My Car Can Beat Up Your Grandfather’s Car: 1959 Chevy Bel Air vs 2009 Chevy Malibu
When it came time for my older brother to buy his own car, my dad was insistent that my brother buy an older, solid-steel frame car—specifically a 1980s SUV, because, as he put it, while driving the one he used to have, he got into a collision with a newer vehicle and absolutely wrecked the thing, with barely a scratch on his mighty machine. In his mind, older cars with a more solid body construction are safer.
Whether or not that is true of cars from the 80s, based on this video by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it seems that the “older cars are safer” idea is definitely wrong for, say, a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air.
This plastic/glass shard tornado of a video was originally created for the Institute’s 50th anniversary back in 2009. However, it recently resurfaced on Kottke.org, and it is good to remember just how far we’ve come when it comes to vehicle safety.
I mean, just look at the video from the inside of the Bel Air (it starts at 0:42). The impact shoves the steering wheel (and then the dashboard) right into the dummy’s face. Watching that ballistic gel on the back of that crash test dummy’s neck jiggle around as the hypothetical man’s brain and spinal column are turned into so much gray soup and cornmeal is one of the most unappetizing things I’ve ever seen in my life. Before that, even, during the angled shot from behind and to the left of the Bel Air (starting at about 0:20), I’m pretty sure I can see the poor guy’s knee basically shoved into his chest by the collapse of the front of the car. That can’t be healthy.
By comparison, the crash from the inside of the Malibu (starting at 1:01) doesn’t even seem like the driver was hurt beyond maybe a bloody nose (that is a pretty clear faceprint left on that airbag). It almost looks like the driver of the Malibu could have even turned on his stereo and listened to some tunes while waiting for a tow.