When we think of our “first car,” the stuff that we proudly drove “back in the day” was pretty scary. Mine was a 1964 VW Bug, and I was proud of it. I still think of it quite fondly today. Before that was a 106cc Sears motorcycle that only ran when it decided that it wanted to run. And the VW, well it had sketchy brakes, ate the oil that didn’t leak out, and made unidentifiable noises that even the radio couldn’t drown out. With friends in tow and some horrible assortment of tools, we did our best to keep them running and driving. But let’s be realistic – they were truly “death traps.” Many of us had VW Bugs, but there were nasty American cars from the early sixties, some foreign cars like a Triumph Herald that was mostly missing its floors. One guy had a ’59 Rambler wagon with a three-speed manual transmission, but he couldn’t use first gear because it was, well, gone. I also owned and drove a Meyers Manx-style fiberglass due buggy built on a ’60 VW pan.
Regular observers to this site know that we are rescuing a 1987 Porsche 924S Automatic for our granddaughter, and she is doing most of the work on it. She is quite happy with it, and with her drivers license days quickly approaching, she is very excited. She told one of her friends about it, and without seeing it or hearing anything else about it, she declared, “I’m not riding in that. It’s a death trap.” Why? No air bags. Yes, this teenager will not entertain the notion of riding in a car without air bags because it is just too much of a risk. If she gets in this 1987 Porsche, she will die. In a death trap. Wow.
When Lee Iacocca debuted the Mustang in April of 1964, he lobbied Ford to make seat belts as standard equipment, but the brainiacs at Ford decided that if seat belts were standard, people would think that the car was dangerous. Really. You could get them installed by the dealer from the Ford option list, but standard equipment? No. After all, the original Mustang built on the Ford Falcon platform was a totally safe car. Kinda like my 64 Bug.
Now we have all kinds of “necessary” items on the standard equipment list that are supposed to help keep us safe on the road. Seat belts? Of course. Air bags? How many do you want? But now we have not only backup cameras, but 360 degree vision. And don’t forget pedestrian detection alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alerts, and inter-vehicle communication. Automatic emergency braking, collision alerts, electronic stability control, safety child seat latch systems…well, all in the name of enhancing the safety of the car.
But are our older cars actually “death traps?”
I guess it goes back to our point of view. My ’88 924S Special Edition has power steering, four-wheel power disk brakes, air conditioning…that’s about it. The dashboard is made of soft material, the steering column collapses on impact, and there are crumple zones front and rear. The rollover protection in the Porsche 944 group is better than most – they are very solid cars. No lane assist. No stability control. Not even cruise control. Are they safe?
It also depends on the nut holding the wheel.