How Chrysler Lost An Exceptional Beauty At Sea

In the summer of 1956, Italy's iconic luxury cruiser the SS Andrea Doria was hit by the Swedish MS Stockholm off the coast of Massachusetts on her way to New York. She sank eleven hours later. The collision resulted in the loss of 51 lives, and a very special Chrysler never to reach the American audience.

When our reader McPherson mentioned Chrysler's Norseman concept, I knew I had to write about it at some point. It's a wonderful piece of automotive history. Wikipedia has the basics, but to understand the car a bit more, I needed David W. Temple's detailed story, who is an expert on cars of the period.

The Chrysler Corporation might have ruined their chances to compete against the Corvette or the Thunderbird a few years back, but that didn't mean they stopped experimenting with radical shapes.

Starting in 1953, stylists like Cliff Voss and William Brownlie spent 50,000 hours with a project under the leadership of Virgil M. Exner. When Ghia was finished with the Lincoln Futura (which later become the Batmobile), the masters of Turin started trying to figure out how to turn Chrysler's newest dream into reality.

The Americans wanted a fully working prototype for their 1957 show. The drivetrain was the easy part as they used a HEMI V8 and an experimental suspension setup with torsion bars up front and leaf springs in the back.

But the cantilevered roof design with an integrated power sunroof took Ghia 15 month to build as the concept was using only the C-pillar to support the roof's weight, even if it had a heat-treated structural windshield. The roof also had a brushed aluminum insert and a 12-square foot rear window that could be retracted forward into the roof via an electrical switch. Air intakes for the passenger compartment were located in the leading edge of the roof as well.

How Chrysler Lost An Exceptional Beauty At Sea

The rest of the concept was sensational too. Hidden headlamps and door handles, shortened rear fins, low-cut wheel openings and stacked rear lamps made the fastback 2+2 a real joy to look at, while on the inside, the power assisted seats and instruments were all trimmed in contrasting leather, chrome or satin finish metal. The result was called the Chrysler Norseman.

How Chrysler Lost An Exceptional Beauty At Sea

Experts claim that a simple light bulb above the MS Stockholm's radar could have prevented the accident in 1956. What's sure is that since the SS Andrea Doria went down, 16 scuba divers died while trying to reach the wreckage 160 feet below. Thanks to the currents of the Atlantic Ocean, the ship's hull become fractured and collapsed after spending half a century in salt water.

How Chrysler Lost An Exceptional Beauty At Sea

While many of the artifacts have been recovered, including two of the ship's three bells, Chrysler didn't get its show car back. With only about 25 minutes to spare at the wreck, divers can't reach every room. Some say the Norseman was in cargo hold #2 when leaving Genoa...

Hat tip to McPherson! More info at Dream Cars. Photo credits: Chrysler Historical Collection, AP Images/U.S. Coast Guard