Automotive History And Design: 1957 Chrysler New Yorker Early Proposal – Imperial Intentions

By 1957, the merits of GM’s body-sharing strategy had long been plain for all to see. For example, at the upper end of the market, Buick and Cadillac shared the corporate C-body, enabling both brands to price their cars competitively and generate healthy profits.

1957 Buick Roadmaster

1957 Cadillac Sedan De Ville

By contrast, Lincoln had long used unique body shells, the only exception being the 1949-51 entry sedan and coupe shared with Mercury. This go-it-alone strategy, and the fact that Lincoln’s sales generally trailed Buick and Cadillac, put the division in a difficult financial position, with a business model more like that of the Independents. Except for one important factor: it had a rich daddy.

1957 Lincoln Premiere

Over at Chrysler, body sharing had long been the order of the day, out of necessity if nothing else. DeSoto and Chrysler, including Imperial, relied heavily on it through 1952, and to a significant extent through 1956. For 1957, excluding Imperial, the corporate line-up went even further, sharing mostly common greenhouses, and with DeSoto and Chrysler sharing the same body, and Dodge and Plymouth appearing to share the same hood and perhaps portions of the front fenders.

1957 Chrysler Corporation Line-Up

This is why I always thought it curious that Imperial used its own body for 1957. Its rearview mirror mounted low on the dashboard seemed to signify it best: the new design was a loner.

1957 Imperial 4-Door Sedan

Virgil Exner’s otherworldly creation definitely made an artsy splash that year, enabling the new (since 1955) Imperial division to finally run with Cadillac. But car companies are in the business of making money, and it’s hard to imagine the ’57 Imperial program fully pulling its heavy amortization weight given its modest sales.

1957 Imperial Sedan — high style from every angle!

This is not to suggest that Imperial should have passed on that wonderfully modern design that featured the industry’s first use of curved side glass. On the contrary, I have long felt that Imperial’s wings should have spread even wider, to include Chrysler.

1957 Imperial Le Baron 4-Door Hardtop — Brochure Image

Why? Because both the Chrysler division and the corporation’s name would have benefited from the added prestige, and Imperial needed Chrysler’s volume to help pay for the new body’s tooling and development costs. Consider the company’s 1957 model year sales:

Plymouth: 762,231

Dodge: 281,359

DeSoto: 117,514

Chrysler: 122,273

Imperial: 35,734

The P/D/D/C program generated 1,283,377 sales overall, of which the Chrysler division contributed a little under 10%. But were that division to have been a part of the Imperial program it would have increased sales of that body by over 400%, assuming that Chrysler and Imperial’s sales would have matched their original sales.

Of course, some cannibalization would have brought Imperial sales down a bit, but overall it seems reasonable to assume that the corporation’s aggregate profit would have at least remained level, and perhaps even risen a bit with the incoming tide of ultra high style across not one but two divisions.

This is why I was so excited to stumble upon a few photos of a 1957 Chrysler New Yorker early design proposal on Facebook.

The images also appear in the book: “Designing America’s Cars – The 50s” by Jeffrey Godshall, with the design proposals dated November 11, 1954. Some of its pages can be found here.

1957 Chrysler New Yorker Design Proposal from November 11, 1954

In addition to unique front fenders and bumper/fascia/grill, the front three-quarter view clearly shows curved side glass. Also, Chrysler block letters can be seen on the hood, the hood’s center dome appears to be wider than the production Imperial, and there is a surface rise on the hood in front of the driver that extends a foot or so forward from the base of the windshield. Whether this last element is an air intake, extension of an instrument housing, or other asymmetrical Exner design flourish is anyone’s guess.

The only other image, the side view, shows the New Yorker badge ahead of the front wheels, and a body design that is largely that of the production Imperial. There are significant differences in addition to the front fenders and bumper, such as the omission of front door vent windows and Imperial tail lights, a backlight that extends further up into the roof, and more restrictive front and rear wheel openings.

1957 Chrysler New Yorker Design Proposal from November 11, 1954 – Side View

While there is no rear view of the mock-up, one can envision the rear bumper being largely that of the Imperial, with tail and brake lights integrated into bumper detents that remained unused on the production Imperial.

1957 Imperial Southampton – Rear View

Overall, I think the Imperial-based Chrysler design proposal works wonderfully, the only issue perhaps being the significant width between the headlights.

The design raises an important question: what would the ’57 Imperial have looked like had this theme been approved? Given the company’s high level of sharing within the 1957 P/D/D/C program, it is hard to imagine the production Imperial’s front design being chosen alongside this Chrysler design, there being too much differentiation.

In surmising what the Imperial might have looked like, perhaps a good starting point is this early rendering, which aligns fairly well with the Chrysler study.

1957 Imperial – Early Artist Rendering

While some have since described the front design as having a similarity with the 1972-73 Imperial, appearances can be deceiving, and designers do program teams no favors by grossly misrepresenting proportions. For example, look closely and you will see a twin headlight stack in the front nacelles. In reality, these would have been much wider like the ’57 Nash Ambassador, and with that extra width would have come a loss of slenderness that made the rendering’s nacelles so alluring.

1957 Nash Ambassador 4-Door Sedan

Curious to see how significant a loss was, I did my best to incorporate the rendering’s front design elements into the Chrysler mock-up, in addition to other Imperial design cues. Overall, I think the front appearance would have been far less compelling than the rendering.

Modification to 1957 Chrysler Early Proposal image to reflect Imperial Early Artist Rendering

To reduce tooling costs, perhaps the Imperial would have shared the Chrysler proposal’s front fenders and bumper corners, and worked in the Imperial rendering’s grill theme. Because two 5.75-inch diameter headlamps appear to fit the Chrysler’s headlamp cavity, quad headlamps would likely have been possible. Chrysler presumably would have offered them too, though perhaps these could have waited until 1958, to give Imperial exclusive use of the quads for 1957 while Chrysler used the dual 7-inch diameter lamp design.

Also, note how the side trim on these modified images and the original Chrysler proposal would have allowed two-tone paint on the body sides, as the artist’s rendering does. This unfortunately was not possible on the production Imperial.

Modification to 1957 Chrysler Early Proposal image to reflect potential Imperial Theme

DeSoto Involved Too?

One additional historical element to consider is that alongside the New Yorker mock-up there is a DeSoto sedan that features what appears to be curved side glass. In the New Yorker side and F3Q views the DeSoto proposal is parked behind and on the driver’s side, which suggests that they were both under consideration at the same time.

1957 DeSoto Early Proposal was likely taken at the same time as the 1957 Chrysler Early Proposal photos.

What really got my curiosity going was the DeSoto’s roof interface to the windshield. Was the windshield’s surface that of the Imperial’s except for the top portion and along the sides, which would have been omitted in the production process? Did the DeSoto use the Imperial’s roof stamping, moved forward several inches to fit what presumably would have been a shorter wheelbase car, and now with a center depression and more radiused rear door glass along the C-pillar? And did the DeSoto use Imperial Southampton’s backlight and the Chrysler proposal’s doors and rear fender uppers?

Interestingly, the DeSoto’s front and rear wheel cutouts appear to be similar to those on the production Imperial. Why? Was the proposed DeSoto body narrower, and therefore needed the more open cutouts to avoid tire scrub? Or were they just Ex celebrating the wheel, as he liked to do?

Alas, why didn’t the company approve what appears to have been a DeSoto/Chrysler/Imperial sharing strategy for 1957? Did a Chrysler division chief object to the increased material cost? And why did the Imperial come out looking the way it ultimately did? Was it simply Ex’s preference?

1957 Chrysler Corporation Line-Up – Side Views

A DeSoto/Chrysler/Imperial curved side glass, body sharing strategy would have been a bold move on the company’s part, and perhaps Chrysler Corporation’s golden opportunity to finally compete head-to-head with GM’s C-Body cars, from the Buick Super up to the Cadillac 60 Special. Certainly Lincoln, and more specifically Lincoln’s bodies, had never been much of a challenger to GM.

In the 1950s upper medium and luxury segments, it was a two-horse race between GM and Chrysler. And were the ’57 Plymouth/Dodge program to have launched in 1958 as originally intended, the company could have concentrated all of its energies on the top half of its 1957 showroom, and perhaps avoided some of that year’s quality snafus.

We may never fully know what the company’s original intent was for the 1957 curved side glass program, but what I do know is that looking through the rearview mirror all these years later, I love that early Chrysler design proposal. And if you look once more at its front three quarter view you will see that its rearview mirror is positioned up high, where it – and the Chrysler division – arguably belonged that year.


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1957 Chrysler New Yorker – Clara And The New Yorker That Never Was

Vintage Sports Car Illustrated Review: 1957 Chrysler 300C – The Duesenberg SJ Of The 1950s

Automotive Milestone: 1957 Imperial – The Most Exciting New Car On The Planet – But Which Planet?

1957 Imperial Crown Southhampton – Maybe The Best Summertime Illustration Ever

Vintage Dealers: 1957 Imperials In The Showroom