18 May 2009

You Can’t Crush This—Old Cars That Were Built For Safety

We don’t generally think of our old cars as having been built with safety in mind. We’ve been conditioned to think that safety is synonymous with eight air bags, ABS and stability control. Most of us prefer not to think about what would happen if in a fit of irony, our Fiat 124 Spider merged with a Chrysler Aspen at an intersection.

Surprisingly, some collector cars were actually built with safety in mind, achieving their goal the old fashioned way, with stout construction and careful engineering. Perhaps one of the most unexpected examples of this is the Porsche 911. Anyone who has ever driven in a 911 will first notice its solid structure. “Hewn out of a solid block of granite” as Jeremy Clarkson from The BBC’s Top Gear has put it. This solid unibody structure with carefully engineered crumple zones and a collapsible steering column make the 911 in fact, a very safe car. Don’t believe it? Watch the aforementioned Mr. Clarkson try to destroy one by crashing it into a concrete building, dropping a piano on it and shooting it with a shotgun.

At least one sports car had safety as part of its name: The Bricklin SV-1 (the “SV” stood for “safety vehicle”) was built from 1974-75 in New Brunswick , Canada by Malcolm Bricklin. Powered by either a Ford or AMC V8, the fiberglass/acrylic gullwing body covered a very strong safety cage with an integral roll bar and side door beams. Many of the cars were built in bright “safety” colors like orange and lime green. None came with an ashtray or cigarette lighter because in addition to the obvious dangers of respiratory disease, Bricklin thought smoking in the car was an unsafe distraction.

Unfortunately, assembly quality was abysmal and the power doors had a habit of not working. The last Bricklins were assembled by a court-appointed receiver in 1976 but not before one made one of the most memorable non-farm animal prizes on the game show “Let’s Make a Deal”. See if you can count how many times the word “safety” is used in the Monty Hall's brief description of the car.

Bricklin - 1974 Let's Make a Deal

Finally, if you value safety over excitement in your old car, you can do no better than a Volvo 240. Nicknamed “The Brick,” with over 2.8 million produced from 1974-93, they’re still easy to find. Incorporating numerous safety advances from Volvo’s 1972 experimental safety vehicle concept car, the 240 was the car that enjoyed the lowest fatal crash rate per mile traveled for nearly every year it was in production. As auto journalist Paul Duchene is fond of saying, “you get one free crash in a 240.” An ideal first car for your teenager perhaps?

Volvo 240s also sport mechanicals as tough as their bodies. Mileage of 400,000 to 500,000 miles without an engine overhaul is possible. And while 500,000 miles is a bit short of an eternity, it may seem like one because unless the owner has purchased the suspension upgrades and performance modifications available from Volvo specialist IPD most 240 sedans and wagons are deadly dull. For something a bit more interesting, try a 1979-80 242 GT or a 1978-81 262C Bertone Coupe.

0 Reader Comments

Join the Discussion