25 Years of Drive: Road safety in the 1950s had a name. Arise Sir Vival.

25-years-of-drive:-road-safety-in-the-1950s-had-a-name-arise-sir-vival.
Inventor and designer Walter C. Jerome and his Sir Vival concept car.

Inventor and designer Walter C. Jerome and his Sir Vival concept car.

Story originally published 23 April, 2016

Sir Vival was more than just a side-splitting, good enough for stand-up pun (ED: Geddit? Survival). It was an attempt to make Americans interested in road safety decades before they were interested in road safety.

But to buy one, they’d need to be so interested in road safety, they would forgo all notions of style and put up with some of the weirdest engineering imaginable.



The price was another problem. The inventor, Walter C. Jerome of Massachusetts, said it would cost around $10,000. Back then, $4891 got you a Cadillac – and a Caddie had bigger tailfins.

Jerome’s car tried to make up for this deficiency with wraparound air-filled bumpers borrowed from a Dodgem car, and a driver’s turret, which we’ll come to shortly. Perhaps the main selling point – if there had been any successful selling – would have been the articulated chassis.

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The drivetrain and front wheels were in their own structure; the driver and three passengers sat in a caboose connected by a universal joint. The front would supposedly twist out of the way in a collision, thereby absorbing impact.



The turret, it was said, would allow the driver to be free from the distraction of passengers and enjoy a view that was high, unimpeded and central. Just like a tank. Except daft.

The circular windscreen revolved around the driver, being cleaned/wiped on both sides by felt brushes along the way. The engine and body panels were borrowed from a 1948 Hudson but rearranged randomly for effect.

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The occupants entered via doors that slid parallel to the bodywork, presumably covering their faces as they did so. These doors wouldn’t fly open in a crash, apparently, and the bodywork was free of sharp edges. Perhaps that was so anyone who had just spent $10,000 on a Sir Vival wouldn’t use one of them to open a vein.



Other features included a unique third headlight on the passenger compartment, which shone straight ahead when the front of the car turned. Why? Because. There was a built-in rollcage.

“Suddenly everything else is obsolete” screamed the brochure. “We believe it is possible to combine beauty with safety.”

So why didn’t you, then, hey?



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Among the selected quotes were “Amazing” (Mechanix Illustrated) and “Hard to believe” (Motor Trend). What about “I can’t recommend this car too highly”?

To build his creation, Jerome formed the Hollow Boring Corporation, a good bet to win ‘worst company name of the year’ in pretty well any year.

The Sir Vival was featured at various shows up to and including the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Alas, no backers or buyers turned up at Hollow Boring Headquarters, proving Americans would rather be seen dead than in a Sir Vival.



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Today’s cars are safer than they have ever been. With technologies ever-evolving, modern cars can now read traffic conditions and intervene when necessary to take control of the vehicle. Autonomous emergency braking will apply the brakes if the vehicle detects a collision is imminent, while blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist all help to not only alert drivers of dangers, but in some instances also take action to avoid or mitigate collisions.

Throw in adaptive cruise control, a suite of airbags and increasing advancements in the structural integrity of modern vehicles, and we have never been safer when behind the wheel in the event of an accident.

Accidents of course, can and do, still happen, but thanks to these advances in technology, our chances of survival have increased.

Walter C. Jerome’s Sir Vival car might have been a bit of a joke when it was launched, but in terms of thinking about road safety, the American inventor was decades ahead of his time.

One of the country’s most-read motoring journalists, with a library of books bearing his name, Tony is a regular road test and feature contributor to Drive.

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