The modern American world we recognize today started being shaped in the late 1950s. Automotive manufacturers were taking advantage of the whole “suburbia” concept by building cars you’d want to commute in, and that meant highways were springing up across the nation to more efficiently transport you from point A to point B.
We just, uh, weren’t really looking too deep into the whole “safety” thing yet. Just throw some speedy hunks of metal on the road, don’t strap anyone in, and hope for the best.
Well, that kind of self-destructive attitude just wasn’t okay with one Mr. Walter C. Jerome. As the world got more and more dangerous, Jerome spent ten years developing what he hoped would prove to be the future of automobile safety. He gave us the Sir Vival.
Oh no. Oh lord. Oh heck.
If you’re looking at this beast wondering why the hell it looks like two UFO-shaped hunks of metal just kinda smooshed together, why it’s basically a big insect in car form, then you’re not alone.
See, according to Autoweek, that design was intended to promote maximum safety. The two-part construction means the engine and two front wheels are in a completely separate section of the car than the passenger cab. They’re connected via an articulated joint, and the driver has almost 360 degree vision from their elevated seat.
The idea there was that, in the event of a head-on collision, the engine compartment would take most of the impact and leave the passengers relatively unscathed. Please do not ask what would happen in the event of a T-bone incident or a side swipe or a rear-end situation. This was just a beginning.
But in all seriousness—the Sir Vival actually featured a ton of innovative car safety features that would later become pretty standard in car manufacturing. It actually had seat belts and a sturdy roll cage, plus rubber bumpers and side lights. We just didn’t have that kind of stuff back then.
The only problem was the so-called “breathtaking” design and the price. See, Jerome had sunk ten years and thousands of dollars into turning a 1948 Hudson into the sectioned beast the Sir Vival turned into. It was just really ugly, and it would cost around $10,000—which was double what a brand new Cadillac would cost at the time.
Jerome only planned to manufacture 10-12 Sir Vivals, and he did went on a massive publicity tour with stops at the International Auto Show, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the Springfield Exposition, the 1959 Foreign and Sports Car Show, and more. He was featured in Life, Mechanix Illustrated, and Motor Trend.
The thing just didn’t catch on. A lot of the articles published about the car didn’t see the viability of a the thing, both in terms of production and its future place in the automotive world. There were a lot of cooler cars to be driving in the late 50s and early 60s.
So, the prototype was the only model ever manufactured.
It wasn’t a total failure, though. The Sir Vival was a pretty striking looking car, and it demanded that you pay attention to it. All that coverage got people to realize that the auto industry really was slacking in the safety department. It was estimated that, in 1958, one million people had died in automotive accidents since cars first hit the road—and that number was rapidly rising.
If anything, it at least inspired people to take note of all they could be getting out of a car, including the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re slightly less likely to die in a big ol’ car wreck. It was about time people started asking for stuff like seatbelts—they just didn’t want to have to deal with the really terrible handling and appearance of a Sir Vival.