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Head-On Crash: 2009 Chevrolet Malibu vs ’59 Bel Air

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2009 Chevrolet Malibu vs 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air

2009 Chevrolet Malibu vs 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air

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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air has been crashed into a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu—in a head-on frontal-offset test, at 40 mph.

The result is not only interesting viewing for our inner gawkers; it's a lesson in how far occupant protection has advanced over the years.

Watching the modern Malibu, the hood area deforms significantly but the passenger area looks almost entirely intact. Shift your eyes over to the 1959 Chevy and it’s the stuff of old highway-safety and shock-and-scare films, just melodrama and implied gore. There’s plenty of car gore though, with the Bel Air’s steering column slammed forward into the driver, the A-pillar completely mangled, and the dash pushed back to finish the punch. Trim pieces fly, shards of non-safety-glass fly forward, and…well, that’s probably enough of a spoiler.

In case there’s any doubt based on the description above, according to safety engineers at the scene, the driver of the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu would likely have suffered slight knee injury. The driver of the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air would have died instantly.

TheCarConnection.com gives the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu a score of 9 out of 10 in safety; its crash-test results have been excellent, with top five-star results in frontal impact, side impact, and rollover categories from the federal government and top “good” ratings from the IIHS in frontal offset and side-impact categories, blemished only by a “marginal” score in rear impact. The 2010 Chevrolet Malibu continues without any structural or major feature changes, so TheCarConnection.com expects that its safety scores will carry over.

Check out the video and see exactly how far we’ve come in five decades.

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Comments (14)
  1. Wow this is perhaps one of the most amazing videos I've ever seen.
     
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  2. Also funny how the IIHS has to explain that the Bel Air in fact does have it's engine and everything else under the bonnet. The video would certainly make me doubt that!
     
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  3. WOW! That is some amazing video. We all realize that we have come a long way in auto safety, but this really shows how far....Plus, come on, to be honest, it's just F-in cool!!!!
     
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  4. Yikes...I thought old, heavy vehicles were supposed to stand up well in accidents?
     
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  5. Mmm - I dunno - to me it comes off as what it is - industry propaganda...
    If this is all we have to show for "five decades" of safety improvement, color me underwhelmed; imagine the crash between cars from 1909 and 1959.
    It's an offset crash and they start the video with the Malibu in the foreground, so it looks like there is a more dramatic difference in the level of cabin intrusion than there really is. But by the time you see it from the other side, your first impression has already taken hold.
    I am surprised that anyone would still believe that big old cars are actually safer - was that post a plant?
     
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  6. Bel Air in fact does have it's engine and everything else under the bonnet. The video would certainly make me doubt that!
     
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  7. One wonders what condition the 50yr old BelAir was in. Although wearing an attractive coat of paint, did it also wear the (common) bondo, patch panels, and rust-weakened structure that most 50 yr old cars exhibit? For such a demonstration, does anyone think they would actually seek out the needle-in-a-haystack car with full virgin (or structurally equivalent) sheetmetal? Or is it more likely a hastily repainted bondo bucket with pop-riveted floors and rust-weakened frame that they picked up cheaply at an auction?
     
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  8. I beg to differ with 'difference engine'. The key telling point is when the cars are pirouetting after the impact in the 2 close up side shots. You will notice severe damage in the A-Pillar area and the door is almost peeled off the 59. The Malibu's pillar and door remain pretty much intact. Also, the offset is about the worst of the head on crashes.
     
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  9. Much of this improvement has been made in the last 30 years.The US Government began a testing program in 1978.
    IIHS Started in 1995 as indicated in the following IIHS Document.
    http://www.iihs.org/news/2002/iihs_news_070902.pdf
    The federal government has been testing new passenger vehicles in 35 mph full-front
    crash tests since 1978. This New Car Assessment Program has been a major contributor
    to crashworthiness improvements — in particular, improved restraint systems in new
    passenger vehicles. The Institute’s (IIHS) offset tests, conducted since 1995, involve 40
    percent of a vehicle’s front end hitting a deformable barrier at 40 mph. This test
    complements the federal test involving the full width of the front end hitting a rigid
    barrier. Both tests are contributing to improvements in crashworthiness — in particular
    improved crumple zones and safety cages.
     
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  10. About Greg's comment - I was thinking the exact same things you posted, but would like to add a few points to it. If you watch closely, the '59 blows a cloud of rust-orange dust out from underneath, especially in 2 of the angles. Definitely a weak specimen. Also I'm pretty sure GM was using the latest-greatest(?) perimiter frame design with that chassis...lighter, x-crossmembers etc. If I remember right, it wasn't very strong to begin with. I know the newer cars are loaded with safety features, lighter high-strength (but thinner)steel, crumple zones etc., but it still is really tough to let go of the old-school way of thinking, especially when you consider the mass differences. I still prefer steel and a full frame to plastic and airbags, just as long as there is a padded dash and full belts. I wonder if the '59 even offered seat belts? They became mandatory 9 years after that car was built.
     
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  11. As a mechanical Engineer I have to support Dan's explanation, the 1959 Chevy Bel air did in fact use an X-built safety girder frame, which was found to be inferior to perimeter frames due to as shown in the video it would collapse during an offset crash.
    Also if you notice in the video the impact zone of each car was not equal. The Malibu took a 50% frontal crash, while the Belair took around a 30% impact. A 30 % impact on the Belair would miss most of the front frame and the complete engine. The frame on a 1959 belair was around 2.5feet wide the car around 8ft wide with the frame centered in the car, which means the frame sits around 2.5ft from the front corner of the car. That 2.5ft is around the 30% that was impacted during the video.
    Now the newer Malibu uses a perimeter frame where the front uni-body frame is around 12inches from the side of the car and with 50% of the front taking the impact the frame was able to take most of the impact.
    As a hobby I restore classic cars and am currently working on a 1940 mercury, although it has only 39,000 miles on it and was in a garage since 1958. There is significant metal loss on the frame; since the frame was not painted it had no rust preventative on it from the factory, thus corroded. Although the frame is rusted it has not weakened enough to require replacement by DOT standards, but would it hold up as well as a new frame certainly not.
    I state the above to support both Greg and Dan in their observation that a 50yr old car will be weakened due to rust it can not be prevented. If they had build a new frame, body etc. using steel formulas representing steel made in 1959 it may have been a better representation, but it would cost too much to do that.
     
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  12. Notice how the old Chevy desintegrate. It's easy to do that with NO ENGINE in the old car. They took out the engine, and that's why the video it's always "cut" when the hood of the old Chevy pops up (up - left - right, always cut at the right moment!).Look online for pics of the cars after the crash test. NONE! What a shame!
     
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  13. I think either the frame was weakened or that the percentage of frontal crash area was played with to give favorable results. I had a 70 impala and a drunk driver hit me head on in the city and just bent the bumper and crumpled the fenders. no way the damage shown here ... rather have full frame then unibody ... tell the truth or are you just trying to sell cars.... thought they were suppose to protect us and tell us the truth ... oh yeh car company's pay better ....
     
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  14. That was great I watched it like 3 times.
     
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