Safety was a hard sell in the decade of the Fifties. I’m sure CC readers are aware of Ford’s well-publicized “Lifeguard” safety push in 1956 – that essentially went nowhere. But that setback didn’t stop other well-intentioned auto enthusiasts from trying to help make driving a little less dangerous. One such enthusiast was Walter C. Jerome of Worcester, Massachusetts, an engineer by trade. Concerned that Detroit’s inattention to safety was resulting in too many unnecessary traffic deaths and injuries, he set out to make a revolutionary “safer” vehicle. So in the late Forties he purchased a 1948 Hudson, got out his blueprints, fired up his blow torch, and went to work…
And after ten years or so, he came up with a truly distinctive vehicle, naming it the “Sir Vival.” Its most unique attribute was no doubt its double-bodied, articulated design; with the engine and front wheels separate from the main passenger compartment. This was evidently done to enhance impact protection, with the front portion taking most of the impact in a frontal collision, and the bending of the articulated body lessening a side impact blow. Power still went to the rear wheels, which along with the steering, was connected to the front section by a series of Universal joints.
Perhaps its next most distinctive feature was its turret-style raised driver’s cockpit, centrally located, and with near 360 degree visibility given its cylindrical glass enclosure.
The car received quite a bit of press attention at the time, appearing in Mechanix Illustrated, Life, Motor Trend and Popular Mechanics magazines, and was also on stage at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. However, Jerome’s plans for a production model soon came up against an obstacle that has tended to sideline most of these small automotive entrepreneurs – money. Few investors were willing to pony-up dollars and even if they had, estimated unit cost per vehicle was $10K – this at a time when you could buy a 1958 Series 62 Cadillac for around half that.
While the car never reached production, I wouldn’t call it an absolute failure – many of its safety enhancements; seat belts, strengthened roof pillars and bumpers, side-marker lights, etc., were all mandated by the federal government a decade or so later.
Whether it succeeded or failed, one must admire Mr Jerome for so ardently pursuing his vision. But the names “Safety-Car” or “Collision-Cushion” must have already been copyrighted, because “Sir Vival” couldn’t have been his first choice…could it?
Living up to its name, the prototype still does survive – and as of a few years ago, was residing in a old car dealership in Bellingham Massachusetts.