Driving a car should be confidence inspiring: surrounded by walls of steel, you’re in your own personal fortress, right? Except when those walls of steel are more like sheets of tinfoil, and the slightest impact gets you nice and intimate with the back end of your engine. I'm looking at some of the biggest deathtraps ever set loose on the roads of the world, so read on and pray you never find out personally what makes these cars so deadly.
10. Chery Amulet
It’s no big secret that the Chinese are close on the heels of their Korean forbearers, attacking car production with semi-Communist zeal. However, their cars are not quite ready for primetime, as you can see in the following test of the Chery Amulet, an atrocious little car that crumples up like a wad of wet newspaper during this EuroNCAP crash test. Let’s put it this way – the testing facility had to disassemble the freakin’ crash test dummy just to extract it from the mangled, tortured wreck of the Chery. And let me tell ya, a dummy’s a lot more resilient than your average human body. Yikes.
9. Chevrolet Camaro
This is exactly like what happens when you let a group of hooligan pre-teens play with a loaded Glock. The temptation will lead to tragedy. So it’s probably no surprise that the Camaro is one of the most dangerous cars on the road, statistically. That’s because you’re putting a hormone-addled person behind the wheel of a poorly constructed, V8-powered, rear-wheel drive missile. You don’t exactly need to be an Einstein to figure out what that combination will result in. (OK, I'll fill you in: a large proportion of telephone poles wearing Camaro-shaped pretzel ornaments.)
The Isetta, designed in Italy, produced in the ruins of post-war Germany, and best known in the US as the dork-tacular ride of Steve Urkel, wasn’t designed to do anything other than get your returning Wehrmacht soldier from one place to another as cheaply as possible. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the little car was about as resilient as the Maginot Line. Hit anything larger than a wienerschnitzel and you could say “auf Wiedersehen” to your legs. The laughable safety of the Isetta made the VW Beetle, a dangerous car in its own right, look like a Volvo by comparison.
7. Geo Storm
Here’s the thing about the Geo Storm – it was co-designed with Isuzu, which means it was a pile of crap. Furthermore, it’s pseudo-sporty character didn’t fool anyone except the very, very stupid or the extremely young (and therefore stupid). You put a 16 year old boy in this car that looks like a shrunken Camaro (if you squint and/or are legally blind) and tell him it’s sporty, and the first thing he’s gonna do is throw it into a corner as hard as he dares. Of course, the Storm wasn’t up to the challenge, and invariably the ditch or telephone pole won that particular battle.
6. Audi 5000
You might not remember, but back in the early ‘80s Audi was almost run out of the US because of some trumped-up hysteria concerning “unintended acceleration.” The claim was that, just like in a Stephen King novel, the Audi would suddenly lunge forward with a life of its own, invariably causing death, mayhem, and destruction. Of COURSE it had to be the car’s fault, as we all know that people NEVER confuse the brake and gas pedals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a subsequent investigation cleared the Audi of all the insane allegations and laid the fault on driver error. The damage was done, and it took years for Audi to recover. This one sneaks into my list on reputation alone, and because it’s a great story.
5. Ford Explorer
Acrobatics are cool and all, whether you’re talking about gymnasts, trapeze artists, or the Blue Angels. However, acrobatic antics are generally frowned upon when it comes to large, body-on-frame SUVs. No one appreciates it when your Explorer does a front flip with a half twist, pinning you upside down in a hunk of burning metal. It’s all due to a little thing called “tread separation,” which at highway speeds caused a horrifying loss of control. Coupled with the Explorer’s high center-of-gravity and relatively crappy construction, this lead to quite a few deaths and a PR storm the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Pinto debacle. Even with replaced tires, do you really want to roll the dice?
4. Suzuki Samurai
Just like the Ford Explorer, the Samurai suffered from the same problem: a lot of weight up high. These little SUVlets were always on the verge of rolling over. Consumer Reports sounded the alarm on these cars, causing massive damage to Suzuki’s already limited appeal to US consumers. Consumer Reports eventually settled with the company, but that doesn’t mean that they were wrong. The narrow, tall Samurai was like an elephant on a tightrope, and if things went south they weren’t exactly the most sturdy vehicles to crash in. I'd prefer my coffin without a Suzuki badge, thank you very much.
3. Ford Pinto
If there’s one thing I can’t abide by, it’s being burned alive in a small car. That would just ruin my day. Luckily, I don't have a Ford Pinto. You see, the beancounters at Ford did a little math, and found out they could save a couple bucks by leaving out any protection for the gas tanks. They added this up and figured out what the cost for all the lawsuits involving anyone who died in a Pinto. Guess what? The numbers (and a healthy dose of corporate irresponsibility) meant that every Pinto that rolled of the line was a disaster waiting to happen, and even if buyers died, FoMoCo still saved some cash. When that internal document fell into the hands of a journalist, it created a huge scandal that brought down the Pinto in flames, if you’ll excuse the pun. The cars could be retrofitted with tank protectors at a dealership, but the damage was done. I'll pass on this car-b-q.
2. Smart Car
Smart likes to tout their “Tritium” safety cage, and indeed the little Smart can stay intact through some brutal hits. The problem is it’s about the size and shape of a golf ball, and when a truck smacks into you, you’ll be punted into the next county. Smack into a wall hard enough and even if you were encased in solid diamond armor, your insides would liquefy. So while the Smart represents a HUGE jump in safety from deathtraps like the Isetta, give me some crumple zones on either ends and enough airbags to fill up a stadium, please.
1. Chevrolet Corvair
Ah, the much-maligned Corvair, bane of Ralph Nader’s naysaying existence. Here’s the thing: as much as we hate the dude for being a spoilsport, he had a good point. The original Corvair had some NASTY handling characteristics, with all that rear-weight bias because of the rear engine and swing-arm suspension. It would take too long to explain, but let’s just say that if you took a corner too hot, you ended leaving that corner backwards, if you get my drift. Plus it had the structural rigidity of a large cardboard box, and a steering column that closely resembled a javelin pointed straight at your heart. Despite the video below touting the safety of the Corvair, and our hatred of Nader, let’s just be clear that the Corvair was a veritable deathtrap, and it’s worthy of our #1 spot on this list.
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