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Transportation Government United States

When the US Government Built Ultra-Safe Cars 520

Posted by kdawson
from the pacer-meets-battlestar-galactica dept.
Jalopnik has a piece on a mostly forgotten piece of automotive history: the US government built a fleet of ultra-safe cars in the 1970s. The "RSV" cars were designed to keep four passengers safe in a front or side collision at 50 mph (80 kph) — without seat belts — and they got 32 miles to the gallon. They had front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, and gull-wing doors. Lorne Greene was hired to flack for the program. All this was quickly dismantled in the Reagan years, and in 1990 the mothballed cars were all destroyed, though two prototypes survived in private hands. "Then-NHTSA chief Jerry Curry [in 1990] contended the vehicles were obsolete, and that anyone who could have learned something from them had done so by then. Claybrook, the NHTSA chief who'd overseen the RSV cars through 1980, told Congress the destruction compared to the Nazis burning books. ... 'I thought they were intentionally destroying the evidence that you could do much better,' said [the manager of one of the vehicles' manufacturers]."
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When the US Government Built Ultra-Safe Cars

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...flying cars!

  • by Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:49PM (#32378582)

    of an AMC Pacer and a Delorean

    • By our standards, it's certainly not the most attractive car ever, but you gotta' remember: it was the 70's. Most non-luxury cars from that area, and some of the luxury ones, will set your retinas on fire they're so ugly. For their time, these look pretty good.
    • From TFA

      The result looked like an AMC Pacer worked over by the set designers of Battlestar Galactica.

      I frakking want one!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by methano (519830)
      I thought the same thing. I first thought of the gremlin, but when I looked it up, I saw that it wasn't rounded enough. I remembered a really nice looking undergrad that worked in our lab in graduate school. She seemed very unapproachable except that she drove a Pacer. So that meant we could make fun of her and she suddenly seemed human again.
  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:57PM (#32378676)
    Just look at the near fanatical destruction of the blueprints and prototypes of the canadian supersonic Avro Arrow combat jet back in the 50's. This car design getting buried is clearly another case of someone not wanting anyone to manufacture a competing model that could shake the current makers out of their lowest common denominator complacency.
    • by Aquitaine (102097) <sam AT iamsam DOT org> on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:10PM (#32378842) Homepage

      How does that make sense? The conspiracy required for the type of scheme you're describing would mean that the Japanese, American, Korean, and European automakers would all have to be colluding to keep this stuff out of their vehicles. It's also why imports have been routing American cars for so many years -- they've had a lot more of this kind of stuff than American cars. Though one possible reason for that is that they have more money to throw around, since it costs a lot more to design and build a car in the US, thanks to the UAW.

      This may finally be changing thanks to Ford, whose new Focus and Mustang are both noteworthy accomplishments in terms of features, performance, and safety, but I don't buy the argument that 'the government should've been in the car business all along and a Reagan/Republican/Auto company conspiracy is the only reason they weren't.'

      There have been (and still are) a lot of government-run car companies over the years. You won't see many of the cars they produce today because they're typically totalitarian and/or socialist regimes that make them, and they're usually rubbish. The auto industry in the US (and in most of the industrialized world) is very heavily regulated, with a couple thousand dollars added to the cost of most cars to pay for all the stuff we're requiring the auto companies to do over the next few years. That's not a bad trade-off for a lot of people.

      I bought my first real car in 2002, sold it in 2004 to move to NYC, and just bought a new car a couple months ago after leaving the city. It's amazing how much has changed just in that time. Up until very recently, I would never have thought of buying an American car (I never have) but hopefully that will change, though I suspect it'll be Ford and not GM driving that change.

      • by ffreeloader (1105115) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:47PM (#32379414) Journal

        Do some research at what the Big Three did to Tucker in the late 40's. He had a car that would do 120 mph, a rear-mounted H-6 engine--like what Subaru uses--that weighed only 300 lbs and had 116 bhp and 372 ft-lbs of torque, 0-60 times around 10 secs, got 20 mpg, had disk brakes, 4-wheel independent suspension, and great aerodynamics--drag coefficient of .27, along with many major safety innovations.

        Tucker was decades ahead of his of time in car design and features. He envisioned 15 minute engine swaps if you had engine problems.

        My old man lived in Michigan during that time and had brothers living and working in the Detroit car business. They all swore the Big 3 ran Tucker out of business, and were still talking about what happened to Tucker in the 60's. That's how I learned about Tucker automobiles as 10 year old kid.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jafac (1449)

        Though one possible reason for that is that they have more money to throw around, since it costs a lot more to design and build a car in the US, thanks to - out of control executive compensation.

        There. Fixed that for you.

        There have been (and still are) a lot of government-run car companies over the years. You won't see many of the cars they produce today because they're typically totalitarian and/or socialist regimes that make them, and they're usually rubbish.

        Like Volkswagen. Which began as a government-

    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Because if you had blueprints to a car from the '70s that blows modern cars away in even one or two respects, you'd totally burn them "to protect the status quo" instead of using them to give you a massive commercial advantage and let you retire on a fat mattress stuffed with hundred-dollar bills.
    • by Tekfactory (937086) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:31PM (#32379122) Homepage

      If you look into the history of the Arrow, you'll find that the soviets had infiltrated Avro pretty heavily and the secrets they stole including specific Titanium parts appeared in the MiG-25.

      So if you want to talk conspiracy theory at least get the right one.

      If you want to talk about shaking folks out of complacency and need a plane analogy try Burt Rutan's Starship, first plane to be built with Carbon Fiber, All Glass cockpit, typical Rutan Wings, Winglets, Pusher Props and Canards... FAA wouldn't certify the plane for years, and now everybody uses some or all of these technologies.

      For Car analogies try all the Big 3 and other car companies that told Elon Musk of Tesla motors he couldn't build a full electric vehicle, because they couldn't do it. Toyota (Prius and Electric RAV4) just gave Tesla $50 million to help Toyota with their new electric vehicles.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) on Friday May 28, 2010 @01:59PM (#32378696)

    It's the one that also got 100mpg due to the fuel vaporizing carburetor. :)

  • Maybe it's the pin striping and white/gray color or maybe I'm just crazy, but I see a lot of Star Trek in that car. Especially TNG style.

    I wonder if they got any inspiration for the designs used in the show from it.

  • Gullwing doors are great. I own a delorean and here are a few things I've noticed.
    One, I don't have to worry about how close someone parks, I only need 11 inches to open the door.
    Two, if it is raining, the door tends to keep my seat more dry and myself as there is less movement out of the way of the door to get around and in as you would do with a normal door.

    With the engine being mounted in the mid to rear end, you have a firewall that would get pushed into the flat of your back if you are against it assum

    • They both also sport the flux capacitor requiring 1.21 gigawatts.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:07PM (#32378802)

      "Current cars the engine get's shoved into the firewall which then has a chance to crumple the footwell area that your feet are in."

      The engines are up-front to absorb impact energy and function as part of the overall structure. This IMO works very well (I do lots of vehicle salvage and get to cut up wrecks using a Sawzall) and I'd rather have a drivetrain up front than a "trunk". Some engine mounts incorporate aluminum members whose controlled failure absorbs energy while guiding the drivetrain where it should go.

      Have a look at large salvage yards if you get the chance. The WAY vehicles behave in crashes is interesting.

    • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:11PM (#32378852)
      Generally agreeing, but... in current cars, the firewall is designed to hold the engine when it gets pushed back in a frontal crash. It is an essential part of a force path leading into the tunnel structure and, via the firewall cross-beams, into the frame side members, thereby keeping the passenger cell intact. If the intrusion goes further than that, the engine is to be deflected at a downward angle, keeping the footwells mostly intakt. There is no real problem there. In fact, conversions from gas to electric, which are missing the front engine, have the problem that this force path is not there any more. That said, I am gray with envy for that Delorean!
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Seems like a simple solution is to mount either the electric motor or a block of batteries in an aluminum case were the engine should be.

  • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7 @ c o rnell.edu> on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:03PM (#32378750) Homepage

    People consistently rant that newer cars don't seem to be getting significantly better mileage ratings than older vehicles.

    Problem is you can't make an apples-to-apples comparison because in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the EPA changed the standards for the mileage test to be more realistic (more stringent).

    For example, in the old EPA tests, you could run your test without the air conditioner running even if the car had it. New EPA tests require that the AC is run for a certain portion of the test unless the car doesn't have any AC unit.

    Also, in general, engine power outputs have gone up significantly since the 1980s and mid-1990s while keeping the same gas mileage.

    So a vehicle that scored 32MPG in the 1970s might only be able to score 20-25 MPG on the new EPA tests.

    • by Sancho (17056) *

      Unfortunately, so much can affect the actual mileage that such ratings are even still somewhat meaningless. They're really best for comparing cars, not for gauging actual mileage. Changing the estimates only clouds the issue in the way that you describe--making it difficult or impossible to compare current cars to cars prior to the change.

    • I'd assumed that the old MPG ratings were gamed by manufacturers to reflect higher-than-real-world performance myself. But I've recently been measuring the MPG of my '97 Geo Prizm (set the mileage counter when I fill up, record gallons-to-top at the next fill up, divide first figure by second) and I've been seeing numbers that range from 29 to 37 mpg. If you look at the fueleconomy.gov ratings [fueleconomy.gov], that's not only closer to old rating system, it exceeds it.

      I suppose there may be factors from vehicle maintenance

  • by PPH (736903)

    What's its zero to sixty time? Top speed? How fast would this car get you laid?

    I don't care about gull-wings or any other kind of wings unless the damned car is going to fly with them.

    • Gull wing doors will get you laid, man. Okay, probably with a weird subset of pimply Back to the Future geeks, but still!

  • by coaxial (28297) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:06PM (#32378786) Homepage

    When you elect people that axiomatically believe that government can't do anything right, you get people that intentionally do government badly. Whether it's automobile safety, maintaining an a healthy and stable economy, or maintaining worker and environmental safety standards.

    You wouldn't hire a janitor that said he was morally opposed to cleanliness and didn't believe that brooms worked. Why would you be shocked when everything goes to hell when you hire someone that says they don't believe government?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mdarksbane (587589)

      It makes sense when you realize that the "clean" janitor screams at you for an hour if you miss the waste basket and introduces a charge to use the bathroom to keep people from making a mess. Oh, and somehow the place doesn't really look any cleaner...

      Beyond the basic "what makes you think people who want to run everything will therefore be good at it" question, you big government types need to remember that no matter what you do, the giant rambling apparatus you create *will* later be driven by someone who

  • act of treason (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zugedneb (601299)

    If government develops things, then it is tax payer money.

    If what was developed gets distroyed, or hidden for no apparent reason, other than lobby or corporate pressure than that is TREASON.
    TREASON is punishable by death...

    Since one can not become politician on "competence" only, but on slimyness mostly, one has to accept he fact that the governors are not thinking like sane and technical minded people do... We have to accept this, and then find ways to live with it by regulating it :-) (i love that word)

    To

    • by JSBiff (87824)

      Man, I know this is just railing at the wind, but I still gotta say it:

      I hate when people try to apply a word by basically redefining it. Maybe it sucks that the government decided to scrap the program, but the government cannot commit treason against itself.

      If the government decides to design and build a prototype of some new technology and *you* destroy it, IN AN ATTEMPT to undermine or weaken the government, *that's* treason.

      If the government decides to design and build a prototype of some new technology

    • Re: act of treason (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Black Parrot (19622)

      If what was developed gets distroyed, or hidden for no apparent reason, other than lobby or corporate pressure than that is TREASON.

      The Reagan campaign committed treason with Iran in order to get him elected. You can hardly expect a baseline of good government after that.

  • Go buy a Passat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:06PM (#32378798) Homepage Journal

    Really, if you want all this stuff, you can go buy a Passat, or an Accord with a bit lower mileage. That rig from the 70's wouldn't pass emissions tests today, so it would have to get heavier and the mileage would go down. A 70's Honda engine isn't exactly what people are looking for when they need to get on an Interstate, so you couldn't sell them easily either. Giant bumpers are nice until you need to parallel park in Chinatown.

    I totally want a Delorean, emotionally, but I'm not actually going to buy one for daily driving - I was in a roll-over accident once; side-opening doors are nice.

    Really, though, somebody should FOIA the plans and build a factory and see what happens, any patents have expired. Prove that Reagan's goons were wrong...

    • Re:Go buy a Passat (Score:5, Insightful)

      by haruchai (17472) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:26PM (#32379046)

      You're missing the point. By destroying this or not letting it be produced in the US, it allowed for innovation to be almost entirely to go
      to the European or Japanese manufacturers
      Notice that the options you provided didn't include any from a US manufacturer.
      Which "rig from the '70s" would pass any modern emissions test?

      And the giant bumpers quip is also a red herring - there were a dozens of wide, long and difficult to park cars back in the '70s.
      Did none of their owners eat Chinese restaurant food?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      On a recent job I got some insight into current designs on handling gull-wing doors in rollovers. There are loads of concepts to handle the situation now, some of them fascinating exercises in overengineering. I have seen concepts up to explosive bolts to detach the doors...
  • Thanks, Ronnie.
  • Godwin (Score:4, Funny)

    by tygt (792974) on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:10PM (#32378838)

    told Congress the destruction compared to the Nazis burning books

    I've heard of threads getting Godwin'd..... but this one had it in the summary.

    Doesn't that, by itself, mean that no further replies are necessary?

    • told Congress the destruction compared to the Nazis burning books

      I've heard of threads getting Godwin'd..... but this one had it in the summary.

      Doesn't that, by itself, mean that no further replies are necessary?

      by the continuing use and misuse of something a lawyer said in a Usenet post, what, 20 years ago?

      A single invocation of a Nazi comparison, in the original post/article no less, is NOT running afoul of the Magic Pixie Dust of the Godwin Line. And it isn't even a comparison to Nazism in general, just an analogy to one particular thing that they did; rewriting history by obfuscating the truth. Some bad things that people do today *gasp* realy can be as bad as some bad things done by Hitler's government; not

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Luke Wilson (1626541)
        Then you don't understand Godwin's Law. Sure actions can be reprehensible. But saying 'You know who else had evidence burnt? Hitler!' means the discussion has suddenly taken on a screeching tone and rational discourse is derailed. Far fetched comparisons to Hitler's regime are not constructive and you have not showed how they are.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 28, 2010 @02:19PM (#32378962)
    Watch the movie: "Who Killed the Electric Car". The original EV1 made by GM in the 1990's had a brilliant design and several very advanced (for it's time) features. not only did they take them all back, they destroyed every one. i, for one, believe the conspiracy. they just don't want us to know how awesome cars can actually be.
  • by Culture20 (968837) on Friday May 28, 2010 @03:03PM (#32379752)
    Sure, it has all those fancy features, but could it have sold for $10,000 in the 70's? Could it sell for $20,000 now? Did it cost a million per car in the 70's? Cost is an extremely important factor here.
  • More Reagan Crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Friday May 28, 2010 @04:05PM (#32380986)

    I watched the Reagan administration destroy the large Carter administration solar power program at JPL in 1981, so this does not surprise me at all. They literally did not want any competition for petroleum.

    I want that guy's name off of National Airport in the worst way.

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