The Chrysler Norseman was a concept car designed to be the featured attraction at Chrysler’s 1957 Auto Showcase
The Chrysler Norseman was conceived by automobile designer Virgil Exner. He was noted for developing low, sleek, and aggressive looking cars, and designed the four-seat fastback coupe Norseman as such. Chrysler outsourced the construction of the Norseman to Italian automotive engineering firm Carrozzeria Ghia. Based in Torino, Ghia was well known for building concept cars and one-off prototype vehicles. Since Chrysler wanted a fully drivable car and not just a mockup; all the normal systems, the powertrain, brakes, and suspension, were built on the vehicle . The engine installed on the Norseman was a V8 Hemi producing 235 horsepower with an automatic transmission. The Metallic Green colored body of the Norseman was made of aluminum panels with a sharp sloping hood in the front, unswept tail fins, and a smooth covered underbelly for aerodynamic efficiency. The shatterproof windshield and sunroof glass was specially made by PPG Industries in Pittsburgh PA. The glass of the doors was ventless and lacked the small vent windows as was the style of the time. The interior had four bucket seats featuring retractable seatbelts mounted to the doors that fastened across the occupants to the full length center council which would not be common in American cars until the 1990s. The Norseman’s most unique feature and difficult to build was an unusual cantilevered roof. Without side pillars the roof was secured to the body only at the rear C pillars and rested lightly on the frameless windshield. The 12 square foot power sliding glass sunroof proved to be the most difficult to incorporate onto a slender roof with no front A pillar support. Building the Norseman took fifteen months to complete at a cost of $150,000 in 1956 dollars (over 1.6 million dollars in 2023). Delayed by a few last-minute setbacks the Norseman missed its original shipment deadline. This annoyed Chrysler executives but, with plenty of time before the showcase, this was thought to be no more than a minor inconvenience. Delivered to a freight forwarder the car was crated and put in the cargo hold of the next available ship heading to the US. On July 17th 1956 the Chrysler Norseman set sail from Genoa, Italy bound for New York City, USA aboard the Italian passenger ocean liner the SS Andrea Doria
About a week into the Andrea Doria’s voyage to the States, another ship the MS Stockholm left New York City heading for her home port in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Stockholm in order to save some time was on a course about 20 miles north of the recommended eastbound course for vessels leaving the US. On the night of July 25th a dense heavy fog was quickly engulfing the nautical route in the North Atlantic Ocean about 800 miles south of Nantucket MA. The Andrea Doria and the Stockholm, both traveling at excessive speeds in fog with almost zero visibility, were aware of each other through radar. The two ships misinterpreted the course of the the other vessel, and made no attempt at radio contact. When visual contact was finally made it was already too late; the two ships were on a head-on collision course. The Captains of both ships immediately made evasive maneuvers. The Andrea Doria remained at her speed and turned hard to port, a mistake but ultimately wouldn’t have changed the outcome, hoping to outrun a collision. The Stockholm turned hard to starboard and was attempting to full stop. At 23:10 on July 25th 1956, the MS Stockholm collided with the SS Andrea Doria at an almost 90° angle on the starboard side. The Andrea Doria immediately began to list about 20° to starboard and her Captain quickly gave the order to abandoned ship. Although the Andrea Doria had enough life rafts for all of the 1,706 passengers and crew aboard, the ever increasing list to starboard had rendered all of the rafts on the port side unusable. Thankfully due to a multitude of factors; the Stockholm being badly damaged but still seaworthy, the calm demeanor and experience of the crews of both ships, the timely intervention of other nearby vessels, the quickness of the rescue effort from all across southern New England, and that the Andrea Doria was able to remain afloat for almost 11 hours after being struck, kept a tragic disaster from becoming a catastrophic disaster. 51 people overall were killed in the collision, 46 passengers on the Andrea Doria and 5 crew aboard the Stockholm; all as a result of the impact. At 10:09 on the morning of July 26th 1956 the ocean liner floundered below the surface of the water and within an hour the SS Andrea Doria, the bodies of 43 of the victims, and all cargo including the Chrysler Norseman were on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
No other Norseman was ever made. Chrysler decided that the cost and time were just not worth it. Most of the stylists and designers that worked on the car had never seen the fully completed vehicle, and there are no records of any test drives. The vaunted cantilevered roof, which was never really practical for a commercial vehicle, has never been used on another car since. Only the technical specs and a few photographs exist, though another car; the Rambler Marlin built in 1965, bears a strong resemblance to the Norseman. In 1994 a diver exploring the wreck breached the cargo hold in which the car was held. Almost 40 years on the bottom of the sea had taken its hold, the vehicle had deteriorated into little more than a pile of debris; only the wheels of the Chrysler Norseman remained identifiable