Possessed by a mission to make the world's safest car, Walter C. Jerome of Worcester, Massachusetts made a valiant effort, but what he created might better qualify as the world's strangest.
Primarily concerned with the dangers of head-on collisions, Jones split his car in two, hoping the front section would absorb collisions and leave the passenger cabin untouched. The heavily modified rear section of a 1948 Hudson sedan supported a raised turret with a wrap-around windshield providing a driver with 360-degree visibility. As the car was driven, its windshield constantly rotated past built-in squeegees to wipe it clean.
Wrap-around rubber bumpers protected the Sir Vival's bulbous bodywork from slow speed collisions, but they were just one of Jerome's innovations. The Sir Vival was years ahead with seat belts, padded interior, and built-in roll bars. He’d hoped to produce 10-12 cars per year, priced at twice the tab for a Cadillac of the day, but financing didn’t materialize and production never advanced beyond a single prototype.
Auto safety has two parts: passive safety concerns passenger protection once a collision occurs, while active safety is about a car's ability to avoid accidents altogether, due to its handling and braking abilities. Like most Americans, Jerome focused on passive safety alone, ignoring the fact that his car's bifurcation into dual modules would guarantee atrocious handling in emergency situations.
Jerome’s radical Sir Vival appeared in magazines including Life and Popular Mechanics. It was featured at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He had fancy two-color sales brochures printed up to extol its virtues. But its fifteen minutes in the spotlight elapsed and the Sir Vival soon sunk without a trace. Amazingly, the eccentric safety car turned out to be a survivor after all. A little the worse for wear, it remains in a state of arrested decay at Bellingham Auto Sales in Bellingham, Massachusetts.
Written by Jim Cherry
The Curbside Car Show podcast which features the Sir Vival automotive safety concept.