1959 Chrysler Imperial History 1957 – 1959
For the 1957 model year, the Imperial received its own platform, setting it apart from any other division of Chrysler. This would last through the 1966 model year. Imperials during this period were substantially wider, both inside and out, than other Mopars with front and rear shoulder room equal to 64.0 in (1,626 mm) and 62.0 in (1,575 mm) respectively. The front seat shoulder room measurement remains an unsurpassed record for Imperial and would remain the record for any car until the 1971–1976 GM full-size models. Exterior width reached a maximum of 81.7 in (2,075 mm) during 1961–1963, which remains the record for the widest non-limousine American car. After Lincoln downsized in 1961 this generation of Imperial had no real competitor for the title of largest car for the remainder of its decade-long lifespan.
One advantage of Imperials of this vintage was their strength; their crashworthiness got them banned from most demolition derbies for being too durable and too tough to take down. Unlike the rest of the Chrysler Corporation makes (Chrysler, De Soto, Dodge and Plymouth), that began unibody construction in 1960, the Imperial retained separate full perimeter frames for rigidity through the 1966 model year. These substantial frames had a box cross section with cross-members forming an “X”. The drive shaft passed through a hole in the “X” frame. The emergency brake gripped the drive shaft, and was not connected to the rear drum brakes prior to 1963.
Another advantage was that Imperial, and all Mopars, received “Torsion-Aire” suspension in 1957. Torsion-Aire was an indirect-acting, torsion-bar front suspension system which reduced unsprung weight and shifted the car’s center of gravity downward and rearward. Torsion-bar suspension on the front combined with multi-leaf springs on the rear provided a smoother ride and improved handling. Tom McCahill, an automobile critic with a reputation for colorful metaphors, quipped that Imperial “cornered at speed flatter than a tournament billiard table”, unusual for a car of its prodigious weight and extreme dimensions. McCahill became a loyal customer, buying a new Imperial yearly 1957 through 1962. His visible and enthusiastic endorsement helped Imperial forge a reputation as the “driver’s car” among the big three luxury makes.
The 1957 model year was based to an even greater degree on Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” styling (also used on other full-size Chryslers of the period). It featured a complicated front end (similar to Cadillacs of the period) with a bulleted grille and quad headlights, tall tailfins, and Imperial’s trademark gunsight taillights. For the first time on an American car curved side glass was used. The Hemi engine was available for the first two years that was enlarged to 392 cu in (6.4 L). Power seats and dual exhaust were made standard across the line. A convertible was available for the first time on an Imperial and available in the mid-range Crown series. Sales were helped by Exner’s “ahead of the competition” styling, with 1957 becoming the best-selling Imperial year ever. 37,593 were produced, but Cadillac by contrast sold over 120,000 cars in 1957. Quality control also slipped considerably, a consequence of the second total redesign in two years.
Starting from 1957, Imperials were available in three levels of trim: standard Imperial Custom, mid-range Imperial Crown, and the new top-of-the-line Imperial LeBaron (not to be confused with the later, cheaper Chrysler LeBaron). The custom-built Crown Imperial was also offered. Through the late 1950s and into the early 1960s styling would continue to become “Longer, Lower, Wider”, with the addition of some of the wildest fins on a car. The “FliteSweep Deck Lid”, a fake continental tire bulge, was an option from 1957 through 1961 and again in 1963 (due to demand). It was shared with contemporary Mopars, including the Valiant. Exner’s love of this feature extended back to early-fifties concept cars like the 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance.
Styling changes in 1958 were limited to the front grille and bumper. Quad headlights became standard. The 1958 Imperial is credited with the introduction of cruise control, which was called “Auto-Pilot”, and was available on the Imperial, and on Chrysler New Yorker and Windsor models. Power door locks were another new option. Sales slipped to 16,133 in a recession year. Dealers were frustrated with buyers referring to the cars as a “Chrysler Imperial”, which inhibited sales as Chrysler was not seen as having Cadillac or Lincoln’s prestige. It didn’t help that Imperial continued to be sold at Chrysler dealerships, instead of standalone dealers, although it did have a separate “Imperial” dealership sign.
Production was moved from the Jefferson Avenue assembly plant in Detroit to an exclusive facility on Warren Avenue in Dearborn. Other than a toothy new grill and revisions to side trim little changed in terms of exterior styling for the 1959 model year. A new option was the “Silvercrest” roof which featured a stainless steel front with a rear canopy that could be ordered either in any of the basic car colors or in the “Landau” version which had a black canopy with the appearance of leather. Another new option was swivel out front seats that were part of the six way electric front bench seat. Manually activated by a handle for this introductory year, for 1960 and 1961 the seats would automatically swivel when the front door was opened activated by a cable. The Hemihead engine was replaced with the less expensive 413 cu in (6.8 L) Wedgehead engine that nevertheless had more horsepower and weighed 101 lbs less, improving the power-to-weight ratio. For the model year 17,710 Imperials were produced, ahead of Lincoln. – Source: Wikipedia