The Survival Of ‘Sir Vival,’ The Strangest Safety Car Concept Ever, Now Rests in the Hands of the World’s Quirkiest Car Museum

Sirvival Top

When we get a new car here at Lane Motor Museum, where I work as Education Director, people often ask how we go about the process of restoration — what we save, what we recreate, and what we redesign (in some instances). Sometimes our project cars are a little more gone than we were expecting, as is the case with our latest acquisition, the glorious experimental safety car from the late 1950s: “Sir Vival.”

Behold its glory:

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First, a brief history of the fantastically-named Sir Vival. Walter C. Jerome of Worcester, Massachusetts, was one of many folks that were increasingly concerned about rising traffic fatalities. He felt that Detroit automakers seemingly had zero concern for driver’s safety, and set out to design a “revolutionary” safety vehicle, with the goal of protecting the people inside the car from harm as much as possible.

sir vival poster

He purchased a 1948 Hudson Commodore from Bellingham Motors, which was owned by Donald Moore. He then set to work on constructing his safety car. Sir Vival had a distinctive two-part construction, where the engine and front wheels are separate from the main passenger cab via an articulated u-joint. The thought process here was that in a front or side collision the sections would articulate around the vertical axis and absorb the critical shock of the collision. This feature, along with the elevated driver’s turret, made for a bizarre sight going down the road. It made it onto the cover of Mechanix Illustrated, and even made an appearance at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

sir vival diagram

The son of Donald Moore, Ed Moore of Bellingham, Massachusetts, reached out to Jeff Lane a few weeks ago and said he was ready to sell his knight in rusty armor. His dad’s garage was scheduled for demolition, and Sir Vival had to find a new home.

sir vival brochure

Along with the car, the museum received all of Mr. Jerome’s archival materials, so there will be more deep dive articles in the future. But for now, let’s see how our Curator of Collections, Derek E. Moore (no relation to the Moore family of Bellingham Motors), is planning to conserve this thing.

sir vival rear three quarters

[Editor’s Note: I’m so excited about this. I’ve been reading about this bonkers thing ever since I was a kid, and have always been fascinated by the sheer, unapologetic strangeness of it all. I’ve made Rex promise that I’ll be the first auto journo to drive this thing when it’s done, so all of you help me keep him to that! I can’t wait. Also, here’s some period footage of Sir Vival back in its youth. –JT]

 

Step 1

Stabilizing the painted surfaces, so that we don’t lose any more paint when we get to the cleaning stage. This is definitely something you don’t want to just take a power washer to. If we were to repaint it, we could do that, but Derek is trying to preserve what is left, not replace it. You can see the severe flaking in the picture. How much “memory” the paint has, or how much it will lay back down, is going to be the first challenge.

sir vival quarter panel

Step 2

Derek will likely be using a polymer adhesion that will essentially “glue” the paint back onto the metal underneath. You can see in the above Mechanix Illustrated cover that it was green at one point, and now it’s a faded dark red, with varying primer coats in between. Here is a great cross-section of Sir Vival’s many coats of paint over the years.

sir vival paint layers

Step 3

Once the paint is stabilized, we will do a thorough cleaning of the exterior. It will take multiple cleanings to remove all of the dust and dirt.

sir vival door open sir vival turret

Step 4

We will then split the car into its two halves, as the engine sits up in the front half. Most of Sir Vival’s Hudson Commodore parts are in the back half. Hudson parts can still be found, which is good, but there is still going to be a fair amount of fabrication. Currently, there are missing parts for the steering mechanism, so that’ll be fun.

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Step 6

Interior restoration. The seats are in good condition, given their dusty appearance. Derek will conserve the door panels, and recreate what’s missing. We will obviously have to rebuild the gauge cluster in the driver’s turret, but the driver’s seat looks to be in good shape. We think the driver’s seat might be from a submarine or it’s a custom piece; at this point, we’re not sure.

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The steering wheel will likely need to be recreated, as mold has stained its surface.

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We just recently got new tires. Weirdly, one of the rims is 5 ½ inches wide, the rest are 5 inches.

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Derek and the restoration shop crew have their work cut out for them, needless to say. Stay tuned as we go through saving one of the strangest cars to ever come out of Massachusetts.

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44 Responses

      1. Does anyone at the Lane have any connection to the National (Beaulieu) Motor Museum? That’s where Father Alfred Juliano’s Aurora safety car is on display (AFAIK.) It’d be mighty interesting to do a comparison of all three safety cars!

  1. This is amazing! I’d love to see more of the engineering behind making this thing work. I had no idea it started out as a Hudson. There had to be so many little issues that needed to be tackled. For some reason I always figured it was rear engined, so I wonder what all had to be solved with linkages, brackets, and such. Also: Am I seeing this right? Are there no seat belts?

          1. Very interesting project that one. I can’t find out though what is going on with that car. They showed it at a Historic Rally in August last year, and about 2 month ago they showed how the front seats were retrimmed. The Project Binky series has not been updated since episode 37.

  2. The short answer is: it depends. In this case, we are trying to preserve it “as found”, as it has quite a story beyond its years as a development car. If this were a mass-produced car, then the general plan of action is to repaint it as close to its factory color as possible.

    1. Rex is spot on, however, I will add that if we were restoring the car, it would be my opinion that it be restored to the 1964-65 World’s Fair appearance. It still has (what we believe) are the labels from the World’s Fair on the car AND the configuration it is currently in appears to be the way it was at the World’s Fair. Look closely at the early photos and you will see it had a top “hinge” point for the articulation of the front end… it no longer has the top hinge. More research to be done!

  3. The layers of color paint brought back memories of my ’67 VW squareback. In prep for repainting before moving out of state, I did some basic body work. I found a small chip on the hood, so I figured some light sanding, light filler, done. Not to be. I found 23 separate -colors- of paint while feathering out that ding. And I could see that some of the colors there were multiple layers! I still have the car, but not that hood.

  4. So what happened to the two headed Hudson? I sill haven’t found my photos of Sir Vival, I used to travel to the Bellingham dealership (it was never occupied) regularly when “out for a drive”. But the first time I ran across Sir was randomly on the street. I’ll say this, it doesn’t look much worse for wear then the last time I saw it in maybe 1989-90?.

  5. So no chance of crash testing it after y’all are done? I kid but it would be interesting to see how it does compared to other cars of the era. I’m always curious how often these home inventor with a bright idea contraptions actually work as intended. Who knows, maybe in a bad front end crash the separate motor unit could be knocked upwards and flop back on top of the driver.

    Even if it was less safe than other vehicles of the time the inventor wasn’t wrong about Detroit not giving a shit about safety. Pretty sure it took federal laws to force them to make a steering column that wouldn’t impale the driver in any accident more severe than a fender bender.

    Thanks for preserving a piece of history.

  6. Every time I see a picture of this car, I am reminded of an old Bloom County comic strip featuring an alien invader wearing a helmet. Anyone know what I’m talking about? I want to compare them but I don’t know what to search for.

  7. I absolutely love this site.

    Also love the car too; not in a “Wow, its gorgeous way” but in a “Wow, that’s an ugly duckling with a great name and its just out here trying its best” kind of way.

    Best of luck on the restoration!

  8. When dealing with repainted vehicles, is there a standard as to whether they should stay the current color or revert to the original? Moot question here, as it sounds like it’s remaining as-found, so just a more general question on restoration.

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