The Chrysler Corporation rattled the foundations of the auto industry in 1957, while also creating one of the more memorable slogans of the car biz: “Suddenly, it’s 1960.”
It was in 1955 that Chrysler design boss Virgil Exner introduced his Forward Look, but the 1957 version was so fresh and distinctive that many enthusiasts of today assume the styling theme began two years later. All at once in ’57, the Chrysler Corporation’s cars, from Plymouth to Imperial, seemed lower, longer, and wider than everything else on the market. With their sleek, plunging rooflines and dramatic tail fins, it was as though the Chrysler car brands had somehow leaped several years ahead of the industry. To mark the achievement, Plymouth’s ad writers crafted one of the more memorable taglines in Motor City history: “Suddenly it’s 1960!”
The slogan was no empty boast. The company’s Detroit rivals immediately recognized Chrysler’s styling coup, too. At the General Motors design studios a few miles across town, a young stylist named Chuck Jordan decided to cruise past the Chrysler plant to get an advance look at the ’57 models, and he was stunned and shaken by what he saw through the chain-link fence. “All I could see were fins, fins, fins,” Jordan told Motor Trend magazine years later. “And I thought, wow!”
Jordan immediately alerted his superior, Bill Mitchell, and the group drove over that day to inspect the latest Mopars. While it was too late for the GM stylists to do anything about their ’57 and ’58 designs with their power-dome hoods and thick, heavy midsections, they still had time to scrap the entire ’59 program and start over, creating another series of distinctive designs in its own right: the 1959 GM product line. Jordan would later serve as vice president of design at GM from 1986 to 1992.
In particular, the Plymouth version of the Forward Look for ’57 is remarkable from several angles. First, we note that often, the low-priced cars in a carmaker’s lineup tend to get watered-down varieties of the latest styling trends. Not in this instance: The ’57 Plymouth was just as bold and striking as the other four Chrysler brands. It really was of a piece with Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, and Imperial. The Plymouth’s details were nicely executed, too. Over the ’57 model year, the corportation was navigating, on the fly, the transition from twin to quad headlamps, and the Plymouth version with twin outboard headlamps and stylized parking lamps was arguably the best solution of the lot.
The new look for ’57 sold well, allowing Plymouth to shove Buick out of the way and climb back into its traditional number three sales slot behind Chevrolet and Ford. But the revolution in styling failed to produce a similar shift in fortunes for the automaker. Briggs, Chrysler’s longtime body supplier, had left the business, and for ’57 body shells were engineered and manufactured in-house. Unfortunately, the Chrysler-built bodies were plagued with quality issues, including leaks, squeaks, and rampant corrosion, and it would take the corporation a few years to sort it out. From that angle, one could say that maybe beauty was skin deep.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.