What Is It?

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Last week’s photo showed a 1957 Imperial Crown Sedan that had been designed by Virgil Exner, who took the tail fin to great heights and made Chrysler Corp. the envy of the auto industry. Exner’s contributions to auto design were recognized at the July 27 Concours d’Elegance in Plymouth, Mich.

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What is it?  SPECIAL
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What is it?

Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Scott Van Essendelft, of Evans, who wrote: “This week’s automobile is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial with the rare option of the single headlights.”

Other readers identifying the luxury vehicle were:

AUGUSTA: Dalton Brannen said: “The auto is a 1957 Chrysler Crown Imperial. Imperials were the top of the line for the Chrysler Corp. In the advertising of the day, they were referred to as the ‘Exclusive Imperial.’ In some two-tone models of the day, this pink color was paired with a medium-gray color. This would seem an odd color pairing but it was attractive.”

Lowell Fritsche said: “When I saw that picture I immediately said Chrysler Imperial. Then I said, now wait a minute. That headlight doesn’t look right. Actually, it is right. That is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial that was manufactured before the four headlights were legal in all states. They used the 1956 headlight assembly. The single headlights were also used on cars for export. Imagine those sheiks going to the club in their Imperial.”

John Hayes said: “My best guess is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown.”

Gary Engen said: “I believe this week’s picture shows the right front of a 1957 Chrysler Imperial. The Chrysler Corp. offered either quad (four) headlights or dual (two) headlights for their 1957 Chryslers, Desotos and Imperials. It depended on which state the car was headed to because not all states had approved quad headlights in 1957. State laws across the country, in addition to federal law, forbade quad headlights until 1958.

“The automakers wanted to utilize quads in the new styling, and lobbied to allow it. This is why you can see several 1957 models that had either dual or single head lamps on each fender. Several states continued to outlaw them through the 1957 model year. That is why the dual-headlight Imperial shown in the photo is considered to be rare.

“I can recall riding with a college friend in 1963 whose family had a cool-looking 1957 (or 1958) Imperial convertible with wire wheels, the sweeping tail fins and that unusual push-button transmission located on the dash.”

Walker Mobley Jr. wrote: “This week’s What Is It? appears to be a 1957 Chrysler Imperial Southhampton. The Southhampton had the single headlights, whereas the Imperial Crown and Le Baron had the option of the dual-headlight arrangement.

“I believe the standard engine was the 392-cubic-inch, 325-horsepower Hemi, as advertised. These engines were highly sought after for drag-racing purposes. Keep these coming.”

CANTON, GA.: David Anderson said: “1957 appears to be one of those automotive styling transition years. Take, for example, the introduction of quad headlights; one pair being the low beams and the other pair being the high beams used in conjunction with the low beams.

“It is generally accepted that 1958 is the first year for these quad headlights. Nearly every manufacturer had them on nearly all of their lineup that year. Upon closer examination however, we can see that some manufacturers were jumping the gun in 1957.

“Witness last week’s What Is It? Although the teaser image clearly shows only a single headlight, for 1957 Chrysler offered the option of quad headlights on the Imperial and in fact they were standard on the top-of-the-line Chrysler Imperial Le Baron.

“I found one reference suggesting they were optional across the entire Chrysler lineup. Our What Is It? host could certainly have messed with our minds by showing us this same car with the quad headlight setup!

“Automotive styling is decided sometimes years ahead of implementation. The quad headlights had shown up on concept cars as early as 1953 from General Motors and were soon seen as the next big styling “thing.’ It was no secret then that all of the manufacturers were working on quad-headlight designs by 1957 when the federal standards were changed to allow them, but not all states had adopted that regulation. This meant that in those states, they would be illegal and technically the cars with them could not be sold or operated in those states.

“The manufacturers in 1957 therefore offered the quad headlights in limited numbers, only on certain models or as an option and purportedly they would be sold only in the states where they were legal. However, for 1957, in addition to the Chrysler Imperial LeBaron there was also the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, along with the lowly Nash Ambassador, all with standard quad headlights as the only available headlight choice. There might have been others.

“Other 1957 models exhibit what appears to be quad headlights. A wide selection of other Mopar products had them, as did the 1957 Lincoln Premiere. In all of the other cases, however, the extra set of lights is actually disguised turn signal indicators or slightly smaller ‘driving lights’ activated by a switch separate from the headlight on/off or dimmer switch. In fact, the 1957 Lincoln brochure elaborates on this feature in great detail to ensure the potential buyer – and I imagine nosy government inspectors – that they are not a second set of headlights.”

EVANS: Wayne Wilke wrote: “The What Is It? car is a 1957 Imperial. I think it is an Imperial Crown Sedan since that is a model that has single instead of dual headlights. The more expensive LeBaron model and most, if not, all two-door and four-door hardtops and convertibles had dual head lamps. All the Imperials had designer Virgil Exner’s huge fins and 392-cubic-inch Hemi engines with 325 horsepower.

“The photo of the pink Imperial brought back a shameful memory – but the pink Imperial I am referring to was a 1973 model. In the summer of 1973, my wife and I were living in Nashville, Tenn., and we flew up to New York to visit my parents for a week. I am a huge baseball fan and while there we went to see a Mets game.

“I borrowed my older brother’s car to drive the 15 miles to Shea Stadium. The car was a 1968 Buick Skylark V-8 that was pretty banged up, a perfect car to challenge other New York aggressive drivers. Having lived in the genteel South for several years, I always relished the opportunity to revert to ‘New York driving,’ a competitive sport that produced adrenaline like no other.

“There was a capacity crowd. We got there a little late and had to park in the last row of Shea Stadium’s parking lot. At the end of the game, it took us awhile to get to the car and there was a long, long line of cars searching for egress.

“When we finally got close to the exit, I saw an opportunity to ‘floor’ the Skylark and then jam on the brakes and cut in front of a car. While I was extremely proud of myself, my wife said, ‘Did you see who you cut off?’

“I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the ’73 pink Imperial. It had a New York license plate ‘Say Hey.’ I had cut off Willie Mays, the greatest baseball player of all time. Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, was in the last year of his storied baseball career and was only a shell of his former self. That seemed to make my deed all the more shameful.”

Paul Perdue wrote: “This week’s vehicle is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown.”

Jerry Paul said: “My guess for this week is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown Sedan.”

Bill Harding said: “1957 Imperials exemplify Virgil Exner’s imprint on automotive design. The 1957 Imperial line was the first in the American automobile industry to use curved side-window glass. The car had a wheelbase of 129 inches. Tires were 9.50 x 14. A true hemispherical-head engine of 392 cubic inches sent power to a three-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission.

“Because a few of the states had laws allowing only a single headlight per side, Chrysler (and Lincoln) had to produce cars with both quad and dual headlights. Those states’ laws were changed so that all 1958 vehicles could proudly and legally wear quad headlights.”

Larry Heath said: “1957 Imperial Crown Sedan – the first year that Imperial was a separate model. It was the luxury car for Chrysler and competed with Lincoln and Cadillac. It was the largest American car during this era and used the 392-cubic-inch Hemi engine. This was the era of tail fins, pastel colors and lots of chrome. The Imperial continued in production through 1975 and briefly returned for 1981-83.”

GROVETOWN: Scott Chizmarik guessed the similarly styled 1960 Cadillac.

HEPHZIBAH: Ralph Whitton said: “This week’s auto is a 1957 Imperial. They were changing over to double headlights and you could get either way for that year.”

MARTINEZ: Jim Muraski said: “This week’s vehicle is a 1957 Imperial. This vehicle had a unique feature. It could be ordered with either dual or quad front headlights. The dual-headlight version was a ‘delete’ option available only in the U.S. Customers were given this option because not all states had yet approved the new quad-headlight design when this model debuted.”

Lloyd B. Schnuck Jr. said: “The auto is a 1957 Imperial with single headlights, much rarer than the dual-headlight models.

“Imperial was introduced by Chrysler in 1926 to compete with other luxury autos with few chassis (in the ’30s) sent to custom coach builders, most to LeBaron, which later was acquired by Chrysler. The name was used by Chrysler as their luxury line from 1955-75 and 1981-83.

“The ’57 was given its own new platform lasting through 1968. Models included the Crown, Southhampton and top-of-the-line LeBaron, costing $5,743, and a few sent to Ghia in Italy for luxurious limousine conversions. The engine was the 392-cubic-inch, 325-horsepower Hemi V-8 with standard power steering and the push-button PowerFlite three-speed automatic. Torsion-Aire bars front suspension and rear leaf springs provided great handling and ride.”

Jeff Keevil wrote: “Today’s car is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown with single headlights. Chrysler sold both single and dual headlights in 1957 because a few states still banned dual headlights at the time the car was introduced in September 1956. By early 1957, the remaining states approved dual headlights on cars so the dual headlight versions are more commonly seen.”

Forest Hollar guessed the 1957 Imperial.

Beth Hackney sent in a photo of an Imperial convertible: “This is a 1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown edition. My brother has one with the stereo highway hi-fi record player and a gasoline heater. His is a convertible that originally belonged to Dr. Mayo. He has owned it since 1984, and loves to show after he had a full restoration done to it. The clam-shell framing of the headlights as well as the tail-fins were the some of the style elements of that year.

“Here is the back end, which is just as distinctive as the front with the airplane tail fins. This car lives in Kansas.”

MILLEDGEVILLE, GA.: Jesse Barnes said 1957 Imperial.

PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson wrote: “This week is a 1957 Imperial. The little crown emblems on the fender over the lights is a crown that means its a Imperial Crown. Came with a 392 Hemi engine.

“1957 Imperial Crown had single or quad headlights; because some states banned quad headlights, Chrysler sold single or quad options in 1957. The ban was lifted countrywide by 1958.”

THOMSON: Willie Cummings Jr. identified the car as the 1957 Imperial.

WARRENVILLE: James Covar said of the 1957 Imperial Crown: “They had four lights on some, and two on some.”

WASHINGTON, GA.: Clint Albea guessed it was the 1966 Chrysler Imperial.

THIS WEEK’S CONTEST

Do you know the year and make of this vintage vehicle? We don’t need the specific model, but you are welcome to guess.

Send in your e-mail to glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com or leave a message at (706) 823-3419.

Please tell us your name, telephone number and city. Spell your name if you call to make it easier for us to get it right. If you have a story about this car, tell us.

You have until midnight Tuesday to respond. We will highlight a randomly chosen entry.

– Glynn Moore, staff writer


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