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"Chrysler Imperials" were models within the Chrysler brand before 1955 and after 1983. (See Chrysler Imperial for more information.) The Chrysler Imperial had been the company's most luxurious model, and when the company decided to spin off a separate luxury brand, Imperial was the natural choice.
The 1955 models featured styling by Virgil Exner, inspired by his 1952 Chrysler Imperial Parade Phaeton show cars. The bodyshell was shared with that year's big Chryslers, but the Imperial had a wide-spaced split eggcrate grille (later used on the Chrysler C-300 "executive hot rod") and "gunsight" taillights mounted above the rear quarters. Models included a two-door Newport hardtop coupe (3,418 built) and a four-door sedan (7840 built). The engine was Chrysler's first-generation Hemi V8 with a displacement of 331 in³ (5.4 L) and developing 250 bhp (186 kW).
The 1956 models were similar, but had small tailfins, a slightly longer wheelbase, a larger engine displacement of 354 in³ (5.8 L) and power output of 280 bhp (209 kW), and a four-door Southampton hardtop sedan was added to the range.
1957 saw a redesigned and larger bodyshell available, based on Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" styling newly introduced for the full-size Chryslers of the period. It featured a complicated front end (very similar to Cadillacs of the period) with a bulleted grille and quad headlights, tall tailfins, and Imperial's trademark gunsight taillights. The Hemi engine was available for the first two years (enlarged to 392ci), but for 1959, the third and final year of this bodystyle, a 413 in³ Wedge-head engine replaced it. A convertible was available for the first time on an Imperial. Sales were brisk for the class, helped by Exner's "ahead of the competition" styling, with 1957 becoming the best-selling Imperial year.
Starting from 1957, Imperials were available in three levels of trim: standard Imperial, Imperial Crown, and Imperial LeBaron (the latter named after a coachbuilder, bought out by Chrysler, that did some of the best work on prewar Chrysler Imperial chassis).
These were the last Virgil Exner-styled Imperials. Unlike the rest of the Chrysler range that went to unibody construction in 1960, the Imperial retained separate frames for rigidity. While most critics of automobile styling rate the 1955 through 1959 Imperials highly, the styling in this period was more questionable, which might have been a reflection of Exner's increasing struggles with the Chrysler president and board.
The 1960 look featured a very "1950s" front fascia with a swooping front bumper, gaping mesh grille, giant chrome eagle, and hooded quad headlights, and tall rear fins with a fake spare tire bulge on the trunklid. 1961 brought a wholly new front end with 'freestanding' headlights on short stalks in cut-away front fenders, and even taller "wings" at the rear. In 1962, the fins were replaced by straight-top rear fenders, and as in 1955, free-standing taillights atop them - but these were elongated, streamlined affairs. The front grille was once again split, and a large round Eagle hood ornament was fitted for the first time. The engineering team delivered as well, giving the 1962 models a new, slimmer TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which allowed for a smaller transmission tunnel "hump" in the floor. This provided greater comfort for the passenger in the center seat up front. 1962 also marked the closing of Imperial's dedicated assembly plant; all later Imperials were built in the same facilities as standard Chrysler-brand models. 1963 saw the split grille disappear again, replaced by a cluster of chromed rectangles, and the taillights were back inside the rear fenders in ordinary fashion. In addition, the designers redesigned the rooflines of the two-door hardtops, giving them a similar appearance to the four-door models.