Monday, March 16, 2015

1955 Imperial: Big, but Well-Styled

Yes, they were large.  And yes again, they had a lot of chrome trim.  Nevertheless, I've always enjoyed their design in spite of some flaws.

The automobile I'm referring to here is the 1955 Imperial.  Prior to the 1955 model year, Chrysler used the name for its top-of-the-line model, but for '55 it registered Imperial as a separate brand.  In later years, Imperial was folded back into the Chrysler line.  Details can be found here.

Chrysler Corporation redesigned all its brands for 1955 in an effort to reverse the collapsing sales pattern of 1953 and 1954 due in part to bland styling.  Virgil Exner was put in charge of corporate styling in late 1952 and given the task of creating designs that could (and did) reverse the sales trend.

Model years 1954 and 1955 saw most American cars given panoramic or wraparound windshields.  Unlike General Motors and Ford designs which had the A-pillar either vertical or leaning forward, Exner's cars had it leaning backward in the normal fashion, though placed farther aft relative to the cowl than perviously.  The result was a panorama that suffered less from curved-glass induced distortion.  (When my father shopped for a 1956 car, he found he hated looking through GM windshields and ended up buying a DeSoto.)  Another result is that Chrysler Corporation cars from that era look more "normal" than most of those from their competition -- who eventually phased out extreme wraparounds by the early 1960s.

Chrysler used two basic bodies for the 1955-56 models, one for lower-price Plymouth and Dodge, and another for its more upscale DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial.  Because three brands had to use the same basic body, stylists worked hard to make each brand distinctive while paying attention to the growing fad for multiple paint colors on the same vehicle and the longer-term American fashion of plenty of brightwork.  The simplest variant was the original Chrysler 300 that used elements from various Chrysler and Imperial trim packages.  The Imperial was fated to look flashier because it had to show that it was expensive, while at the same time retaining a degree of dignity and reserve presumably characteristic of its potential buyers.


A 1955 Imperial four-door sedan image from an advertisement.

What appears to be a factory image of the two-door "hardtop convertible" model that was sleeker than the sedan.  The fender line / character line arrangement along the sides of all the large Chrysler Corporation cars did a nice job of reducing visual bulk.  Wire wheels were fashionable in the early-mid 1950s.

Side view from Mecum auctions.  I find the area where the lower top sheet metal, the rear fender curve and the side chrome strip's decorative dip are located to be a bit busy-looking, though not quite a fatal design defect.

Two more Mecum photos.  Both the front parking light and rear backup light housings feature wrap-around chrome slabs that might either have been made much narrower or eliminated entirely.  The large eagle-motif elements on the trunk and below the hood cut-line are also too heavy-handed -- especially the latter.  The raised "gunsight" tail lights have been a subject of criticism since the '55s were introduced.  However, I always liked them as being distinctive brand-identification items, though they probably wouldn't pass aerodynamic muster today.

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