It’s 60 years since one of the most evocative automotive advertisements of all time hit American TV screens and newspapers.
“Suddenly . . . it’s 1960.” Those three words heralded Plymouth’s stylish new offering for 1957, and Chrysler’s entire 1957 range.
“Suddenly . . . it’s 1960” captured America’s boundless 1950s optimism and exuberance perfectly.
The star-spangled future had arrived ahead of schedule, and you could see it, drive it and buy it today at your local Plymouth dealership.
For 1957, all the company’s offerings — Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, Imperial and Plymouth — boasted elegant and impossibly thin roof lines. The bodies were long, low and wide, with fins that stretched up to heaven, and beyond.
The “Suddenly . . . it’s 1960” campaign was incredibly powerful and Chrysler’s market share climbed from 16 to 20 per cent during 1957.
Car company executives would willingly give away vital body parts to achieve that level of increase today.
It was universally acclaimed that Chrysler had snatched the automotive styling lead from General Motors (GM). And GM was not too happy about it.
Legend has it that after reviewing GM’s intended designs for 1958 and 1959 one senior executive remarked “Suddenly, it’s 1949.”
Incredible as it seems, GM staff who had styled the now iconic 1957 Chevrolet were severely chastised at the time for not having penned a competitive design.
To counter what Chrysler had done, GM implemented a fast-track development program to completely redesign the company’s 1959 and 1960 cars.
It resulted in the most outlandish GM designs of the 20th Century, including the batwing Chevrolet and massive fins on Cadillacs.
For Chrysler, the success of the ‘57s was short lived.
In its rush to get the cars into showrooms, Chrysler had shortened the durability testing process.
It paid the price. Quality problems and rust issues plagued the cars. Sales halved in 1958.
Once again it proved that no matter how inspiring the rhetoric might be, in the car business it’s the number of recalls that influences repeat sales.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au