During the late '50s, no luxury car underwent a more dramatic transformation than Chrysler's Imperial. Not since the custom-body days of the early '30s had the Imperial received such intensive, individualized attention. those special cars were built in small numbers and the '50s Imperial was directly aimed at competing with the Cadillac. The '57-'59 Imperials made significant gains in the luxury car market and spearheaded Chrysler's bold grab-at-design leadership during one of the most exciting eras in American automotive history.
Chrysler began its assault on GM's styling dominance with the '55 model year line-up. "The 100 Million Dollar Look" slogan was actually a veiled reference to the amount of money Chrysler was spending to break from its stodgy past. The Imperial was spun off as a separate make in 1955 to distinguish it from the Chrysler line-up, but the internal management structure remained the same with E.C. Quinn (division president) and Cliff Voss in charge of the division's styling studio. The '55-'56 Imperials featured free-standing, gun-sight taillights and other distinctive styling cues, but they shared the instrument panel with Chryslers and the two-piece grilles with the 300s. A greater delineation between Chrysler and Imperial was needed in order to break the Chrysler Imperial mindset.
October 30, 1956, will go down as one of the most important dates in Chrysler's long history, seeing the introduction of the line-ups for Chrysler and Imperial. Chrysler's '57 passenger cars were so stunning that when GM's design staff got a glimpse, they junked their preliminary proposals and started over. Factory literature trumpeted the Imperial as "The Finest Expression of the Forward Look."
From the aluminum cross-hatch grille to the sloping decklid, the '57 Imperials were automotive art. Exterior features included a compound curve windshield, curved body-side glass (an industry first), no sheetmetal interchangeability with Chryslers, and fins that aided in high speed stability with taillights set into fairings at the upper ends of the fins. It seemed as if every one of the 224 inches in length were meticulously detailed for a beautiful overall effect. For the first time since 1951, a full compliment of body styles was offered.
The IM1-1 Imperial Series consisted of a four-door sedan, a four-door Southampton (hardtop), and a two-door Southampton (hardtop); the IM1-2 Crown Series included a four-door sedan, a four-door Southampton, a two-door Southampton, and two-door convertible; the IM1-4 LeBaron Series was limited to a four-door sedan and a four-door Southampton. The LeBaron four-door Southampton was a late addition, and not included in the AMA specifications until the 12/15/56 revision. According to the AMA specifications dated 9/30/56 (revised 12/15/56 and 2/11/57), the IM1-1 Imperial came standard with dual headlamps, while quad headlamps were an extra-cost option. On Crowns and LeBarons, quad headlights were standard with the dual setup. Unfortunately, the two-lamp arrangement made the Imperials look bug-eyed and necessitated production of two different grilles (1624504-2 lamp, 1686404-4 lamp).