Q: Greg, I really enjoy Collector Car Corner and would like to know more about Chrysler during the war years and also about two cars my grandfather owned, a 1957 Chrysler New Yorker and then a 1958 Chrysler Imperial. Both were beautiful cars that I remember as a teenager. Francine S., Philadelphia, PA.
A: Francine, first let’s talk about the Chrysler and Imperial, both top offerings from Chrysler Corporation. Back then these beautiful cars produced during 1957 to 1959 not only looked good, they packed some real punch under the hood.
The New Yorker was Chrysler’s full-size, 126-inch wheelbase luxury model, joined by siblings albeit less luxurious Saratoga (also 126-inches) and entry level Windsor, which rode on a smaller 122 inch wheelbase. However, if you wanted the true top-end MOPAR luxury car those years, it had to be an Imperial which rode on a 129-inch wheelbase while the Crown Imperial limousine stretched out to 149-inches.
These Imperials sat atop the Chrysler lineup in luxury appointments and special, upper-class opulence. As for corporate pecking order, Chrysler competed with cars like Buick and Mercury while Imperial went head-to-head with Lincoln and Cadillac for consumer dollars (and did quite well).
In my early 1950 decade memories, if you pulled up to my grandfather’s economy and grocery store in Ranshaw, Pa. in a New Yorker or, better yet, an Imperial, you were held in high esteem. I most remember the dual headlights that began appearing those years and also the rear tail fins, which grew bigger every year. This fin craze, which started in 1957, continued right on through 1960 and resulted in some great looking cars from the Chrysler family. There were also some Chrysler Corporation bombs as I recall the 1960 Plymouth rear fins. Thankfully, come 1961, the fins started to disappear completely and sanity returned to the car designer’s blueprints.
All of the Chrysler New Yorkers and Imperials back in 1957 and 1958 featured the biggest Hemi engine available at that time, notably a 392 inch powerhouse with 10-1 compression. Windsor and Saratoga models featured the smaller but still potent 354 Hemi engine.
It was common in the mid to late 1950s to order Chrysler built cars with two four barrels on special cross ram intake manifolds. Chrysler was ahead of the curve in fuel and air delivery and didn’t mind taking chances on intake design when it came to making horsepower. Notable, too, is that the first ever 361-inch wedge big-block V8, known as the B/RB engines, arrived in 1958 in the Dodge line and then appeared in 1959 in Desoto and Plymouth models. This V8 engine would grow to 383 inches and then max out at 440 cubes during the muscle car era of the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s.
Now, on to Chrysler’s WWII effort.
You are correct that Chrysler, along with the other manufacturers, curtailed car production during the World War II era. The government got involved in January of 1942 when it mandated that all U.S. car production be halted to concentrate on war effort production. Chrysler had already been building military Dodge trucks for many years, and then followed with 31-ton tanks, Wright Cyclone airplane engines, anti-aircraft guns and parts, radar units, mine detectors and tugboats. There were no commercial 1943 through 1945 Chrysler cars produced.
The cars returned to dealer showrooms in 1946, as Chrysler, Desoto, Plymouth and Dodge arrived identical to their 1942 designs. Then in mid-1949, the new Series II Chrysler Windsor arrived and became Chrysler’s first all-new post war car. As for Desoto, Dodge and Plymouth, they had to wait until 1950 for their new motifs to surface.
There you have it Francine. Hope this all helps and thanks for the great memories of the Chrysler and Imperial from 1957 and 1958. Also check this 20-minute Chrysler promo film on YouTube called the “Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant: Assembly Lines of Defense, circa 1941 Chrysler Corporation.” It’s worth the watch for those who really want to see how corporate cooperation paved the way for the U.S. winning WWII campaigns.