim, open rectangles stacked six high, the new visage had actually debuted on the 1957 Crown Imperial limousine when it was announced mid-year.
A segmented grille motif on the 1958 Imperial
replaced the eggcrate look of the 1957.
The new grille was set over a simpler, though still multi-piece, bumper, a filled-in variant of the previous biplane style, bolder and less fragile, with awkward-looking circular park and turn lights set into small add-on bezels at the outboard ends of the bumper.
That said, other trim changes were minimal. The diecast molding streaming back from the fender crown was longer and acquired a curious indented section, wheel cover center rings changed from black to white with crown centers, and rear bumper inserts went from ribbed to plain.
The Flight-Sweep "tire" acquired an attractive new eagle center, but the standard deck lid was defaced with unnecessarily large block letters to spell out Imperial and a fussy bright molding covering the windsplit, ending in a new crest-type lid handle.
The four-door sedan was the most popular of the
1958 Imperial base series, selling 1,926.
Engineering changes also were limited. The engine compression ratio was upped to 10:1, horsepower to 345. All 1958 Imperials also employed the lower, shorter, and lighter four-barrel carburetor and off-center, spool-type front engine mounts released as running changes during 1957. The power steering gear was new, too.
New options included electric door locks, a remote-control outside rear view mirror, Sure-Grip limited-slip differential, run-flat Captive Air tires, and the precursor of today's cruise control, Auto-Pilot.
Developed by supplier Perfect Circle, the Auto-Pilot not only automatically maintained a constant cruising speed, it also could be set to act as a speed reminder, applying back pressure through the accelerator to warn the driver that he was at his preset speed.
Division officials claimed Auto-Pilot saved up to 15 percent on gas, a statement given credence when an Imperial Crown again took top honors in the 1958 Mobilgas Economy Run. This marked the third straight year Imperial had won the event, making Imperial the first three-in-a-row champion since the six-cylinder supercharged Grahams of 1936-1938. As we shall see, Imperials and Grahams would soon be linked anew.
The most affordable 1958 Imperial Crown was the
two-door hardtop, which stickered for $5,388.
After the Herculean effort in 1957 to pull Imperial ahead of the competition, Chrysler officials were confident that their lightly tweaked luxury car was up to any challenge in 1958. GM fielded a heavily reworked Cadillac, while an ambitious thrust from Ford resulted in the massive, angular Lincoln and Continental Mark III twins.
But 1958 was a terrible year for the American automobile industry. It was the "Eisenhower recession," a time of plunging sales summarized by that desperate plea, "You Auto Buy Now." Industry leaders even got Ike to say it.
Chrysler was hardly immune. The corporation lost money ($33.8 million) for the first time since 1933. Imperial production plummeted to just 16,133 cars. This, however, was a still-impressive 20 percent of division output and Chrysler officials, sure they had a winning formula, pushed on.
The buzz in Detroit was that Chrysler's 1958 troubles came in part from mildly face-lifted cars that hadn't been "new enough." Well, the 1959s would be more obviously different. An aggressive "tail-lift" was considered for Imperial. Involved were all-new rear doors and rear-end sheetmetal, with a fin and rocket taillight treatment startlingly similar to what appeared on the 1959 Cadillac. In the end, though, the still-handsome carryover sheetmetal was retained.
Follow the Imperial story into 1959 by continuing to the next page.
For more information on cars, see: