Chevy Bel Air Crash Test
What do you get when you crash a 1959 Chevy Bel Air into a 2009 Chevy Malibu? You get an important history lesson.
In a publicity stunt in 2009, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) decided to show how far car safety has come in 50 years. They put a 2009 Malibu and a 1959 Chevy Bel Air in a head to head 40-MPH offset crash. After watching the 100-second video, viewers can easily see the progress that carmakers have made in the half of a century since the 1959 Bel Air hit the roads.
At first glance, it appears that neither car did well. They both appear to crumple and buckle, with plenty of pieces flying through the air. However, there are significant differences in the qualities of the crashes. According to the IIHS, the 2009 Malibu earned a rating of “Good” in all areas, except the left foot and leg, which earned a “Marginal” rating. The 1959 Bel Air was rated as the worst car ever to be tested, earning a “Poor” rating in all areas.
What made the difference? Why was the Bel Air so bad? The problem happens in the passenger cabin. The 1959 Chevy Bel Air did not have seat belts, and airbags had not yet been put in cars. The lack of a restraint system forced the crash-test dummy’s head into the steering wheel and the metal instrument panel. Because the windshield shattered and the driver’s door opened, the dummy could have been sent flying out of the car, too. To make matters worse, the front bench seat came off of the floor. Had a real person been in this car, he or she would not have walked out alive; the driver would have survived in the Malibu.
This test shows that even a heavier car (the Bel Air weighed about 200 pounds more than the Malibu) is not necessarily safer than a lighter car, especially if the heavier car does not have the same safety engineering standards. This test proves the cars that predate safety standards should be put in museums or only driven in special events, like annual car cruises or Independence Day parades, in order to keep drivers and their passengers safe.