2009 Chevy Malibu Destroys a 1959 Bel Air — Literally
By CHRISTOPHER JENSEN, New York Times
SEPTEMBER 17, 2009
It was no way to treat a senior citizen: sending a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air hurtling into a collision with a 2009 Malibu at 40 miles per hour. As the video produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows, the outcome wasn’t pretty, either. The windshield dislodges, the driver’s door opens and the front half of the Bel Air goes through something between crumbling and what looks like imploding as the dummy in the driver’s seat flies around like Peter Pan. “The Bel Air collapsed,” said David Zuby, the senior vice president for the institute’s vehicle research center in Virginia. “The area in which the driver was sitting collapsed completely around him.” The test was to mark the 50th anniversary of the I.I.H.S., a group funded by the insurance industry. The idea was to show how much automotive safety has progressed in five decades. While some people still think that the big steel bodies and sturdy frames of old cars meant stronger vehicles and good crash protection, the institute’s crash test shows that that just isn’t the case, Mr. Zuby said. Sophisticated engineering and high-strength steel give modern vehicles a huge advantage. Here’s how the institute described what happened to the Bel Air: “This car had no seat belts or air bags. 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.” The I.I.H.S. has crash-tested hundreds of vehicles, and Mr. Zuby said he doesn’t know of any that performed worse than the Bel Air. The institute rates vehicles as Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor. The group looks at how well the structure of the vehicle held up and the likelihood of injuries to the head, chest and legs. The Bel Air got a Poor rating in every category. The 2009 Malibu got Good in every category but the one for the left leg and foot, which was rated Marginal. And what does this mean to owners of 1959 Bel Airs? Mr. Zuby said driving in a parade was probably safe because the speeds were slow and it was a controlled environment. “I wouldn’t recommend that anybody use an antique car like this for their daily driving around,” he said.