Cars today are safer than ever before. Going beyond the standard intelligent seat belts and airbags for every part of the body, today’s cars can park themselves, keep themselves within their lane and automatically hit the brakes should a panic-stop situation arise. While most vehicles have benefited from billions of dollars of safety research, there are still a few cars on the road that aren’t so safe. Some of these vehicles present genuine dangers to occupants; others are just perceived as dangerous. While not all of these cars are guaranteed to kill you, they’re pretty much deathtraps.
Ferrari 458 Italia
The F458 Italia is undoubtedly one of Ferrari’s most beautiful creations, but like Kristanna Loken in T3:Rise of the Machines, this beauty hides a deadly danger. No, this Italian exotic doesn’t turn into a man-killing creation from future, but it does have a nasty tendency to spontaneously combust. It turns out that an adhesive in the rear wheel arches and heat shield would catch fire, deforming the assemblies themselves, which would then ignite upon contact with the exhaust manifold.
If you see a DeLorean hit 88 mph, you will certainly have witnessed a rare event. Mainly because it’s rare to see a DeLorean anywhere, let alone one breaking the speed limit. But just as people like to speed, people invariably find ways to roll cars – even those with low centers of gravity – and there are few vehicles deadlier when upside down than a DeLorean. Provided the stainless-steel structure survives the impact, escape from the vehicle is nigh impossible. While resting on its roof, the DeLorean’s doors absolutely cannot be opened, and those cool side windows quickly turn dangerous, as their diminutive size prevents passengers from escaping through the window. Rollover victims are trapped until they are met by either the Jaws of Life or the sweet kiss of death.
It’s not so much a problem now, but Ford’s popular Explorer gained a sudden spike in negative press when the SUVs seemed to start barrel-rolling down the freeway for no reason whatsoever. Turns out the OEM Firestone tires were to blame. While Ford and Firestone continue to blame each other over who really is to blame for this fault, the fact is that the tread on the Firestone tires would separate from the tire while driving at speed, resulting in a blowout, which, in turn, would result in an X-Games-worthy flip.
BMW’s Isetta city car is unique for its microscopic size, bubble canopy and front-mounted passenger door. As if driving a car the size of a cat wasn’t treacherous enough on today’s Expedition-filled roads, a collision with anything would result in a horrific yet embarrassing death. By having only a thin wafer of sheet metal in front of the occupants, the closest thing resembling a crumple zone on the Isetta would be its occupants’ feet. Should an Isetta owner somehow make it through life without his car kneecapping him, there is still the problem of being able to escape the car should the door be blocked by another car, a wall or a slight gust of wind.
The open tops of the original civilian Jeeps meant little in the way of occupant protection. Lacking safety devices like a roof, doors or a structurally supportive windscreen, passengers can be flung out of these Jeeps in an accident or even while just driving down the road. Having actually ridden in more than a few CJs, we can safely say that the only thing that kept us inside the vehicle and not splattered across the road was the power of positive thinking. Had we actually had an accident in one of these CJs… well, DOT workers would have been scraping us off the asphalt.
The Pinto was Ford’s response to the rising popularity of compact Japanese imports. Small in size, cheap in price and economical on gas, the Pinto was Ford’s way of telling buyers that they could beat the gas crunch while still driving American. But to keep costs down, corners were cut, most famously where the fuel tank was concerned. A lack of reinforcement around the gas tank allowed it to be punctured in a rear-end collision, sometimes igniting the fuel vapors.
Released years before the SUV boom, Suzuki’s Samurai micro-SUV made headlines after Consumer Reports declared the vehicle dangerous due to its propensity to barrel roll through turns. So damaging were these claims that Samurai sales practically dried up overnight, and Suzuki still has yet to regain a solid foothold in the U.S. car market. If ever a vehicle exemplified the SUV’s instability in corners, the Suzuki Samurai is it.
Ralph Nader was best known for highlighting the dangers of Chevrolet’s Corvair (Before he was known for ruining elections). In his book Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader said that the Corvair, due to is rear-engine layout and rear-swing axle, had a tendency to swing out violently mid-corner and ruin its occupants with its steering column before continuing its killing spree by murdering the pets of small children. Like the Toyota issue of today, a frenzy of media attention, lawsuits and congressional hearings all sprung up in response to Nader’s claims, and the resulting negative attention eventually killed the car in 1969.
The GV was a Serbian-built Fiat. We’ll simply say that Yugo’s combination of outdated Fiat technology, paper-thin metal and flimsy construction made this ex-Yugoslavia import a bigger threat to Americans than a MiG-25. Documented crash tests show that collisions at just 80 km/h (49 mph) will violently shove the front bumper, engine and spare tire directly into the front seats, passengers be damned. Yugo never got around to making its cars safer(believe me, it’s still the same s**t), and due to toughening U.S. regulations, the brand disappeared from the U.S. completely. Safety issues aside, deadly collisions involving Yugos were relatively rare as 1) no one bought them, and 2) it was tough finding an example that could move under its own power.
After a video showing its abysmal failure in a European crash test spread throughout the web, Brilliance’s BS6 sedan has become synonymous with Chinese automotive safety. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof. It’s a car with the structural integrity of a wet tissue, and as the crash-test video shows, an accident in this car will result in certain death. China has its eyes set on becoming a major automotive manufacturing powerhouse, but until its cars can withstand a force greater than a kitten’s sneeze, it will be a long time before Westerners look to China to fill their personal transportation needs.