Collecting Chryslers

S uddenly it’s 1960!” shouted the ads for the new 1957 Plymouth 50 years ago. It was a way of proclaiming that year’s all-new styling had jumped the ’57s three years ahead of the competition.

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Sweeping fins and minimal-but-well-placed side trim contributed to the 1957 Imperial’s long, clean looks. Note the Imperial’s compound-curve wrap-around windshield.

A bit presumptious, perhaps, but it did emphasize one advantage Chrysler Corp. products held over some of its rivals. In Plymouth’s case, its total redesign with rakish tailfins, a slim roof  and expansive glass was visibly more futuristic than Chevrolet, which had to work with a heavily facelifted 1955 design.

As the 1957s were unveiled during the last week of October 1956, Chrysler Corp. was enjoying the sweet smell of success from the modern Forward Look designs introduced for 1955 and tastefully facelifted for 1956. Building upon its styling leadership, the new models emphasized a dart-shaped Flight Sweep theme. The side profile originated with forward-canted front fenders and climaxed at the aft end with sweeping tailfins.

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Sweeping De Soto tailfin epitomizes the Flight Sweep styling of the 1957 Chrysler Corp. lineup. (Photo: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Mich.)

The front fenders were widened to incorporate four 7-inch headlight lenses, but since a few state laws had not been modernized to allow the new “quad” design, Plymouth and Dodge placed directional signals just inboard of the 9-inch headlight lenses, while De Soto and Chrysler placed single sealed-beams into the quad headlight pods when necessary. The front bumpers were styled as part of the front grille theme.

Windshield and rear roof pillars were much slimmer, increasing the sweep of the front and rear glass. Side trim and two-tone paint layouts were designed to enhance the arrow theme.

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All 1957 De Sotos were powered by hemi-head V-8s.

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All 1957 De Sotos were powered by hemi-head V-8s.

The rear fender fins grew proportionately as one ascended the Chrysler Corp. price scale. Plymouth’s were a modest kick-up at the rear, while stainless trim and two-toning emphasized the Dodge’s higher, longer appendages. The De Soto and Chrysler rear quarter panels tapered gracefully upward and slightly outward from just behind the front door openings; they ended abruptly in taillight towers incorporating triple rocket-exhaust lenses on the De Soto and large, triangular lenses on the Chrysler.

The Imperial’s body for 1957 was more distinctive from its Chrysler parent, with a heavy, ornate grille, integrated bumpers and subdued bright trim. The former gunsight taillights now blended into the sweeping tailfins. The simulated exposed spare tire from Virgil Exner’s earlier concept cars made it to production on the Imperial’s sloping deck lid.

In 1955, the Forward Look had been primarily a cosmetic overhaul. Except for Plymouth’s first V-8 and new, less-expensive wedge-head V-8s as an alternative to Dodge and Chrysler’s hemi-head engines, the corporate line-up had carried over its chassis and power train with little change.

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This Plymouth Savoy two-door sedan has V-8 power and optional two-tone trim.

By contrast, the 1957s arrived with new torsion-bar front suspension that would be the company standard from Imperial down to Plymouth for more than two decades. The ’57s joined most of the industry in adopting 14-inch wheels. The new TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission Chrysler engineers had developed arrived the previous spring and was installed in Imperials and some Chrysler 300s. Available in quantity for 1957, the TorqueFlite was standard equipment on Imperials and Chrysler New Yorker, Saratoga and 300 models, and optional on all the other lines except six-cylinder Dodges and Plymouths.

Displacement of the hemi-head V-8s was increased to 392 cid for the top Chryslers and Imperial, 341 cid for De Soto and 325 cid for Dodge; the lesser Dodge and Chrysler series, as well as Plymouth, were equipped with wedge engines. Modifying these engines with hotter cams, dual exhaust and dual four-barrel carburetors, the successful formula that had created the Chrysler 300 in 1955, was continued, producing new generations of the 300, De Soto Adventurer, Dodge D-500 and Plymouth Fury in time for February’s time trials on Daytona Beach. Cranking out 345 hp from 345 cid made the Adventurer achieve one horsepower per cubic inch.

In the late 1960s, we would experience “The Dodge Rebellion.” But 50 years ago, the 1957 model year marked a revolution for the cars of Chrysler Corp.

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