1959 Chevrolet Bel Air vs. 2009 Chevrolet Malibu IIHS Crash Test

They just don’t build ’em like they used to… Most of the time, we like to think of our old automobiles as tank-like hunks of metal with full frames and acres of dead space in front of the driver and the massive chrome front bumper. While that may often be the case, all those thick bits of steel don’t automatically equal safety.

In the 50 years since US insurers organized the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, car crashworthiness has improved. Demonstrating this was a crash test conducted between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. The results were eye-opening.

“It was night and day, the difference in occupant protection,” says Institute president Adrian Lund. “What this test shows is that automakers don’t build cars like they used to. They build them better.”

“We didn’t want to crash a museum piece,” Mr. Zuby, the senior vice president at the institute’s crash-test center in Virginia said. “We were not looking for one that had been restored for museum or show quality. But the vehicle had to have a solid structure, although a little surface rust would be acceptable. ”

They found what they wanted in Indiana. “The frame was sound and all the body panels were sound,” he said. “It had a 3.9-liter 6-cylinder engine and was in driving condition.”

The car was bought for about $8,500 and had about 74,000 miles on the odometer, which was broken. It was trucked to the test center in Virginia.

But what about those “clouds of rust?” Mr. Zuby said the cloud that shows in the crash video wasn’t rust. “Most of that is road dirt that accumulates in nooks and crannies that you can’t get it,” he said.

Still wonder whether cars haven’t gotten safer in the last 50 years?
Below you can see what happens when a 1959 Chevy Bel Air crashes at speed into a 2009 Chevy Malibu.

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