Friday, May 27, 2016

1958 Imperial 4-door Southampton



"Your car is the most beautiful of all cars — fleet, clean-sweeping, alive with excitement. You enjoy the years-ahead performance of the greatest engineering the industry ever achieved — with all its deep-breathing power, its sure and satiny handling, it's unlimited comfort and luxury. Your own Imperial is waiting for you now."

Waiting for a rebuild in the streets of Havana, this Imperial from 1958 shows off its imposing proportions. With an overall length of 225.7 inches (5,73 m), these cars weren't exactly compact: a modern Mercedes S-Class in its most luxurious long-wheelbase version measures 206 inches (5,25m) — half a meter shorter than the Imperial.

With the second generation of Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" styling, Chrysler presented a spectacular lineup for 1957. Virgil Exner took particular care in designing the Imperial, almost living in the Imperial studio, as one colleague remembered. While the 1955-1956 models were very elegant cars, the new Imperial became quite a show-off, embodying what the copywriters proudly called "The Finest Expression of the Forward Look." A low stance and high tailfins were a general order of the day, but their compact torsion bar front suspension made the "Forward Look" Chryslers clearly stand out of Detroit's flock. The fancy of having the lowest appearance even compelled the copywriters to declare only a "loaded" overall height of 56,7 inch (1,44 m) in the 1958 Imperial catalog.

The striking Imperial design remained virtually untouched between 1957 and 1960, save for the addition of quad headlights as a standard feature for 1958, and cosmetic changes at grille, bumpers and trim. This was quite unusual in a time when the general consensus demanded wild and extensive model changes each year. Yet, change wasn't really necessary, as the Imperial anyway stood out with its serene proportions and volumes. Only the "simulated deck tire mount" and "Imperial gunsight taillamps" added some contemporary extravaganza.

Achieving this design, however, required a massive investment in the latest technology. The huge compound-curved "Super-scenic Windshield" and curved side glass — both an industry first — tell that Chrysler didn't spare any expenses to accomplish that modern look. It didn't help at the dealers', tough. Not even the designers, always in touch with future trends, could anticipate that an economic recession would force the buyers to sit taut on their wallets in 1958: Imperial sales nosedived to 16,133 cars from a staggering 35,796 in the year before.

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