Collision Tests: Old versus New, rounds 1 and 2
September 28, 2009 10:46 AM   Subscribe

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently had their 50th anniversary, and to taut the progress of car safety design, they've set a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air versus a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu, and shared the crash test videos on YouTube.

Spoiler: the dummy in the Malibu suffered only minor leg damage while the dummy in the Bel Air suffered damages that would have killed a person instantly. A few years ago, a similar test was run between two editions of Renault Espace as part of an episode of the UK series Fifth Gear. The result was similar, except there were only nine years between models (higher quality clip of the crash segment). In the segment, crash engineering research chief, Richard Morris, noted that if the older Espace hit a similarly constructed model, the damage would have been less drastic, and the driver may have survived.
posted by filthy light thief (85 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Criminy. Two observations: first, that's an unfortunate end for a Bel-Air. Second, watching that video with groovesalad playing in the background was pretty cool. I actually thought the older car would fare a little better, but clearly not.
posted by jquinby at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2009


I kid you not, I was just listening to "Warm Leatherette"
posted by The Whelk at 10:53 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see a version where they simulate a 5mph collision and then compare repair bills.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:54 AM on September 28, 2009 [18 favorites]


They had another interested in recent test where they showed that when you crashed even the safest subcompact car into a mid-sized car, as opposed to a fixed barrier, the crash test went from best to worst (release, with video in top right link). I wonder how a Honda Fit would have done against the Bel Air.
posted by Dasein at 10:54 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the Malibu is based on the SAAB 9-3 platform. I would like to see this crash test same time next year, when the Malibu is no longer a stripped-down SAAB.
posted by Zambrano at 10:54 AM on September 28, 2009


Can't see what's going on below the waist, but airbag aside, seems like both cars are equally fucked. Is the airbag really the only difference? I'd like to see what happened to both passengers' legs.
posted by spicynuts at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2009


1959, huh? Thanks, Ralph!
posted by DU at 10:56 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Coming up next on Mythbusters, we pit two versions of the same(*) car in a slow-mo crash test."

Look, I love Mythbusters but I can't watch a slow-mo video or science-esque show without thinking part of what I'm seeing is a rip-off of a good show.
posted by fijiwriter at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2009


I was trying to find out what MPH the vehicles were traveling at. 80 would be a lot less impressive than 20, but it's still interesting none-the-less.

I love me some airbags.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:58 AM on September 28, 2009


See I never would have guessed a big, steel Bel Aire would have crumpled the way it did. Very eerie/Jayne Mansfield-like. Thank goodness there is one group that has a very beneficial purpose. Thanks IIHS!!
posted by stormpooper at 10:58 AM on September 28, 2009


My folks had a '60 Bel Air (basically the same car as in the videos) Bench seats, no seatbelts and a solid metal dashboard. You always sort of knew death was riding with you in that thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:03 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, I didn't expect the Bel-Air's fucking ROOF to cave in and help kill the passenger. Holy shit.

That said, the differences can be astonishing, even between two modern cars.

I once came upon a head-on accident, Toyota Camry vs. Ford Focus at about 30 mph. Airbags deployed on both. In the Toyota, the two passengers were knocked out. The front end had caved in. Car was a total loss.

No injuries to the Ford passengers, with airbags deployed. But other than the airbags and cosmetic damage (i.e. broken headlights), the Ford was fine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2009


I was trying to find out what MPH the vehicles were traveling at.

40 mph each.

Can't see what's going on below the waist, but airbag aside, seems like both cars are equally fucked.

The big difference is that the Malibu maintains the integrity of the cabin. If you look at the dashboard of both cars from the onboard camera, the Malbu's doesn't even move, while the Bel Air gets bent way out of place. Which makes sense, since the goal of car design now is to fuck the car if it saves the passengers.
posted by smackfu at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2009


I was trying to find out what MPH the vehicles were traveling at.

From the video info:
"In this test, a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu and a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air are both going 40 mph"
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2009


spicynuts:

This link shows the aftermath pretty clearly. You'd want the entire front end to be a crumple zone, which would have the effect of completely ruining the front end. This acts as a cushion to dissipate the impact. However, intrusion into the passenger compartment is a reeealy bad thing, and that is what usually kills people. The entire dashboard of the '59 would have slammed into the driver, and is probably what would've killed him instantly.

Also, you can usually see how deformed the passenger compartment is by seeing how well the doors fit afterwards. The '09's front door seems to be almost perfect. However, the '59's *back* door is deformed slightly, and the front door is moved almost halfway back.
posted by leviathan3k at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


The 59 'Cat-eye' Chevy has a big iron X for an underbody frame. Go figure it collapses in an accident.
Horrible way to destroy a classic.
posted by buzzman at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2009


The difference of impact types are interesting. From the IIHS wiki section on Frontal offset impact tests, some cars will do well in a head-on collision but do much worse in a 40% offset impact. The article currently reads as a bit of a shill for IIHS, but the ideas are still intriguing.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2009


I wonder if the poor guy who sold them that restored Bel Air knew what they were going to do with it? Even though it looks almost rust-free, it's interesting to see the red cloud of oxidised metal pouffing out of the door seams like a spirit escaping it's crumpling host.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see a version where they simulate a 5mph collision and then compare repair bills.

Dunno about you, but I'd rather pay a couple of grand to a body shop than to an undertaker. (Apologies to Cold Chef).
posted by dersins at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


spicynuts: I'd like to see what happened to both passengers' legs.
There are pictures.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2009


To be fair, the Malibu is based on the SAAB 9-3 platform. I would like to see this crash test same time next year, when the Malibu is no longer a stripped-down SAAB.

To be fair, GM has owned and operated SAAB for a long time, and the SAAB 9-3 is based on a Malibu platform, and not the other way around. Putting a GM engine in backwards and sticking the ignition switch between the seats doesn't make it a "real" SAAB.
posted by The World Famous at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Tomorrow, I shall be dead, but you, sir, will still be driving a Malibu.
posted by zippy at 11:13 AM on September 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'd rather pay a couple of grand to a body shop than to an undertaker.

Thankfully not too many people die in 5mph crashes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:13 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doh.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2009


The comment threads of New York Times pages about this crash test make some good points worth noting:

1) the Bel Aire has the non-standard I6 engine in it, not the standard V8, which would have changed the results.

2) the Bel Aire has an X frame rather than the more standard-for-the-time ladder frame, which also would have changed the results.

There are also points made about whether there had been age-created weakening of the older car, whether it even had the engine in place for the crash test, etc.

All those points aside, the structural integrity of the passenger compartment, as shown in the videos, is obviously better in the newer car, and that is what saves lives. Whether this outcome would have been identical for a similar aged car in a real life crash is something else entirely.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see a version where they simulate a 5mph collision and then compare repair bills.

Giant chrome bumpers are cheap to fix?
posted by smackfu at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2009


Fuzzy dice were a nice touch for the Bel Aire. They appear to have survived the test unscathed.
posted by buzzman at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


One Fatal Second, described as only Jack Webb could tell it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:24 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see a version where they simulate a 5mph collision and then compare repair bills.

Minivan bumpers don't bounce back: Minor impacts cause expensive damage in low-speed crash tests conducted by insurance industry (December 20, 2007).

Not one of six 2008 model year minivans tested by an insurance industry group was able to withstand a low speed, parking lot style collision without sustaining several thousand dollars in damage.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2009


> There are also points made about whether there had been age-created weakening of the older car, whether it even had the engine in place for the crash test, etc.

I would have liked to see a few different crash tests; see how they hold up in T-bone collisions, rolls, and so on. But I'd bet the number of people willing to sell their well-preserved old cars to be sacrificed for science approaches zero as word gets out on who's buying them.

I'm also guessing that the difference between a ladder-frame and x-frame Malibu in an 80 mph impact is not whether it's totaled. And if there was an engine mounted, the test dummy would have simply had one more object trying to kill it in addition to the window pillar, roof, windshield, dashboard, steering wheel, and firewall.
posted by ardgedee at 11:30 AM on September 28, 2009


spicynuts: I'd like to see what happened to both passengers' legs.

There are pictures.


Holy Mother of Jebus...I never would have guessed the Malibu would look so intact after that. From the video it looked like the entire left side of the cab was just creamed into the rear door. That is amazing.
posted by spicynuts at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2009


Actually, giant chrome bumpers are easy to fix. A Dakota pickup rear-ended my '70 Impala at about 30. His car was totalled, mine...well, they hammered the dents out of the bumper using a copy of the original stamping die, electro-removed the chrome, and re-chromed it. I think it was like, 300 bucks, 13 years ago.
posted by notsnot at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Looking at the videos and reading the comments, I was wondering if the added safety of the newer models comes at the expense of making these models more dangerous in relation to older models. Preserving the integrity of the passenger cage is helped by crumple zones, etc., but presumably the cage is more rigid - although protected by better airbags - so that some of the energy of impact is transferred to the other car. So by making their own cars 'safer' (as well as more powerful) auto manufacturers are also in effect continually upping the ante for safety for their competitors. And vice versa.
posted by carter at 11:34 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:37 AM on September 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


Giant chrome bumpers are cheap to fix?

Yes. A buddy of mine had a 63-64 Lincoln that was rear ended at a stop light. The guy that rear ended him was in a brand new truck (sticker still on the window). The front of the truck was totaled, the bumper on the Lincoln was dented. He ended up pocketing the cash from the insurance company and replacing the bumper one Saturday afternoon.
posted by ryoshu at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2009


So by making their own cars 'safer' (as well as more powerful) auto manufacturers are also in effect continually upping the ante for safety for their competitors. And vice versa.

Auto manufacturers competing to out-safety each other?

This is often known as A Good Thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the Malibu is based on the SAAB 9-3 platform. I would like to see this crash test same time next year, when the Malibu is no longer a stripped-down SAAB.

American car makers are incapable of anything good whatsoever, amirite?

Almost no mass produced car is designed in a vacuum, with only pure blooded Europeans toiling away in enlightened rapture. Any design and engineering team for just about any car model is going to have people from all over the world, including Americans.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:41 AM on September 28, 2009


Also, I had a '64 Bel Air, so these results are a bit disconcerting. It had an inline 6, not sure what kind of frame (I only restored the interior and did minor engine work).
posted by ryoshu at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2009


See I never would have guessed a big, steel Bel Aire would have crumpled the way it did. Very eerie/Jayne Mansfield-like. Thank goodness there is one group that has a very beneficial purpose. Thanks IIHS!!
posted by stormpooper at 1:58 PM on September 28


The metal has to deform. The brilliant safety innovation of the last 50 years is the "crumple zone". What's a crumple zone? It's where they specifically weaken the frame and body of the car with notches, scoring, or groves predetermined positions so that in an accident those weak point buckle and collapse in a predictable direction. You can see these in the underside of the hood and along the frame of the engine compartment.

In other words, safety engineering is about deliberately making the car take more damage in a collision so that the person takes less. You don't want a car built like a tank. You want a car built like a sponge..

What is particularly frightening about this video is how the old Bel Air's hood, by popping out of alignment and position and failing to deform, slams right into the windshield of the 2009. But for the windshield and strength, that hood could have decapitated the 2009 driver.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:43 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


All hail the crumple zone!

When I had my car-killing wreck in 1997, the front end of my mom's Eagle Talon looked a lot like the Malibu's after the wreck, and four people walked away unscathed. You could see how the impact against the front end crumpled up the hood, shoved the engine down (instead of toward the passenger compartment), and buckled the frame/body all the way back to the rear wheels.

It helped that we punched through the steel fence like Bruce Lee's fist through paper, and didn't wrap ourselves around a telephone pole, but if we had been in my (beautiful, cherry, 8-track playing land yacht) 1979 Pontiac Bonneville, the results would probably have been much different.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:43 AM on September 28, 2009


Yeah, amazing difference in the cabin. Safety was my #1 concern in the buying of our car (we only have the one). New cars are amazing in that respect - my '07 VW GTI basically turns into a giant pillow inside. I think it has 10 airbags. I could care less about expensive fender benders if it means my wife and (soon arriving) kid will be safe if they get plowed by some meathead in an F-150.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:44 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This demonstrates how 50 years of big government have restricted our freedoms: just look at how much more freely the dummy in the Bel Air moves about!
posted by Tsuga at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2009 [40 favorites]


I'd rather shoot myself in a Ford than be crushed in a Chevy.
posted by GuyZero at 11:49 AM on September 28, 2009


Damn, Tsuga, I needed that laugh. Awesome.
posted by spicynuts at 11:49 AM on September 28, 2009


carter:

That's actually one of the exact points they make in the Final Gear video. Had the old Espace crashed into a car of a similar era, the people inside (well, the driver) would've fared better.
posted by leviathan3k at 11:50 AM on September 28, 2009


Passenger survives: Win for the passenger
Car destroyed in the process: Win for automanufacturer (who gets to sell a new one)
Insurance company pays: Win for all humanity.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2009


I was the front-seat passenger in a 1988 Dodge Caravan in April 1997, when a freak snowstorm turned Mississauga Valley Rd into slip-sliding fun. First we slammed head on into the car ahead of us, then we slid sideways into traffic. I remember looking calmly out at the approaching car and thinking that I should brace myself right before we were t-boned on my side of the vehicle.

We walked out without a mark on us, although we were slightly sore the next day. But we heard from a co-worker later on that they had driven by the crash site, taken one look at the badly crumpled (and totally written-off) minivan, and drove away thinking the occupants must have been badly injured or killed. *pinches self* Nope, still here.
posted by maudlin at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poor Mr Cleaver never saw that Jetsons car coming. He was the crumple zone.
posted by pracowity at 12:01 PM on September 28, 2009


ryoushu - Yes. A buddy of mine had a 63-64 Lincoln that was rear ended at a stop light. The guy that rear ended him was in a brand new truck (sticker still on the window). The front of the truck was totaled, the bumper on the Lincoln was dented.

The problem here is with the driver of the truck. He made an error and his truck paid. The fact that the Lincoln bumper was dented isn't part of the conversation. Cool car but it's still a death trap.
posted by Man with Lantern at 12:02 PM on September 28, 2009


Sorry to be a grammar nerd, but... taut != tout
posted by gern at 12:06 PM on September 28, 2009


"Well, I didn't expect the Bel-Air's fucking ROOF to cave in and help kill the passenger. Holy shit."

Very typical of cars of this vintage. They basically fold in the middle in any half way serious crash. Also the steering column attempting to decapitate the driver is classic.

"I once came upon a head-on accident, Toyota Camry vs. Ford Focus at about 30 mph. Airbags deployed on both. In the Toyota, the two passengers were knocked out. The front end had caved in. Car was a total loss.

"No injuries to the Ford passengers, with airbags deployed. But other than the airbags and cosmetic damage (i.e. broken headlights), the Ford was fine."


Counterintuitively the Camry is probably the safer car from that data. A car whose whole front end doesn't deform transmits a lot more Gs to the passengers than a car that destroys itself while keeping the passenger area unmolested.

"I'd like to see a version where they simulate a 5mph collision and then compare repair bills."

The difference isn't as much as you'd think. Those butt ugly bumpers of the early 70s were a direct result of minor accidents in previous years causing crazy repair bills. Sure the bumpers were OK in an accident but if they didn't line up exactly or if the bumpers slide past each other (pretty easy to do considering how pointy they tended to be) then extensive damage occurred to grills. radiators, fenders, headlights, hoods, etc.

Look at the front bumper on that 59. It's a nice wedge shape practically guaranteed to slide under or over the same bumper on another car.

"the Bel Aire has the non-standard I6 engine in it, not the standard V8, which would have changed the results."

The 235 was standard in that car, you paid extra for the more power options (~$100-$150). A lot of people think the 8 was standard because that's all you see now a days for obvious reasons. Break down by engine sold wasn't made available by GM.
posted by Mitheral at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


presumably the cage is more rigid

The cage is rigid, because you don't want the body of the car immediately in front of the occupants to smash in to them. But the destruction will only reach that point in a very severe, high speed collision. The safety cage is not generally what keeps drivers safe. The safety cage sounds good in advertising because people think being in a solid box is inherently safer, but this is not true. What keeps most people alive in head on collisions is the crumple zone.

Don't think of it a car as rigid. Think of a car (in a front collision) as a series of empty cans whose resistance to collapse increases the further away from the front of the car the can is. The series of cans is attached to a bank safe. The door of the safe faces the side. You sit in the bank safe.

There are two rules of front impact safety design:

If anything makes it through the wall of the safe, you die.
If the door can't open, you die.

Given these rules, the objective is to get rid of as much of the energy from the collision as possible.

So you have the series of cans, say 1-3. The first can starts deforming under a relative low speed collision. Upon impact, the front of can 1 stops moving, because it is embedded in the wall or the other car. Everything else, including the backside of can 1, and cans 2 and 3 and the safe which are connected to it, keep moving towards the wall. but it takes some force to crumple can 1. The energy used to crumple can 1 is taken from the speed. So once can 1 starts crumpling, the rest of the car is moving a bit slower.

Keep in mind that in a head on collision with another car, both cars will have crumple zones, and each car is drawing down the velocity of the impact as it's "cans" (i.e. crumple zones deform).

If the rest of the car is still moving by the time the back of can 1/the front of can 2 hits the wall, then can 2 starts to collapse. But can 2 is stronger than can 1 so the car slows down even more as can 2 is crushed. Each successive can that is crumpled is stronger and slows down the forward velocity of the remaining undamaged portion of the car that much more.

Worst case scenario: Cans 1 and 2 are smashed flat and can 3 is collapsing. All that is left is the safe, still moving towards the wall or the other car. Al this point, the passive safety features are exhausted, and you need active systems like airbags, active restraints, etc. to keep what is inside the safe from hitting the wall of the safe. You will still get injured - seat belts may break ribs, airbags may break fingers or give you a concussion like a boxer's punch. But in this kind of a collision, anything other than occupants is a resoundingly successful result.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


59 Bel-Air options.
posted by Mitheral at 12:12 PM on September 28, 2009


I meant, "anything other than occupant's death is a resoundingly successful result."
posted by Pastabagel at 12:12 PM on September 28, 2009


Does the Malibu have batwings? No?

Then the Bel Air won.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2009


The first view of that video, where the 2009 car seems to just chew through the older car, made me say "wow" involuntarily.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:16 PM on September 28, 2009


This demonstrates how 50 years of big government have restricted our freedoms: just look at how much more freely the dummy in the Bel Air moves about!

All this needs to turn it into a political ad is VOTE NADER on the Malibu and VOTE LIBERTARIAN on the Bel Air.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 12:17 PM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Often I think of how scary the whole concept of driving is. Think about it, you have people out there doing all sorts of speeds, driving with distractions (texting, talking, people in the car, kids being annoying), all sorts of weather, all sorts of automobile conditions (low air tires, safety concerns like bungee cords to hold up doors/bumpers, etc), and all sorts of ages, capacity for driving, etc. You see stupidity when people walk down the street, now imagine all those types of people driving. Ugh.

It's a death scene waiting to happen. And people wanted flying cars? HA! Like we need car + air crashes. What a mess that would be.

Another post brought to you by Suzie "Optimisitc" Sunshine. Enjoy your ride.
posted by stormpooper at 12:20 PM on September 28, 2009


Even the illustrious NY Times has awful newspaper comments:
The person that made the decision to ruin a ‘59 Chevrolet is someone that Obama supports in getting rid of anyone over 50 years old in the health care issue.
posted by smackfu at 12:23 PM on September 28, 2009


Insurance company pays: Win for all humanity.

They reason they've sponsored these tests for so long is they'd much rather pay $40k to a car dealer than $400k to a hospital or $4 mil to a court.

the number of people willing to sell their well-preserved old cars to be sacrificed for science approaches zero as word gets out on who's buying them

The '64~'68 Chrysler Imperial was the most popular demolition derby car due to it's massively overengineered frame. Top condition desert scrapyard examples and even restored daily drivers were being purchased for top dollar as they were almost guaranteed to win, much to the eyeball-popping fury of classic car enthusiasts.

Many derbys now prohibit cars older than 30~35 years to keep things fair, and collectors happy.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:24 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


CoolPapaBell: Auto manufacturers competing to out-safety each other? This is often known as A Good Thing.

I think the point is that if your safety strategy depends on transferring energy to the other car, then it's a zero-sum game; your safety improvement is bought at the expense of added risk to the other driver.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2009


Sorry to be a grammar nerd, but... taut != tout

Damn! I corrected that in my first draft, but my browser crashed and I failed to correct that on the second go. Sassafras!

By the way, that's more of a definition geek than grammar nerd point. Just saying.

posted by filthy light thief at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2009


Interestingly enough, older unibody cars were often found to do pretty well when the new crash tests were first required in the late sixties. Not that they hold a candle to a modern car, but cars like the MGB and Jaguar E-Type both passed the 30mph impact tests without modification, mainly because they were vastly over-built and did not have a separate chassis. Which isn't to say you'd want to be in a wreck in one if you can avoid it, as seat belts are the only thing keeping you from rattling around a cabin filled with relatively sharp edges if your car was built before 1968.
posted by maxwelton at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2009


it's a zero-sum game; your safety improvement is bought at the expense of added risk to the other driver.

But it will never be a zero-sum game. The equation of "my safe car makes your car less safe" is balanced by a competitive landscape that makes your car safer, too.

Provided we don't have jackasses like Lee Iaccoca around to argue against safety legislation, that is.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2009


Thanks, gern. I gave up trying to figure out what word belonged there. 'Taut' seems to be on track to rival 'reign' in the misuse sweepstakes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2009


I once had the misfortune of crashing my '64 Mercedes 220sb fintail, at fifteen miles an hour or thereabouts, into a parked Ford Taurus after being cut off in mid-merge (16th Street southbound in DC). I had tons of battleship grey German steel, an interior made out of a substantial fraction of a tree and acres of the bombproof MB-Tex upholstery, and what seemed like real continental fortitude...and I didn't leave as much as a scratch on the bumper of the Taurus. My gorgeous (and rare) giant glass non-sealed beam euro-lights imploded, the front of the Mercedes was a collapsed, contorted mess highlighted with tangled bits of chrome that would have had Vaughan all tingly, and I learned an interesting lesson about the difference between real crash dynamics and what our common sense tells us.

Of course, I'd worked for the NTSB for years, too, which made it easier to put together.

It's interesting how different a discussion Metafilter has going on this story than what's on Jalopnik, which tends more towards "ya can't beat physics" and "if that'd been an Imperial" and "damn liberals" and "I'd still rather have the '59." I'm a die-hard car guy/motorhead guy, but I'd much rather be in a Smart car in a crash than all these behemoths that people pig-headedly believe to be safe because "ya cain't beat physics!" If they'd just make a new car that had all the wonders of modern design but without the feeling of caged isolation that they build into modern cars to create the illusion of that old Mercedes and its vault-like feel. Give me the noise, the pin-sharp steering that kicks back when the wheels hit bumpy things, and the there-ness of an old car and I'll be a happy man.
posted by sonascope at 12:57 PM on September 28, 2009


Reminds me. When I took EMT training in 1980 there was an injury known as "Steering Wheel Avulsion" the line drawing of it in my textbook was pretty graphic. Poor slob with a huge steering wheel in his chest as he was pretty much impaled on the damn thing. Eyes bulging out. The instructor, a staunch Catholic, taught us how to give last rites and basically said, "he won't last on the trip to the hospital, even if he is still alive."

So Airbags, collapsible steering columns and seat belts = WIN.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:01 PM on September 28, 2009


Some memory-recalled history:

Before the whole crumple zone theory was well understood, BMW was bragging about how their cars were more structurally sound than anyone else's. Then they started doing these crass tests and it turned out that the car was more structurally sound--the car stayed solid in the collision while the driver smashed into the dashboard and steering wheel and died.

Volvo, at the time, was very advanced in its research. To show off their results they had this ad where they showed a Volvo driving off a bridge onto hard concrete below. The front of the car smashed in like a pancake, but the driver compartment was virtually untouched. It was very effective, and soon all the other car companies (especially BMW) were scrambling to update their designs.
posted by eye of newt at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2009


"I think the point is that if your safety strategy depends on transferring energy to the other car, then it's a zero-sum game; your safety improvement is bought at the expense of added risk to the other driver."

Transferring energy to the other car? How would that ever be a strategy? Pistons that shoot out forward?

Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems like you're forgetting the "equal and opposite" part of Newton.
posted by klangklangston at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2009


Can't see what's going on below the waist, but airbag aside, seems like both cars are equally fucked.

Quite frankly, as long as I can walk away without a scratch, I don't really give a flying *beep* how fucked the car is.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2009


Whether this outcome would have been identical for a similar aged car in a real life crash is something else entirely.
It would have. No seatbelts means death for occupants in a collision like this one. It quite likely would mean serious injury or paralysis even in an airbag-equipped car.
posted by joeclark at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2009


So, I guess that what this is suggesting is that if I really want to make my mid 60's Mustang Death-Proof, I'm going to have to do a lot more work, huh?
posted by quin at 2:39 PM on September 28, 2009


if I really want to make my mid 60's Mustang Death-Proof

Keep it shined up and under the speed limit and you'll do fine. It's amazing how much "buffer" room drivers give to classics. It's almost like you're driving in civilized society.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:11 PM on September 28, 2009


if I really want to make my mid 60's Mustang Death-Proof...

... sell it to me. I promise not to die in it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:16 PM on September 28, 2009


Can't see what's going on below the waist

"Everything below the waist is kaput!"
posted by kirkaracha at 3:28 PM on September 28, 2009


They destroyed a '59 Bel Air for that? Somebody needs to suffer.

The '59 may not be the sweetest Bel Air ever, but it's still pretty sweet.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:43 PM on September 28, 2009


"Volvo, at the time, was very advanced in its research. To show off their results they had this ad where they showed a Volvo driving off a bridge onto hard concrete below. The front of the car smashed in like a pancake, but the driver compartment was virtually untouched. It was very effective, and soon all the other car companies (especially BMW) were scrambling to update their designs."

I wish I could find some evidence but I've heard that there was a period of five years in which no one died in an original Volvo 240. I do have this ad photo of seven 240 Volvos stacked on top of each other though. That's some serious roof engineering.

quin writes "I guess that what this is suggesting is that if I really want to make my mid 60's Mustang Death-Proof, I'm going to have to do a lot more work, huh?"

Properly designed, built, and installed 12 point cage; good seats and belts; and always wearing a helmet with HANS would go a long way. You'll also be pulled over by every single cops who sees you but that's a bit of a safety feature too.
posted by Mitheral at 3:43 PM on September 28, 2009


This is a really cool video. I thought all that steel would be safer than crumpling modern cars. I'm grateful to the PastaBagel for the explanations.

Question still unanswered- why aren't modern cars as pretty? It was painful to watch that Bel Air ruined. The Malibu? Eh.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:55 PM on September 28, 2009


[It's not a] zero-sum game. The equation of "my safe car makes your car less safe" is balanced by a competitive landscape that makes your car safer, too.

If the safety strategy is "heavier = safer," then your safety gain from increased mass is counteracted by the competitively increased mass of other cars, and you gain nothing, while those in lighter cars or outside of cars become even less safe.

So it's not zero-sum over time, it's negative-sum.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:00 PM on September 28, 2009


Safety really has come a long way. My first car was a Honda 600 that was handed down to me from my two older sisters. On my way to school I skidded off the road on a rainy fall morning and slid into a tree that was no thicker than my arm ( I remember my last thoughts were - those leaves on the road look wet and slippery). I woke up in the hospital getting 30 stitches in my scalp. The car was creased in half with the passenger door next to the steering wheel. I was probably going 30 mph.

My next car was a Fiat 128 and I have to say, that thing was a freakin' tank (scroll down) compared to the Honda. What a great little car :)
posted by vronsky at 4:11 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


why aren't modern cars as pretty?

There are some very pretty modern cars. But they don't wear bowties.
posted by The World Famous at 4:13 PM on September 28, 2009


Okay, already. Time to trade in the Edsel. I get it now.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 4:58 PM on September 28, 2009


Moral of story: If an accident is unavoidable, aim for the classic car.
posted by digsrus at 7:05 PM on September 28, 2009


So, if Marty McFly had wanted to go all Deathrace 2000 back in 1955... well, Doc Brown would have been very disappointed in him.
posted by blueberry at 8:42 PM on September 28, 2009


why aren't modern cars as pretty?

Because it's an entirely subjective attribute based on opinion and you pose a question that's entirely rigged towards self-selection bias.
posted by Talez at 9:09 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


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