10 Startlingly Dangerous Cars
When navigating a multi-ton enclosure of metal and glass from the inside, safety is — or should be — the first priority of manufacturers and drivers alike. Unfortunately, cutting corners for cost effectiveness and poor or lack of testing sometimes leaves consumers driving what are essentially death traps, which they may not find out until it’s already too late. Car safety standards have come a long way in the past century, but dangerous cars exist today just as they did in the early 1900s. Here are 10 of the most startlingly dangerous cars of all time, in no particular order.
1. Ford Pinto
The Ford (NYSE:F) Pinto is probably the most notoriously dangerous car ever created. Manufactured from 1971 through 1980, the car was especially volatile and unsafe because of its impractical construction. Because the gas tank was placed in the back of the car, near the rear bumper, the Ford Pinto had a tendency to burst into flames after even mild fender benders. Unfortunately, rear-end collision tests on the Ford Pinto didn’t begin until the car was already in production, so the eight of 11 cars that burst into flames during testing didn’t do much to change the vehicle’s safety features, because Ford simply didn’t want to spend the money.
The worst part about the Ford Pinto wasn’t its life-threatening safety flaws. It wasn’t the fact that more than 3 million units were sold over its nearly 10-year run, or that there are records of fiery explosions occurring only one year after the car went into production. The worst part about the Ford Pinto was the automaker’s negligent reaction to the knowledge that these cars were unsafe.
Instead of fixing the safety issue by reinforcing the rear end, which was calculated to cost $121 million, Ford decided to simply pay out crash and burn victims since it was “cheaper,” at an estimated $50 million, Time reports. Twenty-seven people were killed in rear-end explosions involving the Ford Pinto before 1.5 million vehicles were finally recalled, in 1978, to undergo safety upgrades.
2. Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Corvette is not one of the most dangerous cars of all time due to a lack of safety features but because of the reckless nature that tends to go hand-in-hand with speed enthusiasts who purchase the vehicle.
Because of Corvette drivers’ tendency to love launching the car into speeds as fast as it can possibly handle, the Corvette has reportedly killed more people than any other car in history. An estimated 5.2 drivers and passengers die in car accidents for every 10,000 1985-1987 model year Corvettes registered in the U.S., according to a study from 1990 reported on by the Associated Press. That’s pretty high, considering that the lowest rate is calculated at 0.6 deaths per 10,000 vehicles for the Volvo 740-760 four-door.
Some Corvettes can go from 0 to 60 in only 3.3 seconds (at least these days), and a lot of overzealous drivers have had a fatally hard time appropriately and safely handling that amount of power in one tiny fiberglass vehicle.
3. Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang’s death rate is close behind the Chevy Corvette at 4.4 deaths per 10,000 vehicles, according to a 1990 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, giving the ‘Stang an irrefutable spot on the list of most dangerous vehicles ever produced. And like the Corvette, most customers of the Ford Mustang chose this car for its sexy exterior and the sheer power found under its hood.
Besides the majority of testosterone-laden consumers who were speeding these cars straight to their deaths, Mustangs from 1964 to 1970 are especially susceptible to exploding into flames, since the gas tank was designed in such a way that its top is also the floor of the trunk. CBS News points out that Ford has been sued at least 70 times by victims burned in Mustang fires as a result of rear-end collisions. Former company President Lee Iacocca even said to CBS News that safety “wasn’t front and center. It wasn’t the priority” when creating the older Mustangs.
4. 1905 Darracq Sprint Two-Seater
The 1905 Darracq Sprint Two-Seater was the fastest car in the world in 1905, when it clocked in at 109.65 miles per hour during its run at the Vanderbilt Cup. It may not seem very quick compared to today’s fastest vehicles, which can break speeds of 250 miles per hour with ease, but the Darracq was especially notable — and dangerous — because of its body construction … or lack thereof.
The body of the Darracq two-seater was completely open: there were no doors, no side walls, and no windshield. Drivers were perched precariously on an open seat behind the engine and were protected by nothing. The bucket seats were flat and failed to do as little as cradle the driver and passenger; the absence of floorboards forced passengers to brace their feet against a portion of the Darracq’s frame lest they accidentally dip a foot down onto the pavement and lose it forever; and riders were forced to cling to the air pressure pump and gas tank flange so that they didn’t go flying from this vehicle straight to their deaths.
5. Chery Amulet
The Chinese-made Chery Amulet is known solely for being incredibly unsafe, as quickly proved by one of the few safety tests performed on the vehicle by a country other than China itself. In the test, performed by EuroNCAP, this tiny sedan crumpled up like a piece of paper. The Chery Amulet performed so poorly that the crash dummy, more resilient than a human body, had to be disassembled to be removed from the vehicle. Needless to say, this dangerous car received a 1.7 out of 16 points.
Amulet manufacturers responded to the test by saying that it was “probably rigged” in an attempt to discredit the Amulet in competitor OAO Avtovaz’s favor, but couldn’t say how the testing may have been fixed. Another test, performed by Russian car magazine AvtoRevu, gave the car a zero rating. “We have never seen such terrible deformation of a car’s body,” AvtoRevu reporter Yury Vetrov said. Coincidence?
Unfortunately, the Chery Amulet was once Russia’s No. 1 Chinese vehicle, selling more than 10,000 units there in 2007 alone.
6. Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer may not be dangerous to its own passengers, but it still presents a danger to others. The Ford Explorer is 16 times more likely than any other family SUV to kill passengers in another vehicle during a car crash, PBS’s Frontline reports. Despite the body count associated with it, the Ford Explorer is among the most popular SUVs in the world.
In 2000, however, the Ford Explorer endured internal safety issues. An unreasonably high rate of tire failures on Ford Explorers caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reach out to both companies in concern, and the issue would eventually lead to Firestone closing an entire manufacturing plant in Illinois. Plus, the Ford Explorer was top heavy, making it even more likely to roll if swerved during driving.
Internal documents discussing this and other problems in 1990 were exposed, showing that Ford chose not to take full proper safety measures. Instead of slightly altering how the cars were manufactured, the company only reduced the recommended air pressure in the tires from 30-35 p.s.i to 26 p.s.i. This would eventually lead to a high number of rollovers, since the tires disintegrated more easily and could peel off, presenting dangerous situations in Ford Explorers traveling at highway speeds.
An estimated 250 deaths and 3,000 serious injuries resulted from this corner-cutting. As a result, Ford and Firestone recalled 27.4 million tires in 2001.
7. Chevrolet Corvair
The notoriously unsafe Chevrolet Corvair was so dangerous that it earned itself the entire first chapter of Ralph Nader’s eye-opening book on car safety, Unsafe at Any Speed. Called “The One-Car Accident,” the Corvair was exposed as one of the most unsafe cars of all time by Nader’s detailing of its flaws, including a volatile swing-axle suspension that was susceptible to buckling, the lack of a roll bar, and dangerous and substandard tire pressure requirements. There was also the issue of the single-piece steering column, which could easily impale the driver, as well as the faulty heating system that bled fluids and expelled noxious fumes inside the vehicle.
Since the engine was located at the back of the Corvair, the car’s suspension was irregularly built and lead to — according to Nader — major stability issues. In response, General Motors did attempt to fix the rear suspension of the Corvair, though it did so while simultaneously hiring private investigators to try and discredit Nader’s book by uncovering dirt from his past. Though Nader made major waves with his report, the Corvair is now considered by many to be no less dangerous than other vehicles manufactured in the ’60s.
8. Ford Bronco II
Before the Ford Explorer safety controversy there was the Ford Bronco II, which also spurred an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, due to its exceptionally high rollover rate. When 40 people rolled the Ford Bronco II in 1987 alone, the NHTSA took notice but eventually closed the case without taking any further action, despite the fact that tests showed the Ford Bronco II could tip at speeds as low as 20 miles per hour.
Worse than its safety issues was Ford’s reaction, considering that manufacturing tests exposed the Bronco’s flaw (rolling five out of 12 J-turns) and was promptly ignored due to cutting cost corners. Frontline reports that Ford knew the Bronco II was killing passengers in rollovers more than other SUVs but chose to do nothing instead of widening the vehicle by 2 inches, because the company didn’t want to shell out the cash.
9. 1985 Yugo GV
The 1985 Yugo GV is the laughingstock of cars everywhere and is often called “the worst car ever made.” Manufactured in Yugoslavia, the Yugo GV was so unsafe it could actually be blown off a bridge via a gust of wind — which happened in Michigan in 1989, per Popular Mechanics, in an incident that killed the driver instantly. Cheap parts and shoddy construction meant just about everything caused this car to literally fall apart while it was being driven, and the vehicle reportedly rarely surpassed 50,000 miles without breaking a belt.
Parts of the Yugo GV were so poorly constructed that vibrations caused by driving would often cause them to shake and break into pieces like the junk they were, and terrible wiring often caused electrical shortages and fires inside the vehicle. To be fair, the Yugo GV cost only about $4,400.
10. 1966 Peel Trident
Even less safe than the similarly modeled and dangerous Isetta, the 1966 Peel Trident was a tiny two-seater vehicle with practically no safety features whatsoever. The driver and passenger were exposed beneath a cramped glass bubble, the wheels were tiny, and the entire vehicle was very Flintstones-esque. The Peel Trident was manufactured for one year and only around 45 units were ever made.