In the 1950s, the concept car (or idea car, as it was known around the Chrysler campus) was a display of American postwar optimism and engineering leadership. These cars began to evolve into an art form of ingenuity, typically with ultramodern styling and advanced engines.
During this time, Virgil Exner, the chief Chrysler designer, revolutionized the company’s approach to styling during the “Forward Look” years, transforming Chrysler vehicles into sleeker and more sophisticated driving machines. Throughout the 1950s, Chrysler commissioned the Italian design house Ghia to inject Euro-sophistication into its concept vehicles. These beauties included, most notably, the Chrysler C-200, the K-310 and the DeSoto Adventurer. But no one concept showed more promise than the Chrysler Norseman.
The Chrysler Norseman was expected to be one of the main attractions of the 1957 auto show circuit. In an original press release from 1956, the Chrysler brand stated that it had “incorporated more structural, chassis, electrical, and styling innovations than any other ‘idea’ car ever designed by Chrysler.” Its complex design took manufacturers 50,000 hours and cost the company approximately $150,000 to produce, which, with inflation, would be equivalent to $1.2 million* today.
The Norseman’s exterior design was ahead of its time and introduced one of the most innovative features to emerge from Chrysler’s design studio, the cantilever roof. The roof included a power-operated 12-square-foot panel of glass in the roof, which slid forward for a partial open-air experience. This unconventional feature, accompanied by a curved windshield, included very thin A-pillars, allowing a fluid, uninterrupted forward and side view. In addition, the automobile featured concealed headlights that retracted into the front fenders when the headlights were turned off.
Under the hood, this fully functional aluminum-bodied automobile was equipped with a 5.4-liter HEMI® (or 331-ci polyspheric) V8 engine, which produced 235 horsepower, mated with a two-speed push-button Powerflite transmission. With an overall length of 228 inches and a wheelbase of 84 inches, the Norseman was classified as the second longest Chrysler idea car of the era.
Click here for the conclusion of Chrysler Lost Heritage: The Norseman.