Automotive Milestone: 1957 Imperial – Most Exciting New Car on the Planet–But Which Planet?

It was recently pointed out that CC has never done a feature on the 1957 Imperials.   Considering that these were possibly the most radical and influential cars of their time, I decided to step in and fill the void.  But finding one at curbside may not be so easy . . .

. . . so I decided to cheat a little and do an internet search to see what I could find.  Apparently there are quite a few still out there, but I haven’t seen one parked or on the road in–I would say–decades!  So after looking at many images, I picked the specific cars that I remembered after searching, focusing on original, slightly patina’d examples that stood out to me–such as this black 4-door Crown sedan offered for sale in Breedenbroek, Holland.

Voluptuous beauty!  There’s something about the ample fins with their “nozzle” (or maybe “nipple”) taillights,  the sensuous curves, the optional spare tire mount with contrasting silver and gold insert, the flamboyant Imperial script (and little gold crown) that makes these cars so fascinating!

Two different front ends were available;  one with all-new double headlights, and another with standard single lights.  Most of the cars I saw on my internet search had the optional 4-light setup.  I guess most buyers who were spending big bucks on a new Imperial decided to go all out and get the most modern, futuristic design possible!

For comparison–the single headlight version. I really like the “geared” chrome housing.


The interior just “breathes” luxury and spaciousness!

I found another ’57 Imperial on the Imperial Web Pages.  This was offered for sale on eBay in 2017, and is claimed to be one of the most original examples extant.

You can read the full story of this 20,000 mile example here.

Here we get a good look at the unique design pattern of original upholstery.

If you’re looking for a coupe, how about this Sunset Rose stunner with the two-toned canopy roof.

The canopy effect is even carried through inside the car!

The fins seem even more pronounced on the coupe!

Here’s a Horizon Blue 4-door hardtop once owned by the actress Lauren Bacall.

Overhead camera shot emphasizes the flowing curves of the Imperial body.

Interior looks spectacular!




First impressions count!  These aluminum door sills are truly a work of mid-century modern art!

What a cockpit!  Note the unorthodox sequence of automatic transmission push-buttons:  N D R 2 1.  No “P”–you have to use the parking brake.  The chrome switch below controls turn signals.  Knobs are rotated rather than pulled.

Somebody should count the number of crown emblems on these cars!  All designed to make you feel like royalty!

The legendary Hemi engine, biggest in America:  392.7 cubic inches, a thundering 325 horsepower, 9.25 to 1 compression;  teamed with Chrysler’s excellent 3-speed TorqueFlite transmission.  Seldom has so much power been delivered so smoothly and quietly!

These ’57 Imperials must have been a sensation when they first came out!  I remember seeing a photo of a Chrysler dealership with a sign in the window:  “FLYING SAUCERS, ELVIS PRESLEY . . . NOW IMPERIAL!”  Cadillac and Lincoln had new styling, but the new Imperial was much more advanced overall, what with its tradition-shattering Forward Look, Torsion-Aire ride, curved side glass–a completely new personality.  Buyers responded.  Sales jumped from 10,685 in ’56 to 35,734 in ’57!   GM was forced to take notice, and promptly dropped its scheduled ’59s and come up with all-new styling derived from Virgil Exner’s inspiration:  longer, lower, wider, with big fins;  thin sweeping rooflines, and lots of glass.

What hath Exner wrought? Had he not produced his Forward Look, GM’s sweeping all-new line of ’59s would have never been created.




Consumer Reports, that ever-reliable arbiter of automotive goodness stated that the Imperial was the best riding car they had ever tested.  However, they did say that “The Imperial is not free from the inadequate rigidity characteristic of the 1957 Chrysler Corporation lines . . . Accessibility of the Imperial engine is normal for the type, except for its deep-buried spark plugs which are hard to reach.  As to gas mileage, not too much should be expected from so huge an engine and heavy a car.   The Imperial’s frequency-of-repair record has been very good.”

As someone who has owned and driven Imperials and Cadillacs from this period, I can tell you that CR is 100% correct about the Imperial ride.  The broad hood stays flat and level at all times.  You combine this with the Full Time Power Steering (which turns about as easily as a raised bicycle wheel) and the ease of handling around corners is really refreshing for so large a car!  Imperial would be my choice for a long highway trip.

However, Imperial does have some practical demerits.  The dash-mounted turn signal switch is very difficult to use.  You must take your eyes off the road and hunt for either R or L.  How many prospects said “No!” after dealing with this during the test drive?   Also the lack of “PARK” is a distinct disadvantage.  While the Imperial impresses with its size and styling, it sometimes comes off as a kind of oversized Plymouth. The door slams with a tinny sound;  the engine is not quite as butter-smooth as Cadillac’s.

The Cadillac suspension is softer, the whole car seems “silkier”, the quality of upholstery and dashboard chrome is very high, the doors close with a solid “click”;  the styling, while still probing the leading edge of space-age gorp, seems more refined and “correct” somehow.  Granted, these are small and esoteric observations.  The driving experiences provided by Imperial, Lincoln, and Cadillac would be more than sufficiently luxurious and similar to each other to please nearly everyone.   Which to choose would probably depend more on a buyer’s loyalty to the brand and to the local dealer with whom he had a good relationship.

Imperial’s promising 1957 success strangely enough did not last.  Sales crashed to about 16,000 in recession year ’58, recovered a little in ’59, but the marque never became a serious competitor to Cadillac or Lincoln.   So all we are left with are a few isolated examples of these fantastically exuberant, finely engineered (yet quirky) motorcars that are sure to inspire awe on those rare occasions when one is actually seen.