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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

1955 Chrysler

The 1955 Chrysler New Yorker and Windsor models shared massive “twin-tower” taillights that could be seen for a country kilometre.

Few automobile companies have ever fielded products that were as dramatically different as the entire 1955 Chrysler Corporation’s line. From the lowliest Plymouth to the most majestic Chrysler Custom Imperial, these cars were downright breathtaking. No longer could the Chrysler’s vehicles be thought of as conservative or dowdy in styling. Touted as “The Forward Look” in the States, the term was downplayed considerably here at home. Regardless of the jingles and names, Canadians flocked to dealerships to see all of the glittering jewels in the Chrysler crown on November 22nd, 1955. There were three Chrysler beauties to ogle: the Windsor, the New Yorker and the Custom Imperial.

The low bucks Chrysler Windsor series boasted this tasteful convertible in 1955. It weighed in at a hefty 3,915 pounds and listed for $3,672. Like an ugly windchill factored into the temperature, taxes, dealer preparation charges and delivery were all tacked onto the base price.

After a 40-day layoff at the end of the 1954 model year run that included ten days of holiday time and plant setup, production of the 1955s got under way in Windsor, Ontario on October 11, 1954. A total of 5,175 Chryslers were built during the model year run that ended on August 10. All but the convertibles and station wagons were built in Canada. Prices ranged from $2,150.50 to $2,582.00.

The Chrysler Custom Imperial was not listed as a separate make in Canada as it was in the US. The ultra posh luxury liner was portrayed in the Canadian Chrysler line folder right after the Windsors and New Yorkers. Built in the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit, the imported flagship cost a cool $5,123 for the four-door sedan and $5,495 for the Newport two-door hardtop coupe.

The distinctively elegant face of the 1955 Chrysler Custom Imperial impressed all.

The most distinguished Chrysler of all was readily identifiable from its lesser kin. It boasted a large eggcrate grille, parking lights and turn signals wrapped in chrome and partially tunneled into the front bumper. Then there were the love ‘em or hate ‘em gunsight taillights mounted high atop the rear fenders. Chrysler bragged that they were “unique and daringly different.” Fred Hudson, the rookie stylist who dreamt them up, told this author in an interview that he still hates them to this day.

The 1955 Chrysler Imperial Newport hardtop coupe cost $5,495 and weighed in at 4,490 pounds.

Promising that it was “as carefully crafted as a fine watch, as beautifully designed as an expensive gown, the Imperial is a car apart.” The mood of its interiors is one of “richness, comfort and relaxation. The leather, the highly textured fabrics and discrete chrome trim certainly gave it a well-deserved air of refinement. Imperial’s classic proportions and exquisite appointments promised to “proclaim your discriminating taste.”

 In all its glory, the 1955 version of Chrysler’s famed hemi was likened to the custom-built engines in the world’s fastest racing cars.
Standard for the Chrysler Custom Imperial was the 331-cubic inch, 250-horsepower FirePower V-8 engine with its hemispherical combustion chamber. The mill was mated to the two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission. Power brakes and power steering were included in the base price. Extra cost equipment included the heater, Airtemp air conditioning, electric window lifts, four-way power seats, a signal-seeking radio and white sidewall tires.

 The 1955 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe Estate Wagon tipped the scales at 4,430 pounds and listed for $4,709.94 for the two-seat version.
Downstream from the Imperial was moored a quartet of Chrysler New Yorker DeLuxe models, comprised of a distinguished and superbly streamlined four-door sedan, a hardtop coupe, an estate wagon and a convertible. The New Yorkers shared the same engine and transmission as the Custom Imperial.
The face of the 1955 Chrysler New Yorker. The Newport hardtop coupe sold for $3,772.
 New Yorkers differed from Imperial by featuring a smaller, split eggcrate grille underscored with a massive chrome bar that held turn signals and parking lights in chrome end pods. New Yorkers carried 33-centimetre (one-foot) tall “twin-tower” taillights that rose upward from the fenders’ crests. The fin-like assemblies were meant to “emphasize the feeling of motion in the car’s design.”

The New Yorker’s interior could be upholstered in a choice of sturdy woolens, patterned nylons or new milled broadcloths, each accented with pliant leathers or vinyls. No matter what fresh and vibrant combination was selected, they all promised to deliver “a symphony of colour, texture and sparkle.”

 Close-up of the 1955 Chrysler instrument panel. Note the gearshift lever’s unusual position.
 To accompany the tasteful new wraparound windshield that gave the driver a commanding view of the road and opened broader vistas for safer driving, stylists added a deeply- recessed, leather crowned instrument panel that curved around into the door panels.

The face of the 1955 Chrysler Windsor. The least expensive Chrysler was the four-door sedan, listing for $2,907.50.

 For folks ready to move up from mid-priced DeSoto to join the prestigious Chrysler family, there was the modestly appointed Windsor DeLuxe. In this entry-priced series one found a four-door sedan, the convertible, the Newport two-door hardtop and the estate wagon. Windsor owners were promised a truly big car, broad and solid, strikingly graceful—all designed to make travelling an adventure.

 Interiors of the modestly appointed 1955 Chrysler Windsors were finished in “miracle” fabrics.

Windsor shared a grille with the New Yorker but the heavy chrome bar beneath the grille was deleted in favour of a simple chrome lip. Round parking lights and turn signals were housed in the fender, directly blow the headlights. Its interior was appointed with “miracle” fabrics. Beneath the hood was the 301-cubic inch Spitfire engine.

Extra cost items for the Windsor included heavy duty springs and shock absorbers,, electric window lifts, Full-Time Coaxial Power Steering, power brakes, Solex glass, the four-way electric seat adjuster, an exterior moulding package, the cowl vent heater, a cigar lighter for the rear compartment of the four-door sedan, four- or six-ply white sidewall tubeless tires, oversized tires, six-ply blackwall tubeless tires or tires with tubes.

The union and Chrysler reopened negotiations on December 1, 1954 after a Concilliation Board recommended that workers not receive a pay hike. The union had asked for a raise, retroactive to June 17. On the 15th, the union countered with a demand for a $50 Christmas bonus.

In mid-1955, a $41 million, 800,000-square foot factory expansion at the Windsor plant was completed. Now, a half mile long, the facility was capable of producing 600 automobiles a day. Final touches on the new $21 million V-8 engine plant were being made and would be put into production for the 1956 models.

Late in the selling season, the Chrysler 300C was unveiled. The fastest production car on earth, it was mightily impressive on road and track.

Chrysler did very well for its 1955 model year. Production rose sharply to 5,175 units compared to only 3,685 units built in 1954. Still, it had a ways to go to catch up to the competition. Workers at GM in Oshawa built 23,762 Buicks and in Oakville, workers at Ford built 8,567 Mercury passenger cars. Definitely up to the challenge, 1956 would be even better for Chrysler Canada and a banner year for the Chrysler Division in particular.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005
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