The Sir Vival: America's First Safety Car

As the decade of the 1950s was coming to a close, traffic fatalities were on the rise. By 1958 it was estimated that a million people had lost their lives in car accidents since the first automobile appeared on American roads. Enter one Walter C. Jerome of Waltham, Massachusetts. Mr Jerome saw himself as a white knight on a quest to end this bloody trend. The battle horse on which Jerome rode forth was a safety car of his own design called the Sir Vival.

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Upon first encounter, the Sir Vival’s visual inputs hit us with alarming force. Our initial impulse is to call the authorities, because clearly a Chinese New Year parade has seen one of its dragon floats broken lose. As our brain begins to process the horde of conflicting information, the Sir Vival’s numerous firsts in the name of safety - and, gratefully, lasts - begin to take form.

The most pronounced is the insect-like two section body. The rear half appears to have once been a ’48 Hudson, while the front is anyone’s guess. The thinking here was that in the event of a head-on collision, the front section containing the engine would pivot, diverting energy away from the rear section which holds the passengers.

The next sight to behold is the turret-like dome rising from the aft section, like the bridge of some Sci-Fi spaceship. Indeed, this does contain the Sir Vival’s cockpit. The logic behind the layout is two-fold. The driver is elevated for maximum visibility, as well as being separated from the passengers in order to reduce distractions. 

But wait, there’s more. Surrounding the entire perimeter of the car are rubber bumpers filled with air to absorb impact. Protruding from the front of the aft section, just below the elevated cockpit, is a giant cyclops’ headlight that shines strait as the two normal headlights on the front section turn with the front wheels, providing more complete illumination in the corners. The doors pivot sideways parallel instead of out to make sure they don’t fly open in a crash. Finally, the whole passenger compartment is protected by a steel safety cage. 

Mechanics Illustrated  April 1959

Mechanics Illustrated  April 1959


Even the great Dr. Seuss couldn’t come up with a more imaginative machine.  The promise of traversing the deadly highways and bi-ways in blessed safety. Surely the carnage-weary populous would clamor for Sir Vival’s services.

Jerome brought his creation to the 1959 World’s Fair, where he hoped to collect sufficient orders to get his safety car into production. Alas, no buyers were forthcoming. The Sir Vival carried a $10,000 price tag at a time when the average American car cost less than $3,000.

Undaunted, Mr. Jerome held patents on his many unique safety features, and he shopped them individually to various manufacturers. Shockingly, none were interested in bi-sectional construction or cockpit turrets. Only one Sir Vival was ever made. It sir-vives, at last report, in a private collection in Bellingham, Mass. 


Copyright@2017  by Mal Pearson