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Volvo Earns ''Acceptable'' Rating in 2014 IIHS 40 mph ''Small Overlap'' Test. They Did MUCH Better 22 Years Ago with an '81 model...

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On: Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 12:31PM | By: Andrew W Davis


Volvo Earns ''Acceptable'' Rating in 2014 IIHS 40 mph ''Small Overlap'' Test. They Did MUCH Better 22 Years Ago with an '81 model...

Imagine driving down a five lane—two in either direction with a turn lane in the center—street lined with houses. You're in the nearer-to-center lane—at the 45 mph speed limit, of course—and notice a small pickup back out of a far away driveway into the curb-side lane of your half of the road. You think nothing of it, seeing as how they’re starting to roll forward in a different lane, as expected. But just as the “Why are they going so slow?” question sounds in your brain, the truck's driver decides to make an abrupt left turn directly into your path when you’re two car-lengths away.

Instantly you’re HARD on the brakes and diving for the center turn lane in a vain attempt to miss the collision, knowing that turning any further will only put you in the path of oncoming traffic and make things worse. And that’s the last thought your brain gets out before your beloved 1981 Volvo wagon’s right front corner plows into the offender’s 1990 Toyota pickup at its left front tire.

Welcome to the REAL world of 40+ mph “small overlap” impacts, 1992-style. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed from all the driving and typing I’ve done in the 22 year interim, I was (relatively) unhurt. The other guy(s), well, not so much…

According to the police report, I had gotten my car slowed to around 40 mph before the collision, and, according to their measurements, our Volvoyota combo traveled eight yards from the point of impact. Now I’m no good at math, but punting a ton-and-a-half of Japanese pickup 24 feet requires some serious force, and both our vehicles showed it. But luckily—for me, anyway—I didn’t.

[OK, it did dislocate my left thumb and torque my back a bit, but that’s it.]

So, put yourself behind the non-airbagged steering wheel of a small(-ish) 1981 model year Volvo that haszilch in the way of “modern” safety equipment apart from a three-point seat belt. Now accelerate it into parked car at 40 mph.

Chances are pretty good—provided you’re wearing the seatbelt—that you’ll walk away, probably even unharmed. But here is where we get into the ultra-dark-grey area of vehicle safety: despite her being seriously damaged in some places and flat completely destroyed in others, my beloved “Amy” was back on the road, good as new(-ish) in six weeks. Sure, the insurance company wanted to declare her “totaled”, but as I was in California and not some idiotic “no-fault” state (like, say, Michigan), I got to sue for—and win—enough to rebuild her.

Could the same be said if she was a ’91? Maybe. But certainly not if she was a 2001. And if she was a 2011 or the like there'd be no chance in hell, no matter how obsessed with her I was.

Volvo has had a long-running “Volvo Saved My Life Club”, which now comes in site and blog flavors. When it comes to “there is no way they survived that crash” images it’s hard to beat, and if you ever wanted graphic proof of what things like “crumple zones” are and/or do, there are few better places to find them.

But ever since my collision (do not ever call them “accidents”… it’s always SOMEONE’s fault), I’ve been hoping for a “My Volvo Saved My Life and Then I Got Her Fixed and She’s Back on the Road” page to spring up. But with every passing model change, I know it’s less and less likely to happen.

Look, you can almost stand on either side of the engine in an '81 240’s engine bay, and there’s more than a foot between her front bumper pad and her cooling fan. She was built out of aircraft-carrier-grade steel (see my pics of my "souvenir" fender for proof), sported 12-mph wraparound bumpers even though 5 mph was the standard (it’s now a laughable 2.5 mph, BTW) and was designed to take hits anywhere, anytime, and at nearly any speed.

Those crafty Swedes knew what they were doing. Volvo’s entire reputation for safety was created out of stories of 240s and their unbelievable durability, and the only real “safety system” they had to work with was perfectly-engineered steel.

[OK, and aluminum and rubber in the bumpers. And good seats and seatbelts. But that’s it. Basically.]

You want to know what I had to replace under her hood to get her back on the road? Here’s the list: Her washer fluid container (it was crushed as it was mounted ahead of the right front tire), her engine fan (a blade broke off when the radiator cowling shifted) and a few rubber mounting blocks on the radiator and intake (the old ones were fine, but as I’m keeping her forever, it was a “while you’re in there” kind of thing).

As for the rest, I knew a guy who had a 240 sedan that got rear-ended and was already picked clean of parts apart from all the steel ahead of the rear doors. His donation gave me all the steel I needed to reconstruct her, and repairs were a purely bolt-on thing. Seriously. They unbolted the bent right front crossmember and bolted on the “new” one, then did the same with the rest of the inner and outer bits.

The costliest bit of the repair—apart from painting, of course—was replacing the front trim items like headlamps, cornering lamps, bulbs and covers, etc. It was certainly not the hardest, though, as the 200-Series pretty much had the same “face” for a decade, and it was shared by coupes, sedans, and wagons.

Over a million miles have passed under her tires since the crash, and not once has there been any sign that anything ever happened to her since she left the factory. Not only is every part of her real-deal 1981 Volvo—right down to the underhood stickers—but at that time they could still get the non-water-based paint Volvo originally used, too, so she’s coated stem-to-stern in the same beautiful “Artesian Beige” factory shade she wore when she entered the world in 1980.

I’ve told you all this not because I want to brag about my awesome car—though she is brag-about-able—but because I want to present you with a snapshot of what is not now and will never be again.

They were still making 240s in 1992, but even if they weren’t, as anyone who has ever needed an OEM part for a Volvo can tell you, there is, somewhere, exactly the bit you need—still in its factory wrapper—somewhere in the dealership chain.

But those parts have gotten harder—and much, much more expensive—to find. And good luck sourcing the entire front end of a Volvo—let alone one already stripped for painting—for anywhere close to the deal (free, plus towing) I got.

[And if you think your insurance agent was adamant about your car being unfixable and for you to get out of her office on an 11-year-old car, try it on a car that’s now 22.]

So if it’s that hard to get an anvil-simple car like a 240 back on the road these days, how impossible do you think it’d be to resurrect a brand-new one?

Before you answer, check out Motor Trend’s coverage on the XC60 test (with video!). I think more parts flew off that crashed XC60 than were used in building an entire 240.

Sure, according to their tests, the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) gave the 2014 XC60 their highest marks for passenger safety in the 40-mph yadda, yadda test. This was, no doubt, attributable to Volvo’s slavish devotion to all things “safety”, including airbags and seatbelt pretensioners and Odin only knows what else, including the ever-present “crumple zone.”

But this boon for driver safety is a death sentence for vehicles. Instead of having room within the body for pieces to bend and deform without destroying anything vital (again, see my pics), there is so much stuff packed into the nose of that Volvo that you can hardly get your hand in between, well, anything and anything else (trust me, I’ve tried).

So let’s pretend I had a 2014 XC60 back in 1992 and not an ’81, with the same circumstances, same crash, same everything but the Volvo model involved. Exactly what would that two-decades-plus- and bajillion-Kronor’s-worth of safety “innovations” have done in that collision to protect me better than perfectly-engineered steel and a three-point seatbelt did?

Nothing. In fact, seeing as how I could’ve been injured by at least one airbag, it might’ve actually turned out worse. Actually, seeing as how the XC60 is a much larger and heavier vehicle, it would've undoubtedly made everything worse for all involved. [Oh, and in case you were wondering, my Volvo tore everything forward of the firewall off that Toyota. Literally. They found the engine and front suspension three houses away from the crash. In my main photo you can see where the bed of the spinning truck slammed into the rear-side of my car, too. Good times...]

I’ve cried probably half-a-dozen times in my adult life, and I’m not going to blame post-accident endorphins or whatever for the fact that one of those times was while sitting on the curb staring at what was left of the nose of my Volvo. But even so, there was never—never—a doubt in my mind that she would be repaired. Mostly because I loved her, but also because when it came down to it, she did what she was designed to do: give up her life to save mine, and that kind of thing deserves to be rewarded.

Fortunately for "us", she wasn’t a terminal case. But it makes me sick to think that there’s probably no vehicle on a drawing board or assembly line today that was designed with the survival of the occupants AND the vehicle in mind, so every new car damaged that badly is.

A Volvo saved my life. And in return, I saved hers. But if I were you, folks, I wouldn't get that attached to any "new" car. The days of putting any “totaled” car back on the road are way, way back in the rearview, and they get harder to see with every successive model year.

So take extra care whenever approaching slow-moving Toyota pickups, friends... YOUR results WILL vary.


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