Safe at any speed?

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By Robert Harland


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

PERHAPS the world's weirdest car ever to see the light of day was the 1958’s Sir Vival.

Billed as the last word in car safety, this monstrosity was designed by American inventor Walter C. Jerome of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Jerome's idea was a two-part body designed so that the front section housing the engine and drive train could “ride with the punch of a collision and absorb the shock of impact” while isolating passengers, seated in the rear compartment, from a collision.


The car was built out of a front part of a 1948 Nash and the rear was a heavily modified 1947 Hudson Plymouth.

The two parts were joined in a very unusual way that led to the development of a very complex transmission system which transferred the power to the back wheels.

Both parts of its two-section body were encircled by separate frames and cushioned by dodgem-car-type rubber bumpers.

Although extraordinarily ugly, the interior was quite luxurious. The driver sat in a kind of turret and had all- round visibility through the Plexiglass windshield.

In order to create as big an impact as possible the car was launched at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels. It created quite a stir, but not enough to change the look of future motoring.

Jerome had hoped to interest the big US auto makers in taking up his design, but he got the thumbs down from them all. Jerome himself admitted he'd not paid enough attention to the aesthetics as his main concern had been safety.

Apart from its horrible looks and poor road handling, the car had a shocking $10,000 price tag - double the cost of a top-of-the-line Cadillac at the time.

But it did have some good features such as a central steering position in a raised driver's cabin, doors that stayed closed in an accident, a padded interior and built-in rollbars. And it was way ahead of Volvo's introduction of seat belts as standard equipment.

Its two front headlights rotated with the steering, a third light was also provided, rear lights were doubled up to make the car as visible as possible and the bumpers were air-filled rubber. Other features included pivoting doors that folded parallel with the side of the car.

Although a complete and utter flop, the Sir Vival itself has survived. You can still see the original "safety car" at the Bellingham Auto Sales garage in Massachusetts. She's still in one piece, though in need of a complete restoration.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 07, 2014.


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