1957 was an interesting year for the US auto industry. This was the year that many (but not all) states began to allow cars to be sold fitted with four 5¾” headlights (with separate bulbs for low and high beams). Which states were still banning quad headlights in 1957? I was unable to find a definitive list, but anecdotally South Dakota, Nebraska, and Tennessee were among the last dual-headlight holdouts in 1957. Perhaps Daniel Stern can “enlighten” us. In any case, It wouldn’t be until 1958 before quad headlights were legal in all 48 states.
This left manufacturers on the horns of a dilemma for the 1957 model year, being faced with one of three possible choices:
- Continue selling cars with only dual headlights for 1957, and risk being left behind on the latest automotive styling and lighting trends.
- Offer only quad headlights, and opt not to sell your car in states where quad headlights were not yet legal.
- Or if you were a really deep-pocketed manufacturer, you could design two different front ends, one with quad headlights, and one with dual headlight for states where quads were not yet legal.
While all three approaches were employed by various manufacturers, it is the last option that is the most intriguing to me, and that I would like to take a closer look at. Designing and manufacturing two different front ends had to be an expensive undertaking, so it is not surprising that this practice was largely limited to more expensive brands and vehicles (No 1957 Chevrolets, Fords, or Plymouths had alternate dual- and quad-headlight configurations – all were dual headlamp only).
GM was the lone Big 3 automaker who refused to offer alternate dual and quad headlight front ends for any of their 1957 vehicles. Instead, GM largely eschewed quad headlights altogether in 1957, saving their quad headlight redesigns for the 1958 model year, when they could be applied across the board. The one notable exception was the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, which along with the Nash Ambassador and Desoto Adventurer was the only other 1957 vehicle to be offered solely with quad 5¾” headlights. For what was already a niche low-volume vehicle, it didn’t make sense for Cadillac to make an alternative dual-headlight front end, so likely just opted not to sell the 1957 Brougham in the few states where quads were illegal.
The similar-sounding (but completely different) Eldorado Biarritz was dual headlights only.
1957 was the first year of Chrysler’s “Forward Look” models, and quad headlights were a key part of that look. Chrysler couldn’t afford to not sell their cars in all 48 states, so they designed alternate dual and quad headlight front ends for all their cars.
Really, the extra cost for Chrysler was probably pretty minimal: The fenders appear to be the same in either case, with only the bezels being swapped out for a single 7″ sealed beam vs. two 5¾” units (along with a slightly different wiring harness). Quad or dual, the look on the 1957 Chrysler is a bit of a compromise: The opening had to be large enough to handle the height of the taller 7″ bulb, and the width of two 5¾” bulbs.
Either option got you the square peg in a round hole look, withs too much “white space” to the sides in the single-lamp bezels, and the dual-lamp bezels not filling out all the vertical space.
While 1957 Imperials, in general, are rare cars, the dual headlamp versions are downright scarce. When I first saw one a few weeks back on one of Paul’s Vintage Car Carrier posts (and the inspiration for this post), I expressed my revulsion in the comments. Upon closer examination, I have softened my stance somewhat. While I still think I like the quads better, the dual lamps have a lot of detail work in form of the knurled housing that is missing from the quad lamp model, which places its lamps in a rather unadorned flat chevron-shaped bezel. So I think I’ll call this one a draw.
Desoto was the sole automaker that looked at the three options outlined at the beginning of my post and said “All of the above.” The entry-level, Dodge-based Firesweep was available only with dual headlights. On the top end, the 1957 Adventurer (like the Nash Ambassador and Eldorado Brougham) was available with quad headlights only (it had a delayed launch and didn’t start shipping until the 1957 calendar year). The remainder of the lineup (the Firedome and Fireflite) were sold in both dual and quad lamp configurations, using the same interchangeable bezels that the Chrysler models used.
No Dodges or Plymouths were available with quad headlights in 1957. To achieve the quad headlamp appearance that the “Forward Look” demanded while still being legal in all 48 states and without the cost of an alternate front end, a cheat was employed. On each side, a single 7″ headlamp bulb was fitted with an inner parking lamp, giving the appearance of quad headlights without using actual quad lamps.
Of all the 1957 models available with alternate headlight setups, Mercury probably has the most detail differences. Alas, the dual headlight Mercury suffers considerably in comparison to its quad-lamp sibling. While the quad-lamp variant got cool turn signal “brows” atop the headlights, the dual-lamp models got their turn signals placed in the grille instead.
Furthermore, the quad lamps are even with the fender line (and possibly even protruding a little bit), projecting forward in a confident manner. The dual lamps, in contrast, are tucked under the fender, much like a regular 1957 Ford, and look downright homely.
This is easily the worst of all the alternate 1957 front ends.
1957 Lincolns are an interesting case. While at first glance their “Quadra-Lite” grille appears to have stacked quad headlights, in actuality they are just dual headlights with a separate driving light designed to appear like a quad setup (similar to Dodge and Plymouth). The upper lamp is a standard 7″ combined low/high beam sealed beam bulb, while the slightly smaller lower bulb is just a “road” light.