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I Bring You the Safety Car of the Future, Built Right Here in the U. S. of A. - in 1989!

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On: Fri, May 16, 2014 at 9:44AM | By: Andrew W Davis


I Bring You the Safety Car of the Future, Built Right Here in the U. S. of A. - in 1989!

I call America a nation of “Missers”—people who avoid collisions through blind luck rather than awareness and talent—NOT "Drivers". Sure, there are exceptions, but we are few and far between. It is for this and who knows how many other misguided reason(s) that the government is mandating more and more “driver aids” (aka Idiot Over-Riders) tacked onto vehicles already stuffed with them in the name of "safety".

I’ve railed—admittedly, usually to myself—that the emphasis should be on driver education, not on adding electronics that make it possible for the worst-of-the-worst to not die in solo-car accidents like they should, to, as my dad would say, "thin the herd." Pumping money into education and training helps stop collisions from occurring, while the majority of electrissical bits are there to only mitigate how damaged you'll be after the fact.

I bring this up (here, anyway) only to at least tweak your thinking on what’s safe, both for you and your pocketbook.

[Here’s a hint: If you're a Driver, you were pretty much better off before today's big push towards “active” seatbelts, airbags, Traction- and Stability Control and…]

OK, boring part first. I went to my kids’ school to pick up my 7th-grade daughter as she was feeling poorly. The school office faces the parking lot and as I was signing my youngest out, I could clearly see my car and the *OHMYGODSTOPYOUIDIOTYOU’REGOINGTO…* gut-wrenching sight of a new GMC Yukon cutting the corner while backing out and slamming HARD into my precious 1989 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser.

As a trained first-responder I have, well, responded to accident scenes many times, and while what you find can be beyond terrible, I have to honestly say that there’s no “professional detachment” when it’s YOUR car getting hit, especially right in front of your eyes.

Thanks to the Yukon’s bright white color it was easy to see the carnage the collision wrought. From right behind the GMC’s right rear tire to where that panel wraps around to the rear, it looked like she (the female driver) side-swiped a guardrail that was painted in 1980s Oldsmobile Dark Metallic Gray. The bumper cover was severely punctured and twisted upward to where it compressed into the fender and unseated the tail lamp unit.

And still, I knew all that was easily repaired. Every damaged part is less than a couple hours away—or way less here in the almost-sorta-Detroit area—but they stopped making Custom Cruiser parts when the elder President Bush entered office. And there’s so much “chrome” trim on the nose and corners that's model- and year-specific (and rare as hell) that I already knew I couldn't find and buy—let alone install—that I was sure she'd be forever blind-looking in her left "eye".

When I finally steeled myself enough to do so (aka tamped down my murderous rage), I turned around and looked at my poor “Angie”. Then I looked again. Then I did some mental crash scene reconstruction in my head and realized that the corner the other driver hit—with a TWO-TON Yukon—showed almost no damage at all.

Seriously! Check the pictures. It takes a lot of force to make a car as big as an old-school Custom Cruiser jerk and shiver when it’s hit, so this was no glancing blow. But the only sign that anything had happened was a tiny paint scrape in the top front/side corner above the headlamps and some tiny cracks in the chromey plastic headlamp/sidemarker surround.

One can never be happy that their car has been damaged by some moron driving a vehicle bigger than they could handle (and in an unsafe manner to boot), but damn… it was like a close-up magic trick where you watched a pretty severe car crash, and one of the vehicles came out (nearly) unblemished while the other sported all the scars. I don't know how it happened, but it was more incredible than anything you'll see in Vegas.

So here’s my message to NHTSA: Stop your knee-jerk adding little black boxes full of electrical nannies to cars and focus on what actually saves people and their money under most circumstances: Good ol’ fashioned steel.

Sure, it’s heavy (especially when on an Olds like mine that’s 19 feet long and six feet wide), it limits how swoopy you can make a car’s styling and all that. But the more laughably pathetic 2.5 mph bumpers you put on new cars (my Olds sports 12 mph no-damage units), the more easily the cars they’re on will fold like rice paper and the folks inside of them will sustain serious injuries, regardless of how many airbags and doodads you add.

[Case in point: How many black boxes are in a new Yukon? Well, this one had those AND the backup sensor/light-flasher thingies on it. Fat lot of good they did...]

Consider: The most popular new vehicles have been full-sized pickups since shortly after the damn things were invented. They have steel bumpers mounted to steel frames and are—until the new Fords come out—made primarily of steel, just like my wagon. And in a pickup-vs.-car collision, who usually “wins”?

[Except in a Volvo 245-vs.-small Toyota pickup match, where my easily-fixed Volvo wagon broke the offending Toyota literally in half, but that's a story for another time.]

Anyhoo, open my Oldsmobile’s hood and you'll see that there’s nearly a foot between the grille and the radiator. Throw in the depth of the bumper and I’d have to hit an 18-wheeler head-on to crumple that much steel inward. Then it’s another foot from the radiator to the front of the engine, and an additional 18 inches until you could intrude on the passenger compartment enough to harm an occupant.

Result? Your Prius is an unfixable ball of expensive fluff while I can just unbolt my Olds’ front “clip” and bolt on a new one. Same goes for the hood, trim, and bumper. I have no airbags smashing me in the face, no shattered glass entering the passenger compartment and no automatic “totaling” of a car that could negatively impact (pun not intended but I take full credit for it) your insurance rates.

Now I’m not telling you to run out and buy a Custom Cruiser (Seriously, don’t. Parts are already too rare and expensive), but when you look at ANY vehicle, don’t just read the specs and go by the salesperson’s explanations as to how safe you’ll be in a car with 27 airbags and more electronic “assistants” than you can find on the International Space Station.

Instead, do a walk-around and note the places where some idiot is most likely to hit your car, and find out how much it’ll cost to fix damage like that. What’s a front or rear bumper cover cost, painted and mounted? And what's it run to replace the airbags? And what about a door skin, decklid or hood? And what about those vulnerable head- and tail-lamp clusters? And… you get the picture.

And I cannot stress this enough: Do NOT blindly trust ANYONE’s “crash worthiness” standards. Sure, they can be a help in comparing one model versus another as an intellectual exercise, but they don’t ever count the cost of the repairs needed, or if the parts will take six months to reach you by camel from Khazakstan.

Sure, such ratings and research have done a lot of good—seatbelts, non-impaling steering wheels, etc.—but how can you trust a “safety” agency like NHTSA that’s willing to stick you with thousands of dollars-worth of dubious electronics but is too stupid to notice that they require your car to have amber turn signal lenses on its front for safety’s sake, but not on the back?]

You are living in a world of Missers, people, and the odds are NOT in your favor. Dress (automotively) accordingly.


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