1959 Chevy vs 2009 chevy


  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Yeah, I was kinda shocked by the results of that crash test, too. I had always been under the impression that those old cars would perform horribly if you ran into something that just flat-out will not budge, like a big enough tree, bridge abutment, etc. Or another, similarly-built car. But I figured that with a newer car that has crumple zones and such, that in effect, the new car would pretty much become the crumple zone for the old car!

    But that doesn't seem to be the case here, as that 2009 Malibu tore into the 1959 pretty severely. Now in all fairness, both cars were reduced to scrap metal. But it is an eye opener, to see what a difference airbags, seatbelts with shoulder straps, collapsible steering columns, controlled crumple zones, etc make in car safety.

    That being said, I've also heard that the 1959 Chevy isn't exactly the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to old cars. That old wasp-waisted/hourglass shaped "X-frame" evidently isn't so tough. I always knew it was a bit marginal in side impacts, but I've heard that it ain't the best with front-end collisions, either. A more conventional ladder frame or perimeter frame probably would have held up better. I imagine something like a 1957-58 Buick would have held up very well, as they had a ladder frame with an X-member in the center! You'd still have the problem of an unbelted occupant getting thrown forward, though.

    Also, GM used to have the bad habit of mounting the steering box way too far forward in the engine compartment. In those days, that was one of the biggest safety factors, since if you mount it too far forward, even a slight impact to the front could send the steering column back into the passenger compartment. However, that might apply mainly to older GM cars...I'm not sure about the 1959 models. Now it's mounted awfully far forward on my '85 Silverado pickup, but at least by that time they had collapsible steering columns.

    I'd also like to know what was going on with that '59 Chevy, when the front seat pulled loose on the driver's side. Did the whole seat rip from the floor, or did that side of the seat just come loose from the track? That might have been something attributable to old age, and not necessarily poor design.

    Still, that crash test was an eye opener. Now I never had any delusions of invincibility when I drove around in my '57 DeSoto, but seeing that test convinces me that it's even less safe than I thought it was!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I keep telling people that old cars are death traps when it comes to any kind of collision at speed, and that I would ALWAYS, without hesitation, rather take a hit in a 2009 car than anything built before the 1990s. I'd rather take a hit in a MINI than a 59 Chevrolet when it comes to my personal safety.

    Old cars are merely a series of parts hung on a ladder frame like clothes on a clothesline. Think of a cardboard box with no top and a weak bottom at best.

    Why do you think that 60s cars with huge engines often cracked their frames? There's really not much structural strength ---just weight and a bunch of bolts.

    A 59 Chevrolet IS built like a tank---and that's precisely the problem.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    I have a suspicion that old car might have had some age-related structural issues. No doubt cars from that area didn't crash like modern ones, but that thing collapsed just a little too dramatically. The rust cloud is also indicative of something, IMO.

    I am lucky in that my fintail is the first production car with crumple zones, and it has many interior safety features - so I think it would fare better. The ancient seatbelts in the front might not do a good job at restraining, though.
  • british_roverbritish_rover Member Posts: 8,502
    That car was supposed to be in good shape and complete with an engine. The IIHS paid around 8,500 bucks IIRC from reading the reports.

    Does that price sound right for a good driver 59 Bel Air Shifty? Not a #1 show queen car just a good driver.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    I'm not Shifty, but I think $8500 would be more than enough to buy an excellent 59 Chevy 4 door post.

    Did any American automaker perform crash tests back then? I've seen a good amount of footage of period MB crash tests, but nothing from NA.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    For a 4-door sedan? Sounds even a bit high for a #3 "clean driver". I'd figure more like $6500---but close enough. You could buy a mighty fine '59 4-door Belair for $8500 in my neck of the woods.
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,538
    "I keep telling people that old cars are death traps when it comes to any kind of collision at speed, and that I would ALWAYS, without hesitation, rather take a hit in a 2009 car than anything built before the 1990s."

    I agree. I've gotten some negative responses on some discussion boards when I try to tell somebody's daddy not to buy a 'neat 60's car' for their son or daughter's first car. Just a bad idea all the way around.
  • euphoniumeuphonium Member Posts: 3,425
    Did any American automaker perform crash tests back then?

    Many years ago, I saw a film, "Small Car Crashes". In the film Impalas vs Vegas,
    Galaxie 500 vs Pintos and a full size Plymouth vs Colt.

    In all three headon crashes, the bigger car penetrated the passenger compartment of the smaller car. In the case of the Vega, its hood lifted up, went through the windshield and decapitated the two dummies in the front seat.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    Ha, I'd like to see that...guess I need to root through youtube and see if it is there.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    My partner and I once did a cartoon for Road & Track where a cop is at the front door of a house. Answering the door is a Crash Test Dummy with an apron on. The cop is saying:

    "Mrs Dummy? I'm afraid there's been an accident".
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Did any American automaker perform crash tests back then? I've seen a good amount of footage of period MB crash tests, but nothing from NA.

    I remember seeing a picture somewhere of two 1956 Fords running into each other at an angle. However, it looked like a bit of a stupid test, where one car was hitting the other at a 90 degree angle. However, instead of doing a T-bone at the passenger compartment, the car was getting hit at the front right fender.

    Also, I have no idea where the picture originally came from, but here's a pic of a 1956 Chevy hitting a solid block of concrete...

    It actually looks like the car is crunching up quite well, in a controlled fashion, but I wouldn't take this one pic to be the gospel truth or anything. Plus, who knows how far back the steering wheel is getting pushed in that car? Or how fast it's hitting that wall?
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    That looks surprisingly good, yeah - not much different than how fintails looked in period crash tests. Of course, that might be a 20mph impact or something :shades:

    I remember when my 66 Galaxie got hit, it did that trick that seems to have been common with period cars - the hood didn't crumple, rather it was pushed up a little and just kind of bent. The passenger side corner off it hit the windshield hard enough to crack it. I have to imagine back then many hoods flew off in collisions, or injured people in the car.
  • grbeckgrbeck Member Posts: 2,358
    Another automotive website tracked down the actual seller of this particular Bel Air. The car was in good shape without any rust.

    The GM X-frame wasn't noted for its ability to resist collisions. I believe that Ralph Nader brought up this very issue in his first book.

    Ford also compared the X-frame to its ladder frame in sales brochures (without specifically naming Chevrolet or GM), asking prospective buyers which one they would prefer in a collision.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I have one anecdotal story. My brother and I were driving in a Renault R8 (ex-rallye car, I really like that car) and a Buick Riviera cut in front of us to make a turn. We T-boned it and while I don't know its ultimate fate I do recall that both our cars had to be towed away---neither was drivable. I do remember that the Riv damaged pretty badly at the mid-point on the body. We were not hurt at all but the Buick driver did request an ambulance (maybe just for show--he seemed okay). We were belted in with those nice rallye-type seat belts. The R8 was junked. Being rear-engined, it folded up pretty easily to the windshield. I suspect the Buick was junked because that's a very bad place for a 2D HT to be hit--at mid-point on the frame and roofline.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    I suspect the Buick was junked because that's a very bad place for a 2D HT to be hit--at mid-point on the frame and roofline.

    Do you remember how far in that Riviera got smashed in? I'm kinda shocked that the car wasn't driveable, unless it was a really hard hit. And if it smashed the Renault up to the windshield, it might have been! Back in 1992 I got run off the road and hit a traffic light pole sideways in my '69 Dart GT. The pole hit at the passenger-side door, maybe a foot ahead of the rear quarter. Overall the car got punched in about a foot, but inside it only penetrated to where the door panel pushed up against the passenger seat. The hit was enough to mis-align the trunk and hood though, and the seam where the rocker panel joins the rear quarter on the driver's side ripped apart, so the car had started to fold around that light pole before it snapped off.

    The part where the B-pillar would have been still appeared level, but underneath the rear window there was a stress crease on the quarter panel from the twisting motion.

    Surprisingly though, that car was still driveable! Well, maybe I shouldn't have driven it, but I was able to drive it the rest of the way to school that day (although I got a rather embarrassing ride to class in the back seat of a police car), and it made it home with no trouble, although I had a friend follow me just in case.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well it's interesting but if you think about it, a car with a strong ladder frame could be hard to smash in lengthwise but very easy to destroy side-ways or on a glancing blow. Once you distort that ladder frame enough, that's about the end of that car--because you have stressed all the joints---some of which are only bolted in anyway.

    Monocoque cars, even those re-inforced in plywood or balsa, proved to be a lot stronger in all the weird forms of collision that beset the average car.

    Ladder frame passenger cars were cheap and easy to build. It's no coincidence that they pretty much disappeared when stricter safety requirements came into being.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Do you remember what year this Riviera was that you hit? I don't think any Riviera actually used a ladder frame...unless you're just using "ladder frame" in a generic sense. Or if you're talking about an older 1950's Riviera, where "Riviera" just denoted the hardtop version of any given body style.

    I think the '63-65 Riviera actually used an X-frame, so it would've been every bit as vulnerable in a side impact as a 1958 or 1959-64 Chevy.

    For 1966 through 1985, the Riviera was on a perimeter frame, a style where the body of the car sinks down around the frame rails, rather than just sitting on top of them. It's supposed to be stronger, because you have the frame rails further outboard, but also the creases of the floorpan and body as it folds around the frame rails add some strength.

    From 1986 onward, the Riv was unit body, but they weren't hardtop by that time, either.

    As for my Dart, it was Unibody, so maybe that actually helped it a bit in my little pole-vault exercise? I dunno how a BOF car would compare...but by the 1960's nobody did BOF compacts...they were all unitized, with the exception of Studebaker I guess.

    I wonder how those old unit body Nashes held up in a collision?

    *edit...yep, the '63-65 Riviera was indeed X-frame. Here's a pic of a '65 frame...
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    about another T-bone accident I was in. Delivering pizzas one night back in 1998, I got t-boned in the parking lot by a kid in a 1992 Tempo who ran a stop sign and plowed right into me. It was actually kind of embarrassing, because that Tempo totaled my Monte Carlo, but the Tempo survived, got put back together, and I almost hit it with my '89 Gran Fury a few months later when the same driver cut me off (I recognized the license plate, and it was a unique, teal color).

    One reason that my Monte might have gotten it so bad though, was because I was moving, so the Tempo left a pretty wide swath of destruction. The damage started at the right wheel, which got thrown out of alignment, and I lost the hubcap. The right fender was gouged out behind the wheel opening. The passenger side door was gouged pretty deeply, and the rear quarter under the opera window was also gouged out. The impact was also just enough to move the A-pillar and crack the windshield. The rocker panel seemed okay at a glance, but who knows? That design was pretty "fuselaged", so the rocker itself might have been out of harm's way.

    If the window had been down it probably would have shattered, but it was up all the way. After the hit, it would roll down to the point of the smash. And surprisingly, that door could still be opened and closed.

    I have no idea how fast that kid was going. Since it was just a parking lot, you wouldn't think too fast, but it's amazing what people will do in a parking lot! The hit was hard enough that the Tempo pretty much stopped dead in its tracks, while my car got thrown over a few feet...initially I thought I was going to hit oncoming traffic!

    I wonder though, how the circumstances would've been if that kid had been just a little bit faster, gotten out in front of me, and been the T-bone-ee, rather than the T-bone-er? I'm sure my Monte would've done a good little number on that car.

    Probably best it turned out the way it did though. I got hit on the passenger side, and other than an adrenaline rush and being shook up, no real body damage done. And the kid driving didn't get hurt. However, if it had been the other way around, I would've gotten her on the driver's side, and with a much heavier car. That might've been messy.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yes X Frame--that's what I meant.

    When I say ladder frame, what I really mean is a car where you can lift the body off the frame.

    I think it was a 65 or 66. It's been a while since that happened.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    Well, if I sold a 50 year old car, I'd say it was rust free too...with a wink and a nod ;)

    That X-frame looks like a really bad design, almost no thought to side impact collisions.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    You could tell how structurally inept domestic frames were in the 50s 60s and 70s by driving the convertibles....you could watch the windshields bounce when you hit railroad tracks.

    I remember what a revelation the Mercedes 280SL was to American car magazines because the convertible structure was so rigid during road testing.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    You could tell how structurally inept domestic frames were in the 50s 60s and 70s by driving the convertibles....you could watch the windshields bounce when you hit railroad tracks.

    I don't think my '67 Catalina convertible is too bad. The only real issue I see is how the back of the car is a bit out-of-sync with the front on rough surfaces...you can really see it where the back of the doors meets the quarter panel. I've seen newer cars, both convertible and fixed-roof, that jiggled worse.

    I'm actually impressed at how squeak and rattle-free the car is. My '76 Grand LeMans coupe and '79 New Yorkers are much worse in this respect.

    One of my coworkers had a 1973 or so Benz 450SL convertible for a few years. I rode in it once or twice and even drove it once. That thing WAS a solid little car. It also had something like 182,000 miles on it, and had a little surface rust in the doorjamb, yet still felt brick-like. Much more than the 1982 Corvette he'd had prior to that!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well okay but if you jack up one corner of your car, the other door won't open and close properly. Or if you put it on a frame lift (where the wheels hang) you can't open the doors easily if at all.

    There's just too much overhang on these cars. The frames bend and twist too much.
  • wevkwevk Member Posts: 179
    I wonder how early 50s Packard would have held up, weren't they note for being stout?

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    The older the car, the more dangerous it is---would be a good rule of thumb. Of course, physics does work in one's favor in certain circumstances. I think a 50 Packard would fare much better than a new Toyota Yaris should they hit each other. But not necessarily the drivers.
  • wevkwevk Member Posts: 179
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well I've driven in a Tucker, and it felt real twitchy to me, so i don't know about the "balance" part. But the pop out windshield was a good idea, and Tucker drivers did roll one over at high speed during an endurance run, and the driver walked away---and---the windshield DID pop out.

    Of course now we make sure you don't even hit the windshield. We want to keep you IN the car in the year 2009.

    It's pretty funny---Tucker wanted you to duck under the dashboard in case of collision---LOL! :surprise:

    The engine came out of a helicopter, and was originally air-cooled, and was modified to be water cooled. That's why it looks kinda funny. Transmissions were rebuilt used Cord transmissions with electric shifter on the column.

    Remarkable car, nonetheless, and for 1948, it went like stink. If you romp it in 1st gear, you can break the axles.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Well, the windshield did pop out on that '59 Bel Air, although I don't think GM intended it to. :blush:
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    On that note, apparently fintail windshields were designed to pop out and land a ways from the passenger compartment. Seems odd:


    Crash tests start at 0:30 or so. Some later detail shots are not actually of fintails.

    The crumple zones worked anyway. This was a car designed at essentially the same time as that 59 Chevy.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    I wonder how well Chrysler's early unitized cars crunched up? I have seen some late 60's Darts and a Diplomat or Gran Fury that had been hit pretty hard in the front, and they actually crumple up in a fashion very similar to a modern car, where the front takes most of it, deforms, and there ends up being very little passenger cabin intrusion.

    In fact, seeing a wrecked Diplomat/Gran Fury and a wrecked 80's Caprice copcar, side-by-side, swayed me to go Mopar. This was back in 1998, and I needed a car. There was a place about an hour away that sold refurbished police cars, and they'd also have wrecks and other junked cars around to use for parts. The Mopar they had sitting there had basically deformed like a decent modern car, where the front-end "accordioned" to a degree, and the passenger cabin was intact. Meanwhile, with the Caprice, it looked like the whole front-end clip stayed fairly intact, but then shoved back into the passenger compartment.

    Of course, that's hardly a scientific survey, as it's possible, I guess, that the Caprice had taken a harder hit. Those Mopar M-bodies were beefy little cars, though. They were about 7-8" shorter than a Caprice (204-205 versus 212), a couple inches narrower (~75" versus ~77), and on a 3.3" shorter wheelbase (112.7 versus 116), but they were about the same weight.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    sometimes those old cars can still be pretty brutal.

    Here's the result of a '65 T-bird that tangled with a Crown Vic police cruiser that was in a chase...

    More on the story here. Now, the driver of the T-bird was killed, while the officer was hospitalized, so in occupant protection, the newer car still "won". However, the T-bird driver was also 91 years old, and I'm sure much more fragile than the 27 year old cop.

    All things considered, the T-bird looked like it held up very well, crumpling in a fashion similar to a modern car. I'm guessing the unitized construction of the T-bird definitely helped here. Those things were pigs, but they were sturdy, heavy little pigs.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    Not to sound insensitive to the situation or anything, I'm guessing that the 91-year-old lady who owned the T-bird bought it new back in 1965. I saw the pictures of it in the article Andre linked in his post, and it appeared to be in decent condition for being 44 years old.

    Now, if she had been driving, say a 1965 Volvo 122, I'm sure the situation would have been different. Volvo was installing safety features in its vehicles way before other manufacturers would.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,735
    That old Bird did a fair job of chewing up the modern car without collapsing in on itself. The unitized construction has to be the key here. No doubt the age of the driver was a role too, in the accident itself and in the fatality.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I don't see this as any compliment to the T-Bird. The driver died and the cop didn't, which demonstrates why modern cars are safer. The cop car was supposed to collapse. Probably the old man had an engine in his lap and steering wheel in his chest.

    "sturdiness" is the last thing you want in a collision. Would you rather jump off a roof with cinder blocks tied to your feet or coil springs? :P
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Probably the old man had an engine in his lap and steering wheel in his chest.

    Nope. Check out this picture...

    If anything, I'd say it was the cop who ended up with the steering wheel in his chest. Just thankfully, it was a collapsible steering wheel with an airbag! Besides, elderly bodies are very fragile. If you had the cop in the T-bird and the 91 year old lady in the Crown Vic, you probably would have ended up with the same result. With the way the passenger compartment crumpled, the steering column shoving back, and the airbag going off, it probably would have been too much for an elderly body to take.

    If anything, I'd say this just shows the advantages of unit body versus body-on-frame. That T-bird crumpled up just like a car should, with the front-end absorbing most of the damage, and the passenger cabin remaining intact. Note that the windshield's not even damaged, and the driver's door was able to open. And the driver's side took the brunt of the impact! Doubtful that the steering wheel moved much, if any, as the front wheels themselves don't appear to have moved back significantly.

    But then, look at the Crown Vic. It did what body-on-frame cars usually do...the front end only deforms so much, before the whole thing shoves back into the passenger compartment, compromising it. In essence, it's basically that '59 Bel Air from the NHTSA test with an airbag and collapsible steering column.

    Heck, I say re-issue the '65 T-bird, just with a collapsible steering column and airbags, and you'd have a pretty safe car!

    And you definitely DO want sturdiness in a collision, to a degree, at least. You want the passenger cabin to be sturdy enough not to crumple up and crush you. Basically, your car needs to be "hard" in the center and "soft" at the ends.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Andre, you're sounding like the doctor who said "the patient died but the operation was a success ;)
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    "Those things were pigs"

    Hey, I called them the exact thing on one of these forums once!

    Yes, they certainly were for a number of reasons.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Yeah Isell, I think I learned that term from you!
  • british_roverbritish_rover Member Posts: 8,502
    You beat me to it.

    While the Crown Vic is a "modern car" with air bags and such it is still BOF and a platform that has been in existence since 1979.

    Not exactly modern compared to a car designed this millennium..
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,542
    Oddly though, the Panther platform does rather well in crash testing, according to IIHS tests. Even though it's body-on-frame, they still designed it to crumple up more or less like a unit body car. Or so, that test gave me the impression.

    But, I guess a '65 T-bird is a harder hit than a deformable IIHS barrier. And running a car at 40 mph into a deformable barrier is a whole 'nother ballgame than running two ~3600 lb Chevies into each other at 40 mph. Or a ~4500 lb T-bird into a ~4200 lb Crown Vic that's in hot pursuit.

    And wow, no wonder those things were pigs! At ~205" long on a 113.2" wb, they're really not that big...in range of my 2000 Intrepid...and some 70's compacts, for that matter! Yet 4500 lb is about what the Cadillacs started at in 1965. I guess compact dimensions and luxury-mastodon weight don't exactly add up to sports-car handling! I wonder if those suckers were hard on tires, too?
  • grbeckgrbeck Member Posts: 2,358
    Big question - was the lady in the Thunderbird wearing safety belts?

    Our local paper notes whether accident victims were wearing safety belts, and more often than not, people killed in accidents were not. People around here aren't getting killed in cars from the 1960s (or even the 1970s and 1980s). Most of those cars are either junkyard material or trailer queens.

    Even newer cars don't provide much protection in high-speed collisions if the occupants aren't wearing their belts.
  • berriberri Member Posts: 10,165
    Ouch Andre, must we see beautiful classics all bashed up - it hurts!
  • lokkilokki Member Posts: 1,200
    Even if the T-Bird driver had belts on, in a '65 they would have been lap belts only.

    While those are a lot better than nothing, they're not going to restrain you as well as shoulder belts.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    So true. With lap belts you can be driven right under the dashboard and get crushed between the firewall and the seat. This is also possible with shoulder belts, but less likely (you aren't moving as much) and much less likely with an air bag.

    Ever see those police pursuit videos? It's amazing what people live through in those crashes.
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