Jan 10 2016

The 1956 Chrysler Norseman Concept Car Lost at Sea Updated 1/13/16


As you know, I have a strong interest in Chryslers and concept cars. Accordingly, I find the story of the 1956 Chrysler Norseman very compelling.

Enjoy,

Howard Kroplick


In 1955, Chrysler conceived the Norseman concept car to be completed for the 1957 car show circuit. The focus was building a car without A-pillars. The Norseman project was assigned by chief Chrysler designer Virgil Exner, Jr. to  assistant design manager William Brownlee and the Chrysler Imperial Studio.

 This early sketch  was the work of Chrysler's Deo Lewton. With an overall length of 228 inchesand a wheelbase of 129 inches, the Norseman was classified as the second longest Chrysler "idea car" of the era.

The Norseman was built by Ghia of Turin, Italy. It was the first Chrysler-Ghia collaboration built entirely from engineering drawings. This is the wooden buck of the Norseman.It took Ghia 50,000 hours and 15 months to build the car at a cost of $150,000, equivalent to $1.3 million today. Only one Norseman was ever built.

Typical of Chrysler Ghia joint projects, the car was to be fully functional. The powertrain was standard-issue, including a 331-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-8 rated at 235 horsepower, which drove the rear wheels through a two-speed, push-button PowerFlite automatic transmission. Photo courtesy of Edward M. Fiore.

The Norseman had no posts or pillars to support the unique cantilever roof. There was a power operated 12 -square foot panel of glass in the roof that  could be retracted forward.

This phot shows the impressive lines and concealed hedlights of the Norseman. Only a few black and white photos of the Norseman were ever taken and there are no known color images.Ghia assumed Chrysler would invest in extensive color photos when the Norseman returned to the United States.

According to a Chrysler press release, the color of car was "two-tone metallic green with a touch of red inside the flared wheel openings."

These colorized images of the Norseman were created by imbuedbyhues. Submitted by Tom Gibson.

Amazing tail lights!

This interior photo shows the Bill Brownlie-designed instrument panel with two wide-set gauges.

The rest of the interior was credited to Deo Lewton featuring green and gray metallic leather-covered buckets seats and lap belts that retracted.

All four seats were electronically adjustable, the fronts seats pivoted to allow access to the rear.

On July 17, 1956, the completed Norseman was loaded on to the luxury liner Andrea Doria in Genoa, Italy and headed to New York City. Typically, all passenger cars were placed in the garage section of the Andrea Doria. These cars would have been placed on to the ship by use of a crane and meticulously parked in the garage and arranged strategically for stability.

However, unlike the rendition shown in this painting, the Norseman was specially packed and treated with extra care. It was placed in a wooden crate and loaded in the number two cargo area. Painting courtesy of oceanlinerpaintings.com .


Andrea Doria

Andrea Doria 1952  press release.Submitted by Tom Gibson.

On the night of July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria collided with the passenger ship Stockholm, 40 miles south of Nantucket Island. After 11 hours, the Andrea Doria sunk to the ocean floor 200 feet below. In light of the loss of 51 people as a result of the collision, reports of the loss of all the cargo and the Norseman were understandably brief.


On July 26, 1956, the Chrysler Corporation issued this press release "Idea Car Lost on the Andrea Doria." It was never seen by most of the Chrysler stylists that designed it.


The Andrea Dora and the Norseman Today

Almost 60 years under water, the Andrea Doria continues to deteriorate.


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The last person to see the Norseman in the sunken Andrea Doria was underwater researcher and explorer David Bright in 1994. In his blog on February 6, 2006, Bright wrote:

"One of the "casualties" of the Andrea Doria sinking has received quite a bit of attention in the past decade; however, this casualty was not a person but a beautiful automobile called the Norseman. The Norseman was a special prototype car that was a joint project of Chrysler and Ghia. It is thought that the complete development of this automobile cost more than $100,000 1956-dollars. Normally, all passenger cars were placed in the garage section of the Andrea Doria that is slightly aft of the collision point where the Stockholm impaled the Doria underneath the bow wing bridge. These cars would have been placed on to the Doria by use of a crane and meticulously parked in the garage and arranged strategically for stability. However, the Norseman was no passenger vehicle and was specially packed and treated with extra care. The Norseman was put into a wooden crate and placed in the number 2 cargo area. While looking for a lost diver, I had an opportunity to see the Norseman for myself in the cargo hold. The crate had disintegrated and the car was in very, very poor condition. The ocean's salt water invaded the Norseman's metal and most of the car is rust, corrosion and a heap of indistinguishable junk. The tires are still there and have assisted to its identification.


I have been back to the cargo area several times (it is pretty scary in the cargo hold because the ship is lying on its starboard side) and visited the Norseman on a couple other occasions. I contributed to an article authored by a New York Times reporter that appeared in the Hemmings Motor News in the early 1990's. I have been interviewed about my dives to the Norseman several times since the original Hemmings article appeared. I have not been back to this cargo site since 1994 and with all the decay that the wreck has had over the past 10 years, it is doubtful if I will ( or anyone else) ever get a chance to see the remains of the Norseman again."

Sadly, less than six months after writing this article, David Bright collapsed and died at the age of 49 after making another dive into the wreck of the Andrea Doria.


More Information on the Chrysler Norseman

1956 Chrysler Norseman - A Specter from the Wreck of the Andrea Doria- Dream Cars

Chrysler Lost Heritage: The Norseman- Chrysler.com

Deep-Sixed Dream Car - Chrysler Norseman- Hemmings.com


Design Legacy of the Chrysler Norseman

John Bayer:  "Never realized how much the 1965 Rambler Marlin borrowed from the Norseman (sail panel)"!

The AMC Vice President of Styling behind the 1965 Rambler Marlin was Richard A. Teague, who worked as chief stylist at Chrysler from 1957 to 1959.

Steve Green: "It’s interesting how concept cars, even if they never actually go into production when introduced, are often precursors of designs in production models which came along 5, 10, or 15 years later. For example, compare the lines of the 1956 Norseman, particularly the roof and rear windshield, to the Dodge Charger and the Rambler Marlin which came into production in the mid-1960’s.  Lots of similarities." Seen here is the 1965 Dodge Charger II

The fastback and sail panel design was also seen in the 1963 Mustang III Concept Show Car.



Comments

Jan 10 2016 Howard Kroplick 12:43 PM

From John T:

Love the Norseman piece. You should consider writing a book about the interesting Chrysler cars that appeared and disappeared over the years. Won’t be a best seller but it’d be fun to do

Jan 10 2016 hugh 12:56 PM

These were some very interesting years to be a teenager near Detroit. Cadillac turned 50 in 1952 and Ford in 1953. Sports Cars were beginning to gain a place in the American way of life. The car companies noticed and Concept Cars were the hit of the Detroit Auto Show.

Jan 10 2016 Tom Cotter 3:44 PM

The Norseman sounds like the perfect plot for a novel…
Thanks for researching this.

Jan 11 2016 Tom Gibson 8:19 AM

Thanks for yet another informative read, Howard. It’s always great when you can learn something new, too, with the diver, David Bright’s story. I like ocean liners almost as much as cars, and have been collecting press photos on favorite liners for some years now. Can’t have everything, but my lone Andrea Doria pic is this pre-maiden voyage rendering of her three(!) Lido Deck swimming pools from Sept., 1952. Submitted by the Italian Line’s New York ad agency, the D.M. Grattan Co. of Fifth Avenue, is it irony or fate that the press release on back is printed on teal paper?

Jan 11 2016 Steve Green 1:56 PM

It’s interesting how concept cars, even if they never actually go into production when introduced, are often precursors of designs in production models which came along 5, 10, or 15 years later.  For example, compare the lines of the 1956 Norseman, particularly the roof and rear windshield, to the Dodge Charger and the Rambler Marlin which came into production in the mid-1960’s.  Lots of similarities.

Jan 11 2016 L.M.K. 5:14 PM

Interesting but a very sad story .....

Jan 13 2016 R Troy 12:21 AM

Wow - adds to the story of the Andrea Doria, which like the car was beautiful. 

Ron

Feb 01 2016 Dub Dublin 8:49 PM

It’s not just the Marlin -  Take a close look at the Chrysler Crossfire from the rear quarter (this is a car with a great butt), and you’ll see the echo of that distinctive Norseman sail panel in a recent Chrysler design.  (Both concept and production, as the Crossfire may be the closest production car ever to the concept car that inspired it.)  I’ve never heard that Eric Stoddard (the Crossfire’s designer) was influenced by the Norseman, but you have to wonder, as I’m sure the Norseman makes it on inspiration boards at Chrysler’s design studios on a frequent basis.

Also, while it’s not A-pillarless, the Crossfire does make an effort to strongly visually separate the windshield surround from the roof, giving it a bit of that cantilevered feel…

Jun 14 2016 Shawn Fox Firth 7:17 PM

someone with the means should have Marcels clone this gorgeous car ,wonder if Ghia still has the body buck ? . . .

Nov 13 2016 Chuck Lynch 12:26 PM

This article was rewritten from the one I did in 2012 on the now-defunct “Car Lust” blog. On or about 11/15/16, I will post a slightly updated version of my original post on our new blog, “It Rolls.”

Thanks,

—Chuck Lynch

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