The ocean liner SS Andrea Doria sank with the car aboard.

This Norseman sank without trace

The Chrysler Norseman is the concept car that never was.

It now lies at the bottom of the ocean entombed in the wreck of an ocean liner off the coast of Massachusetts in the United States.

How did it get there?

Built in 1956, it was a four-seat, two-door, hard-top coupe, with fastback styling.

It was destined to be Chrysler’s featured attraction at American auto shows in 1957, headlining the arrival of the company’s new, low, lean line of cars, styled by Virgil Exner.

Although designed by Chrysler’s stylists, the actual construction was contracted out to the Italian coach-building firm of Ghia.

Exner admired Ghia’s ability to produce low-volume vehicles and one-off prototypes, and they had done a couple of show cars for him previously.

Chrysler wanted a fully driveable vehicle, not just a “pushmobile”, so it was built on a Chrysler chassis and given a Chrysler Hemi 5.4-litre V8 and their two speed PowerFlite automatic transmission.

What made this car really different was its revolutionary cantilevered roof, which was secured to the body only at the rear  pillars.

There were no “A” pillars on this car.

Quite simply, the frameless, wraparound windscreen supported the roof at the front.

There was a power sunroof as well — an advanced feature at the time.

This was very difficult to engineer into the slender roof with no structural support at the front.

The door glass was ventless, a styling theme that would become popular a decade later.

Because of the complexity of the engineering it took Ghia 18 months to construct the car.

The Norseman was not a small car.

It rode on a lengthy 3277mm wheelbase and was nearly seven meters long.

When the car was completed it was shipped by Ghia to New York City in July, 1956 on the ocean liner SS Andrea Doria.

Tragically the ship was lost after it was involved in a collision with the MS Stockholm off the coast of Massachusetts and sank, with the loss of 51 lives and all cargo.

Compounding the loss of the car and lives on the ship was that Exner had been admitted to hospital having suffered a heart attack days before the ship sank.

When told of the situation he was philosophical and more concerned for the lives lost than for his car.

Divers have been exploring the Andrea Doria since it sank.

It lies in 150 meters of water not far off the Nantucket coast, and some have claimed to have seen the Norseman in the ship’s hold, rusted to a hulk.

No one has ever photographed it, though.

The only photos of the car that survive are in black and white.

A car that closely resembles the Norseman’s shape is the 1965 AMC Marlin.

It was designed by Dick Teague who worked at Chrysler in the mid 1950s.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos

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