Minichamps 1956 Chrysler Norseman
A Stunning Design Study Lost to the Deep
The story starts—as virtually all Chrysler concept cars of the 1950s did—with the genius of Virgil Exner and his prolific partnership with the famed coachworks out of Turin, Italy: Carrozzeria Ghia. Exner’s studio in Detroit drew up the design for the car, which featured a dramatic cantilevered roof. Assistant manager William Brownlie came up with the idea of designing the car without A-pillars. Exner and others worried that it would not provide sufficient passenger protection in the event that the car rolled in an accident. The solution was to put the roof panel under tension.
The fastback roof was shaped to naturally exert force upward to straighten itself out, but a series of thin steel rods in front—near where the A-pillars would have been—provided resistance, holding the roof down rather than up. In the event of a crash that caused any downward pressure on the roof, the rods would snap and the roof panel would flex upward, preventing it from collapsing. Designers boasted that the roof could support up to eight times the car’s own weight, but tragically that claim would never have the chance to be tested.
Exner’s group drew up the plans and drawings, and made clay styling models of it. Then they shipped the materials and info for the Norseman to Ghia for most of the fabrication and assembly, as they had with so many other concept cars previously. The car was to be built for the coming show season, and plans were made to tour the Norseman around to all the major auto shows. As with most of the previous Ghia-built concepts, the Norseman was fully functional, built on a 1955 chassis with
Even without one of the most intriguing backstories of any one-off show car, the 1956 Chrysler Norseman would likely be legendary for its bold, beautiful shape and unique roofline. But the fact that it disappeared before any but a tiny group of its creators ever got to see it adds a level of drama and mystery that makes it absolutely irresistible.
leaf-spring suspension and a 235hp 331ci Hemi for power. Between the design crew and Ghia’s craftsmen, an estimated 50,000 man-hours went into the project, and it cost Chrysler $200,000 in 1956 dollars (the equivalent of about $1.9 million today!). When Ghia was finished, they snapped a few photos for posterity and then loaded it onto a ship bound for New York—the SS Andrea Doria— a name that would become far more famous than the show car she carried (see sidebar).
The Norseman was lost before Exner or any of his stylists ever actually laid eyes on their creation. The only people to see it were the Ghia team and the loaders at the docks. The handful of black-and-white photos are all the evidence of it that remains. No color photos were taken, so even the color of the car is something of a mystery. It lies in the spectrum somewhere between silver and green, but the exact shade is lost to history. Minichamps’ chosen hue is as accurate an estimation as can be made based on descriptions, and it’s a beautiful color that complements the car’s lines perfectly. The car had an aluminum roof insert painted off-white, and the rear window featured a power retracting mechanism, which allowed it to slide up under the insert panel. The fastback shape bears more than a passing resemblance to the first Dodge Charger, which debuted a decade later in 1966. The forward-leaning wheel arches resemble those of the ’57 Chevy Bel Air but predate that car by more than a year. Power- operated headlights hidden in the leading edges of the fenders kept the front fascia clean and clutterfree. The vertical tail fin/light housings suggest some of the jet-inspired designs happening over at General Motors at the time, while the deeply sloping rear deck, which comes nearly to a point at the bumper, evokes some prewar European grand tourers. All in all, it’s a stunning machine, and Minichamps’ rendition is equally so.
Only a couple photos of the Norseman interior survive today, but the model is faithful to them. This is a sealed resin replica, but the driver’s side windows are down, providing an excellent view of the interior.
The Norseman was laid out as a 2+2, so there are bucket seats separated by consoles front and rear; the fronts were power adjustable and swiveled outward like some high-end Chrysler models had. Interestingly, the design team included seatbelts front and rear, long before such items were mandated, and these are depicted on the model with fabric belts and etched-metal buckles. A console-mounted gear lever operated the 2-speed PowerFlite automatic, but because the hood doesn’t open, it and the 331 Hemi are left to the imagination. The wheels and tires are whitewalls with vented chrome wheel covers—attractive but fairly conventional. There is no chassis detail, but since Exner equipped the Norseman with an aerodynamics-enhancing underbody cover, it’s doubtful you would have seen more on the real thing.
The bizarre and sensational ill-fated end to the Norseman story enhances the drama and the appeal, but this car—and this model—are tremendously appealing in their own right.
As has become tradition for its upscale resin 1:18 models, Minichamps delivers its Chrysler Norseman with a first-class presentation: a decorative plinth with a cobblestone motif and a metal plaque inscribed with the car’s name and series production number. All that is contained within a display box decorated with a photo and the history of the car on the inside lid. There’s no question Minichamps has a keen sense of what collectors look for in a premium limited-edition car, and this model has it. If you have any interest in 1950s’ Americana, Chrysler, or Virgil Exner, the Norseman should be on your wish list.
EVEN WITHOUT ONE OF THE MOST INTRIGUING BACKSTORIES OF ANY ONE-OFF SHOW CAR, THE 1956 CHRYSLER NORSEMAN WOULD LIKELY BE LEGENDARY FOR ITS BOLD, BEAUTIFUL SHAPE AND UNIQUE ROOFLINE.
By far, the most striking styling element on the Norseman is the dramatic cantilevered roof and sweeping fastback. Minichamps depicts both beautifully.
The decorative display box the Norseman arrives in houses a plinth with a cobblestone motif and text explaining the car’s history and tragic fate. It’s a first-class presentation.
The driver’s side windows are down, giving an excellent view of the detailed 2+2 interior, which features fabric replicas of the seatbelts—a unique safety item in 1956. Note also the absence of A-pillars; the car used tiny tension rods instead.