Are Old Cars Really “Rock Solid”?

If you think the good old cars were safer in a crash, take a look a tthis video from the NRMA

Do you think old cars are safe? Watch this

It’s one of the most persistent myths in motoring: old cars are as solid as rocks and can crush new cars like beer cans.

The misconception arises from the recent development of the crumple zone, where designated parts of modern cars lose their shape under even minor impacts.

But what appears to be a weakness is actually a strength – crumple zones absorb energy and effectively sacrifice themselves for the sake of the passenger compartment, the safety and rigidity of which is constantly increasing with every new model.

It’s one of the fundamental design principles promoted by organisations like ANCAP and its international car safety partners, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the United States.

But despite decades of innovation and improvement through rigorous testing, the myth of the tough old car persisted – so the IIHS created this truly shocking video to disprove it:

The vehicles involved are a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu (sold in Australia by Holden since 2013) and a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air, an iconic sedan featured locally in the original Mad Max movie.

The cars are crashed into each other in a 40 per cent offset collision at 64km/h, which is what ANCAP’s frontal offset collision test seeks to replicate – most recently and notoriously when the new Kia Carnival was scored only four stars.

The Malibu, which was rated five stars by ANCAP in 2013, behaves as you’d expect with the front of the car being crushed while the passenger compartment remains intact.

By comparison, what happens to the Bel Air is nothing short of terrifying. Even the dryly technical IIHS description of the impact captures the gut-wrenching terror of what would surely be the driver’s final seconds of life:

Dummy movement wasn’t well controlled, and there was far too much upward and rearward movement of the steering wheel. The dummy’s head struck the steering wheel rim and hub and then the roof and unpadded metal instrument panel to the left of the steering wheel.

During rebound, the dummy’s head remained in contact with the roof and slid rearward and somewhat inward. The windshield was completely dislodged from the car and the driver door opened during the crash, both presenting a risk of ejection. In addition, the front bench seat was torn away from the floor on the driver side.

In other words, it’s hard to say whether the driver would’ve been killed first by brain damage, a broken neck, multiple organ failure or blood loss from leg amputation.

In terms of the car’s structure, the impact pushes the engine into the footwells while the A-frame and chassis rail simply disintegrate back beyond the line of the roof.

“The Bel Air collapsed,” said David Zuby, the senior vice president for the IIHS’s vehicle research centre.

“The area in which the driver was sitting collapsed completely around him.”

The test was to mark the 50th anniversary in 2009 of the IIHS, a group funded by the US insurance industry.

The idea was to show how much automotive safety had progressed in five decades, particularly since the IIHS – in partnership with ANCAP and other national road safety bodies – started crash testing in earnest in 1992.

And while the test is now six years old, its message is as pressing as ever: buy the newest, safest car that you can afford and drive as carefully as you can.

Were you expecting this crash test to deliver this result? Let us know what you think.

To read more NRMA Advocacy content, click here.


One thought on “Are Old Cars Really “Rock Solid”?

  1. “The misconception arises from the recent development of the crumple zone, where designated parts of modern cars lose their shape under even minor impacts.”

    That may be part of it, but Mercedes was already experimenting with crumple zones during the 1950s, and these ideas came into cars gradually more and more, not suddenly all at once and recently. But the misconception that old cars are stronger keeps persisting because people do not know that in realilty, new cars are MUCH stronger than old ones. New cars, past 10 or 15 years or so, are made of ultra high strength steel, old cars out of mild steel. That new steel is 3 times stronger than the old conventional type. So the new cars have become very dangerous to the old ones. Only the crumple zone of the new car is made of the same kind of steel as the old one. The firewall, rocker panels, floor pans, and A-pillars of the new cars are made of that very strong steel. And once that crumple zone gets bunched up against that very strong firewall, that mass then destroyed the bumper, fender, hood, and weak passenger compartment of the 1959 chevy.

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