Posted by: Rob | October 11, 2009

Automotive Engineering

There was a time when I had little respect for automotive engineers.  I mean, really, there have been some models I’ve driven over the years when the experience has not been much other than “WTF were they thinking?!?”.  For a variety of reasons too.

Having been born in the very early part of the 1960’s, I naturally came of car-crazy age in the early to mid ’70’s.  My automotive awakenings were occurring around the time that Detroit was essentially neutering their muscle car fleets and body designs were tending toward boxy.

As I looked back at the hey days of the late ’50’s, where radical body design changes occurred from year to year (remember the fins?) I wondered to myself why such a scale of change was required.  It wasn’t that there were vast improvements in aerodynamics resulting or anything like that.  I was, of course, too young to understand the concepts of planned obsolescence and the need to sell something – anything – every year.

Confronted by the designs of the early ’70’s, we looked to those old cars of the late ’50’s as uber cool and me and many of my pals would drool over the classic ’57 Chevy two door hard top.  You know, like the one owned by Popular Hot Rodding magazine that appeared in the movie The Hollywood Knights*?

We never thought of or worried about the safety aspects though.  When you’re young and invincible, car wrecks with fatalities happen to other people.

Thankfully, Ralph Nader wrote a book – Unsafe at Any Speed – that eventually prompted the North American auto industry to re-think safety related prejudices and evolve their designs toward more survivability.  An item I found via has really highlighted the results of this evolution and this is graphically demonstrated in some videos created by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Witness the results of a head-on collision between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu:

Interpretation of the crash test results indicates the driver of the ’59 Bel Air would have died in the wreck (probably from the steering column hitting him/her in the face/head) while the driver of the ’09 Malibu would have suffered a minor knee injury.  Sobering, to say the least.

Here’s a link to a blog post with some stills.

I guess those automotive engineers in Detroit have been working on more than adding cup holders, eh?

* One of Robert Wuhl’s jokes from that movie is an “ear worm” of sorts that I’ll likely never forget: Have you heard of the man with the five penises?  His pants fit like a glove.


  1. this is astonishing – i always assumed that those big hunks of “Ameruhcan” steel were like tanks… wow…

    but that does nothing to diminish my lust for a ’57 chevy nomad wagon. 2 doors, 2 tons, 2 fins… grrr….

  2. Wow. Cool video. The older car disintegrates on impact- it is good to know that safety has actually been attended to.

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