Unusual Vehicles looks into the history and design of an unconventional car. Many unusual cars come with an interesting story and the Chrysler Norseman certainly had one. The car itself was beautiful, from the sleek body, to the unique C-pillar roof. Unfortunately, the Norseman was lost at sea during the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria.
During the 1950s, Chrysler designer Virgil Exner worked on several aggressive looking cars for the company. He wanted to maximise interior visibility and set to work on a new project, with it being called Norseman after his ancestry. Although the Norseman was a Chrysler concept, it was built by Italian coachbuilders Ghia. The company had experience with one-off prototypes, making it a good partner.
Chrysler wanted a fully working motor for their 1957 exhibition, so Ghia developed a stunning vehicle. It had a sweeping, dynamic body, hidden headlamps, cushy interior and Hemi V8 engine. The most striking feature was the cantilevered roof, secured with C-pillars. There were no side pillars and the front of the roof was supported by a frameless windshield. It also had a brushed aluminium insert and a 12-square foot retractable rear window.
Lost at sea
Building such a complex car took Ghia 15 months. When it was finished, the Norseman missed its cargo shipment from Italy. This led to it being put on the next available ship, which turned out to be the SS Andrea Doria. The vessel was involved in a collision in the Atlantic, causing 51 deaths and the loss of all cargo.
The Norseman was among the casualties, sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The public never got to see it, but car historians are familiar with it because of photos. According to designer Richard A. Teague, who worked for Chrysler in the 1950s, “the Norseman’s resemblance to the 1965 Rambler Marlin fastback coupe, or vice versa, was uncanny.”
Chrysler never used the cantilevered roof design for any other cars. If the Norseman hadn’t sank it could have become one of the most popular classic cars of all time.