$100,000 Car Lost at Sea – The Chrysler Norseman

$100,000 Car Lost at Sea – The Chrysler Norseman


The Italian liner Andrea Doria was
considered by many to be a floating art
gallery filled with priceless paintings
and sculptures in its public rooms, but
down in the ship’s air-conditioned
garage on B deck, there was another piece
of art on four wheels
a one-of-a-kind concept car called the
Chrysler Norseman. Valued at more than
$100,000, it was on its way to America to
be tested after being designed and built
by the Italian firm Ghia in Turin.
Unfortunately for Chrysler, and you know,
also the passengers, the Andrea Doria
collided with another ship in 1956 and
sank on its way to New York, taking all
of the art with it—including Chrysler’s
one-of-a-kind prototype. As one Chrysler
engineer told the New York Times after
the accident, fate has denied the public
the opportunity to see the wonders of
the Norseman. Indeed, at the Norseman was
one of several concept cars designed
during Chrysler’s Forward Look era which
was a design and marketing campaign that
began in 1955 and spanned into the early
60s.
It was conceived by Virgil Exner, who was
tasked with revamping Chrysler’s
outdated designs as sales were slumping
compared to Ford and General Motors.
Exner’s radical new designs focused on
aerodynamics, which resulted in the
iconic tail fins you see on cars of that
era. Of course, when this look proved
successful,
other car companies began replicating it,
and over the next few years,
fins became comically large as consumers
saw them more as a status symbol than a
practical design feature. Like other
Exner concepts, the Norseman was
designed for aerodynamic efficiency and
reportedly made revolutionary advances
in safety features. This included a roof
design to support an impact eight times
the weight of the car in the event of a
rollover crash. Personally, I’m a bit
dubious of these claims considering there
were no A- or B-pillars, and there was a huge
plate-glass window that exposed backseat
passengers. But then again, I guess we’ll
never know.
On July 17th, 1956, the Norseman was
packed into a wooden crate and put on
the Andrea Doria in Genoa.
Oddly enough, nobody in Italy thought to
take any color photos of the prototype
before it was put on the shi,p though
reporters say it was a two-toned blue
with red leather and black accents. When
the ship sank nine days later, the loss
of the prototype was a tremendous
disappointment for Chrysler to say the
least,
considering all the time and money that
had been poured into it. And to make
matters worse, Virgil Exner had been
recuperating from a heart attack the day
of the sinking. His family wisely decided
to wait a little while before breaking
the news that two years of his life’s
work was now at the bottom of the
Atlantic. Since there was no prototype
anymore to show the public, Chrysler
representatives divulged a few details
about the car, which had been scheduled
to undergo testing at the proving
grounds near Chelsea, Michigan. In
addition to its unique cantilevered roof
design, it included a V8 engine with 235
horsepower, weather-proofed seals for the
door glass and windshield, and—my
personal favorite—a foldable writing
desk for the front-seat passenger. Or as
one Chrysler engineer put it:
“Representing as it did a new attack on
the frontiers of automotive engineering
and styling, the Norseman had the
ruggedness, boldness, and adventurous
character of the Norse pioneers of old.”
Shortly after the sinking, engineers said
they were already looking at the
drawings and blueprints of the Norseman
so they can incorporate elements of its
revolutionary design into future cars.
Sadly though, the world never got to
experience the one and only Chrysler
Norseman, nor did they ever incorporate
the cantilevered roof design into other
models. I’m guessing because it proved to
be a fatal design flaw, but hey, it looked
cool. For more information about the
Chrysler Norseman, please check out the
links to my sources in the description,
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