Car of the Week: 1957 Chrysler Saratoga

By John Gunnell

Sometime in the early 1960s my parents decided that they needed a “new” used car. Dad had driven the wheels off his sky blue ’57 Ford Custom 300 sedan and, as that car aged, he decided it needed new paint. So, he got out his paint brush and a can of black enamel and transformed the Ford into a really ugly ebony “ickmobile.”

Mom didn’t like the brush-painted black Ford very much and put the pressure on my dad for different wheels. He started visiting all the used car lots in Staten Island, N.Y.,  and eventually returned with a 1957 Chrysler Saratoga four-door hardtop that was mostly white with green accents between the body side moldings.

I was around 14 years old at the time and was terribly disappointed that the car was the same model year as the Ford. But I didn’t have a vote in that election and the Chrysler soon became our “first” car (I think that’s the right term because the Ford was then called our “second” car). Dad tried to ease my pain by telling me the Saratoga had a Hemi engine. It didn’t, but I hadn’t compiled any Standard Catalogs back then and didn’t know that the big, silver V-8 under the hood was what car guys call a “Wedge” engine.

A few years later, I was ready to start practicing how to drive. The Saratoga was still on family duty at that time, so my introduction to the behind-the-wheel experience took place in a gigantic “finmobile” with push-button transmission, a rearview mirror on the padded dash and an inclination to sway from side to side. The latter was probably due to a worn torsion bar suspension or full-time power steering system that had no “feel.”

The Saratoga’s steering was so bad and the feeling of the car was so loose that I wound up failing the New York State driving road test three times. Did I mention that it was also a bear to park that 219.2-inch-long Chrysler land yacht? I finally passed my road test in the 1955 Chevy 210 that my grandfather gave me. It did not have power steering, so it went straight down the road and was a lot easier to park at 195.6 inches long.

All of these memories came flowing back this past April when I went to W. Yoder’s Spring Classic Car Auction in Wautoma, Wis., and saw a Chrysler Saratoga four-door among the cars for sale. It was a sedan, rather than a hardtop, and it was brown with white spears, rather than white and green. Those, however, were just details. The car did have those wonderful Chrysler “Forward-Look” fins, the push-button gear selector pod on the left of the “deep-dished” steering wheel and that wonderful enormous trunk where my apartment-dwelling dad kept all his man things — tool box, tire chains, fishing gear basket, bowling ball, softball bats, etc. Yep, the Chrysler’s rear end did sag a bit!

Looking at the Saratoga in the auction took me back to the past. The year 1957 was a mighty interesting time. The Eisenhower Doctrine pledged the might of the United States to defend Middle Eastern nations against communism. In the World Series, the bats of the Milwaukee Braves won it 4 games to 3 over my then hometown New York Yankees. In Russia, mighty rocket engines launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit, putting the Soviet Union one up the race to space.

Automotively, the mighty Chryslers took the Forward-Look one step further with their towering tail fins and Flight Sweep styling. The 1957 Chryslers looked totally different from the 1956 models and they were nothing like each other as well. A new third line of middle-priced models revived the old Saratoga name. It included a two-door hardtop ($3,694), four-door sedan ($3,658) and four-door hardtop like my dad’s ($3,772).

In addition to the fins, there was a new massive bumper grille with wide, horizontal parking lights under wraparound wings. Dual headlights were optionally available, but only allowed in a few states. All Chryslers looked longer, lower and wider, but the wheelbase was unchanged and overall lengths were slightly reduced. Saratogas came standard with dual exhausts, back-up lights, a brake-on warning signal, stainless steel full wheel covers and loose-as-a-goose power steering.

“Torsion-Aire Ride was Chrysler’s trade name for the new front suspension system with torsion bars instead of springs. This system was said to do a better job of absorbing road shocks and providing more level stops, starts and turns. Chrysler claimed improved handling, too. A new Torque-Flite automatic transmission was also available in all series and standard in all but entry-level Windsors. This three-speed transmission was operated by push button. Torque-Flite was said to be smoother and quieter than PowerFlite, giving better on-the-road performance in every gear range.

“Saratoga” was written in script on the front fenders in Chrysler’s new line. A single, full-length body side molding sweeping gently from the center of the headlights to the bottom of the taillights was standard. An upper rear molding positioned parallel to the top of the fin was a trim option. Being the era of two-toning, when this molding was added, the area between the two chrome strips was often done in a contrasting color and the same contrasting color was optionally available for the roof.

A new 295-hp version of the 354-cid Spitfire V-8 was used in Saratogas. This four-barrel engine had the same displacement as the 1955 Hemi, which might have been a fact that confused my father into thinking he was buying a Hemi-powered car.

On a calendar-year basis, Chrysler enjoyed a 45.8 percent increase in production in 1957, with the total rising to 156,679 cars (including 118,733 Chryslers and 37,946 Imperials). Model-year production included 115,858 Chryslers and 35,734 Imperials. The Chrysler total included 10,663 Saratoga two-door hardtops, 11,586 Saratoga four-door hardtops and 14,977 Saratoga sedans.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t buy the auction car. Someone else paid $9,500 for the No. 3 condition Chrysler. I thought that was a little on the high side for a four-door sedan.

Automotive memories do have their own value and that’s something to keep in mind any time you go to a collector car auction.

 

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