The fate of Chrysler Norseman

The fate of Chrysler Norseman


It is difficult for anyone to see it in person. And yet, Chrysler Norseman is one of the most famous concept cars in history, due to its tragic fate.

Here is his story.

Fruitful cooperation

The concept of a car… Virgil Exner (1909-1973), who at the time was the director of Chrysler’s design, did not like this expression. He preferred the word “idea car”. When he arrived in Chrysler in 1949, after moving to Pontiac and Studebaker, Exner had a lot of work to do.

Post-war chryslers are very conservative in terms of structure. To make matters worse, it was decided to develop a popular “idea car”. The first is the Plymouth XX-500. Not very good, however it attracted the enthusiasm of Chrysler executives and its manufacturing quality and low construction costs. Developed by Ghia, an Italian coaching builder from Turin. It was the beginning of a successful partnership that would generate a lot of ideas in the 1950’s. It was also the beginning of a great friendship between Virgil Exner and Luigi Segre, Ghia’s boss.

Panoramic view

Work on the Chrysler Norseman began in 1953. Exner was looking for a better look and was taken to a car without windshield poles.

The idea is to use a cantilevered roof that is fully supported by the rear pillars. The last Norseman plans (in honor of Exner Nordic origin) were sent to Ghia for construction in the spring of 1955. In front, there were only four small poles to hold the roof. The idea is that, in the event of an accident, the rod breaks and the roof rises, a bit like a spring, thus protecting residents in the event of a rollover.

Photo: Chrysler

Not on time …

Ghia coach builders worked on the car for 15 months. Because, unlike other companies, the concepts produced by Ghia for Chrysler are persistent, which makes the job more complex.

The Norseman sits on the bottom of the 129-inch wheelbase, similar to future ’57 models, and loads the 331-inch 331 Hemi V8 producing 235 horsepower, which is connected to the automatic transmission of the PowerFlite 2 key.

Below, the car is completely updated. The water lines, thanks to Cliff Voss, detach from the natural beauty and are complemented by reusable lights. The shock absorber was manufactured by PPG. The rear window can slide on the roof to accommodate the passenger compartment. The aluminum body panels are painted in two shades of green (there is controversy over this as there are rare black and white photos, taken by Ghia before being shipped to America, and some testimonies vary) and the roof is white.

Inside, 4 bucket seats are covered with leather. It is a luxury car that Ghia took 50,000 hours to build.

The vehicle is sent to the port of Genoa late. Luigi Segre must find another boat to take him to Detroit. It will be SS Andrea Doria.

In the fog

The Norseman boarded Andrea Doria on July 17, 1956 and began his voyage across the Atlantic. On July 25, off the coast of Massachusetts, tragedy struck.

That day, the fog was very heavy. All the staff are awake. On the radar, around 10:30 am, we see another ship, Stockholm, which had just left New York for Gothenburg, Sweden. Warning signs are issued and it seems at the outset that the two boats will avoid each other without problems.

Unfortunately, it appears that Stockholm crews had incorrectly calculated their distance from radar and a Swedish ship nailed Andrea Doria to the side, tearing up 3 of the last 11 waterproofing boxes. Andrea Doria will take 11 hours to sink, allowing the rescue agency. Unfortunately, 51 people will lose their lives that day, mainly due to the impact. Andrea Doria and Norseman now rest about 250 feet below the surface.

Photo: Chrysler

In his bed

Virgil Exner did not hear the news immediately. Indeed, the day before the accident, she had just had a severe heart attack and the diagnosis was not encouraging. It was not until several days later, when his condition stabilized, that Chrysler executives informed him.

Undeterred by the disappearance of the car rather than the loss of life, Exner joked that the car would be a myth. It must be said that Norseman’s fate was not bright yet. It was planned, after a tour of the exhibition, that it was facing an accident test to confirm the roof resistance. Exner will not attempt to redo it because, according to his own words, once the concept is completed, it is already obsolete. Chrysler will receive his insurance check (about $ 150,000), after making a statement to the media.

The story goes on

The story did not end there. Several divers have lost their lives investigating the crash, Andrea Doria known as “Mount Everest” in diving circles.

Others were able to trace the works of art until the early 90’s. In 1994, diver David Bright explained that he had seen the remains of a Mnorseman. Indeed, the car was not placed in the boat garage section but in the luggage compartment, in a wooden box, to facilitate its identification. At that moment the car was almost completely separated. Today, only tires should remain …





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