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Transportation Technology

'09 Malibu Vs. '59 Bel Air Crash Test 496

Posted by kdawson
from the slight-knee-injury dept.
theodp writes "To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crashed a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air into a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. Hate to spoil the ending of the video, but if you find yourself participating in a similar car-jousting contest, pick the Malibu over the Bel Air. (Not that you'll be complaining afterwards if you don't, or doing much of anything.) Guess there is something to those crumple zones after all."
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'09 Malibu Vs. '59 Bel Air Crash Test

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  • Classic Cars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:46PM (#29558389)

    Why would the pointlessly ruin a 1959 Belair? It's not like they make those anymore.

    • Re:Classic Cars (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blitzkrieg3 (995849) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:05PM (#29558585)
      I'm not sure why everyone keeps bringing this up. IIHS doesn't consider it pointless to demonstratably show how far we've come since they started improving vehicle safety way back when. Additionally, it's an easy way to showcase the importance of the organization to the general public, kind of like how NASA highlights it's spacewalks and additional modules to the ISS even though most of what they do is boring research.
      • Re:Classic Cars (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:35PM (#29558813) Homepage
        I just wish they showed the cars up close afterwards. While both are trashed, it's clear from the video that the A pillar just collapses on the Bel Air and the driver is probably crushed to death. Showing that (or whatever you can film) versus the still mostly intact cockpit of the Malibu would have driven the point home really well.
    • by NixieBunny (859050) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:28PM (#29558745) Homepage

      They shoulda used a 1958 model, considered to be the only non-classic late fifties Chevy.

      Which is why I have one.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nedlohs (1335013)

      Must have missed out on trading it in during cash for clunkers.

    • Re:Classic Cars (Score:4, Informative)

      by bev_tech_rob (313485) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @04:09PM (#29559577)
      The 59 Bel-Aire wasn't that big a classic. Now crashing a '57 [wikipedia.org] would have been a crying shame!
  • by Eevee (535658) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:46PM (#29558393)
    All I can say is "You bastards! You murdered a car with tail fins! Have you no heart?
    • by Eudial (590661) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:04PM (#29558573)

      The brown car had such an angry mouth, so it was probably not a very nice car. But the gray car looked friendlier.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Matey-O (518004)

      They addressed that, they wanted a car that was structurally sound but not a trailer queen. It drove in under it's own power...an inline 6. So, it was useful to demonstrate the advances without being overly conspicuous in it's consumption.

  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:49PM (#29558431)

    Right around that year GM went to a wild X-frame design which allowed the door sills to be moved down several inches, making the cars easier to step out of. But the X was not very strong-- there were plenty of news photos showing Impalas broken in half by not very hard accidents.

    Also if you look at a 50's car, the bumpers are massive but held up by a couple thin pieces of mild steel stock-- a strong toddler could bend them out of place.

    • by GRH (16141)

      Frickin slashdot 2! I meant to mod you Informative, because you are quite correct about the X-frame design of that time.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:03PM (#29558557)
      But then again, back in the 50's we didn't need all these fancy crumple zones, seat belts and air bags. Men were real men. Hell, I'll bet you dollars to donuts any man from the 50's driving that Bel-Air would have jumped right out of that wreck to help the crying sissy-boy with a cut lip driving that Malibu.
    • by SoCalChris (573049) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:29PM (#29558767) Journal
      My first car was a 57 Ford Custom 300 (Full size sedan). This was in 1995. The bumpers were massive and thick steel, and were bolted directly to the frame, nothing that a strong toddler could bend.

      I was in an accident in it, a guy in a 1981 Toyota ran a red light and I t-boned him, going about 30mph. His frame was bent, axles were snapped, all side windows, the windshield, and rear window were broken. The frame damage snapped a few of his engine mounts, and also broke his radiator. His car was totaled. My car had the frame holding the headlight pushed back about half an inch, and scuffed the chrome bumper.

      My observations were that I'd much rather be in an old tank like that in a minor accident. Anything major, and I'd rather be in a modern car with things like seatbelts, crumple zones and air bags.
      • by poopdeville (841677) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @03:01PM (#29559007)

        My observations were that I'd much rather be in an old tank like that in a minor accident. Anything major, and I'd rather be in a modern car with things like seatbelts, crumple zones and air bags.

        "Minor" accidents can be much more severe if your body is taking the jolt instead of the crumple zones. Injuries like whiplash are extremely common in "minor" accidents. You might be able to get your Ford's frame straightened, but you can't get your neck fixed anywhere as cheaply or easily.

        30 mph is not a minor accident, by the way. That's like falling out of a second story window (taking into account conservation of momentum leading to smaller forces on your body)

      • by 4D6963 (933028) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @03:13PM (#29559121)

        My observations were that I'd much rather be in an old tank like that in a minor accident. Anything major, and I'd rather be in a modern car with things like seatbelts, crumple zones and air bags.

        Yep, that's why before getting involved in any traffic accident, I always carefully choose the car I own which would be best suited. Now if you'll excuse me, I might accidentally run over my neighbour in his backyard while I'm on my way to the store. I think I'll pick the Hummer, it's the better one to get through wooden fences.

      • by Stevecrox (962208) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @04:04PM (#29559537) Journal
        Crumple zones were added into cars because of the high number of injuries sustained in car accidents in rigid steel frames cars. The whole point of a crumple zone is for it to crumple reducing the collision energy which reduces the shock to the people inside which reduces the number of broken bones. In essence you want the new car to be wrecked, if its wrecked that means much of the collision energy was used in crumpling the frame of the car and not in jolting the passengers.

        It's just one of those things car designers learnt from trial and error, like where to put a petrol tank so it doesn't explode and why not to use metal steering wheels.

        I tried to find the European NCAP rating for the Malibu but wasn't able to so i have no idea on how safe the car is. But a while back on Top Gear they felt so safe about a 5 star NCAP car a presenter crashed it into a wall at 30/40MPH he came out without a scratch. Admittedly they'd wrecked the car, but the presenter didn't even have whiplash, you just wouldn't do that in a 50's car because chances are you'd end up with broken legs or internal injuries (generally from the steering wheel). Sure you were fine, but those changes happened because most people wern't ok.
        • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @07:46PM (#29561103)

          When those things wreck, they disintegrate. The whole car seems to come apart, and you are amazed the driver could survive. However, it is BECAUSE they come apart like that that the driver survives. They have a rigid cage enclosing the driver, and a compliant body. That way the body takes the massive energies involved in the rapid acceleration to a stop, rather than them being transferred to the person.

          That whole pesky F=MA thing applies to cars just as well as anything else. When a massive object like a car rapidly accelerates to a stop, there is a shit ton of energy. How that energy is dealt with and dissipated can be the different between a person having a bruise, and dying from their internal organs being destroyed.

          • by snowgirl (978879) * on Monday September 28, 2009 @06:57AM (#29564069) Journal

            I really like formula-derivative cars for demonstrating the point of "destroy the car, not the driver" idea. You see an F1/Champcar/Indie car collide with anything and its just parts flying everywhere. I point out to people "each chunk of metal flying away from the crash is a bit of mass, and velocity not flying towards the driver".

            I think that's the coolest thing about car-design safety in racing. It's made drivers much more likely to survive, and vids to watch just HELLA way more cool...

            I mean, when a girl gets excited watching cars blow up into a million pieces (because I obviously didn't know the person in the car) you know it has to be impressive!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        I was in an accident in it, a guy in a 1981 Toyota ran a red light and I t-boned him, going about 30mph. His frame was bent, axles were snapped, all side windows, the windshield, and rear window were broken. The frame damage snapped a few of his engine mounts, and also broke his radiator. His car was totaled. My car had the frame holding the headlight pushed back about half an inch, and scuffed the chrome bumper.

        In other words, his car sacrificed itself to save both you and him.

        My observations were that I'

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Joce640k (829181)

      The bumpers were never supposed to protect you in a big crash, only from the little knocks and scrapes you get when when parking. Maybe not even that, I'm sure a lot of them were just there to add some extra chrome to the car.

  • '52 Citroen DS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by drerwk (695572) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:50PM (#29558439) Homepage
    CitroÃn had unibody, disc brakes, and the equivelent of crush zones. The were required however to put a 5mph bumper on the car instead of the 4kph as in europe due to US insurance demand. Would like to know how the test would have looked against a Cit.
  • by SilverHatHacker (1381259) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:52PM (#29558467)
    It should have been a reverse Bel Air. [xkcd.com]

    Now this is a story all about how my life got flip turned upside-down. I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, I'll tell you how I totally destroyed a classic car in the name of science.

  • by the Dragonweaver (460267) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:55PM (#29558501) Homepage

    The comments on the video are rather telling. A number of people claim the video must have been faked, because "The Chevy would have barely gotten scratched."

    Notably, a number of the panelists on the hearing about the sinking of the Titanic expressed serious doubts that mere ice could have torn iron. In other words, time marches on, but ignorance of physics remains a constant. (Also see, "This is the first time in the history of mankind that fire has melted steel.")

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ucblockhead (63650)

      All you have to do is look at the fatality rates. The number of people who die per mile traveled today is a quarter of the number in the early fifties.

    • by Anarchduke (1551707) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:40PM (#29558859)

      There are many aspects of old tech that are still superior to current tech. The primary reason it isn't done is cost of manufacturing. All this "self-evident, 50+ years of engineering" nonsense is quite presumptuous. Hitler used similar arguments making the case for white supremacy. Business buys results, not pure research.ï This is a propaganda ad pure and simple. Go check who paid for this to be made and who profits from it.

      The YouTube stupidity wasn't limited to claiming it was faked. Here we have an actual YouTube commenter trying to draw a comparison between Hitler's Eugenics program and the engineering principles behind car safety. It's like crazy in a can.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      But youtube commenter marcsiry did make it worthwhile:

      Even worse, the guy in the Belï Air was texting at the time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nimey (114278)

      Ah, Youtube. It's the place that makes all but the stupidest Slashdot comments look intelligent.

  • TopGear (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CountBrass (590228) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:56PM (#29558505)
    A recent TopGear did something similar: they crashed an NCAP (European crash standards body) 5 star+ rated (the highest rating) car (Renault Espace) into an earlier model of the same car (a 1998 Espace I think it was) at 35 mph.

    The crash investigator they had evaluate the results said the driver of the older car would have had multiple broken bones, including both femurs, and even if he'd survived the crash he would have bled to death by the time they could extract him, which would take 30-40 minutes as the car was so badly deformed.

    In contrast, the modern Espace's computers decided the crash wasn't bad enough to deploy the air bags! Only the seat belt pre-tensioners fired. The investigator thought everyone in that car would have walked away from the accident uninjured.

    Their conclusion was that modern crumple zones and stiffer chassis work but because they are stiffer older cars suffer much more when colliding with a modern car.

    What always surprises me is how much damage is done to any car, old or new, at these low speeds! Really says to me that any speed limit over 40 mph on any single-carriage way road is just insane.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:58PM (#29558523) Journal

    A few people were calling shenanigans, claiming there was no drive train or that the IIHS used a vehicle with a rusted out frame.
    So a writer for the NY Times caught up with "David Zuby, the senior vice president at the institute's crash-test center in Virginia"
    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/more-details-about-1959-bel-air-crash-test/ [nytimes.com]

  • I realize the crash-test setup and standards continually change, but is there any sort of archive of data tables, or graphs, or something of that sort, showing improvement over time? Like, can I see what the difference in forces on the driver or likelihood of serious injury would be for a 1985 Civic vs. a 2005 Civic going 40 mph into a barrier?

  • /patiently wates for some idiot to ignore the fact that road deaths are consistently going down in absolute terms, and in per-vehicle-mile terms; and to claim that dangerous cars/roads are 'safer', that everyone overcompansates for advances in safety, and that cars should have a spike on the steering wheel.
    • by tsm_sf (545316) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:16PM (#29558657) Journal
      and that cars should have a spike on the steering wheel reminded me of an old Letterman top 10... thank you, Internet!

      Top 10 Ways American Cars Would be Different if Ralph Nader Had Never Been Born


      10. Dashboard hibachis
      9. Seat belts made of piano wire
      8. Windshield replaced with ant farm for kids
      7. Strobe headlights make oncoming traffic look like old time movie
      6. 50-foot antennas allow you to broadcast while driving
      5. Optional front-seat hammocks
      4. Wiper fluid reservoir routinely filled with thousand island dressing
      3. New York City taxis would be exactly the same
      2. The paper Buick
      1. Speedometer replaced with electronic voice chanting "Punch it! Punch it!"
  • by NixieBunny (859050) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:09PM (#29558611) Homepage
    ...so this test was especially interesting for me. Remind me to keep to divided highways in the future.

    One reason that the door crumpled so readily is the crazy wraparound windshield. The windshield pillar contains a free-hanging right angle, which is not the way that a structural engineer would have done it. It also bangs the knees.

    The big problem with older cars is that the body shape was sculpted from clay in a studio separate from the rest of the car designers, rather than being designed as part of an automobile. The end result being that the body shape had no basis in sound mechanical design.

  • by s73v3r (963317) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .r3v37s.> on Sunday September 27, 2009 @04:23PM (#29559685)
    Marty, he's in a '46 Ford, we're in a DeLorean. He'd rip through us like we were tin foil.

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