BUYING A CLASSIC CAR THAT’S SAFE AS WELL

October 12th, 2021

While directing arrivals into position at a recent car show, I noticed a large, 1920s American touring car that had gone past its entry point and needed to turn around.

Rather than perform a strenuous several-point turn on a narrow road, the driver ‘went bush’, bouncing through a drain, up a slope and back onto the road. In the process, one of the rear doors slipped its flimsy catch and almost pitched a passenger out of his seat.

Cars of that era, of course, have no seat belts and the door latches you probably wouldn’t trust on your back patio screen. Add to that a complete absence of rollover protection, no cabin padding or airbags and very old vehicles are a risky prospect. However, it is a risk their owners accept in order to preserve significant cars in their original state.

Plenty of families own and enjoy older vehicles on the understanding that they offer minimal crash protection. Pick one from the 1960s or a little later and they begin to offer decent levels of inherent safety and can also be made somewhat safer than they had been originally.    

Citroen back in 1955 released its immensely advanced DS19, with a collapsible steering wheel and plastic padded dash. However, it didn’t take the next logical step and fit seat belts. That advance was left to Volvo, which in 1959 and with its 122S sedan was the first to offer a production car with lap/sash seat belts as standard.  

The US market and its manufacturers was dominant world-wide and should have been leading the way in vehicle safety advances. However, it took until 1966 when legislation forced reluctant car makers to react, before anything significant would happen.

In Britain, even tiny cars like the Mini Cooper S had disc brakes but North American models like the V8 Ford Mustang and 200km/h Buick Riviera still fitted all-drum systems as standard equipment. Years would also pass before the vast majority of US-made models included lap/sash seat belts and until the 1990s for legislation to ensure the belts were worn.

In Australia, even though our three major car manufacturers were American-owned, things were very different. Here there was Federal legislation ensuring that every new car built after 1966 had front lap-sash belts plus a range of other measures intended to stop people killing themselves in car crashes. Rear belts were mandatory from 1975 as was compulsory seat belt use.  

European luxury and performance models from this era brought some significant advances in primary safety; benefits that make them easy cars to drive even under today’s traffic conditions.

Look back to 1964 and there were brands such as Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Porsche featuring all-wheel disc brakes, independent suspension and radial-ply tyres. In 1968 came Jaguar’s new XJ6 sedan with all of that plus anti-dive suspension that kept the car stable when braking heavily.  

The 1960s saw Japan emerging as an automotive powerhouse and keen to incorporate safety into its new designs. Buyers found some quite ordinary cars like the Datsun 1600 with disc brakes and independent rear suspension and Subaru’s compact off-road models offering on-the-move 4WD. 

During the 1970s, companies like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Citroen were working on designs that would maximise occupant survival in a serious crash, even if the car was afterwards left unrecognisable.

‘Progressive crumple’ designs ensued that the vehicle extremities absorbed much of the crash energy, reducing G forces that caused brain and internal injuries to occupants. Those wearing seat belts, including rear seat passengers, stood a far higher chance of survival than occupants of older, less pliant designs.

Move into the 1980s and advances still seen in current models began to appear. Perhaps the most significant was ABS (anti-lock braking) which was pioneered by Mercedes-Benz in 1978 (and to an extent Jensen in the 1960s) then adopted by other brands.

Ford Australia from 1992 offered ABS as an option and was amazed by the levels of uptake. Holden followed and by 2004 the system had been made mandatory for passenger vehicles sold in Australia.

When buying a Classic model, it is essential for drivers to understand and make allowances for its limitations in a world where other drivers may not give an older model any tolerance or extra space, so buy the vehicle that best suits your needs rather than what looks hot or makes you feel special.

Certainly, it is wise to choose a model that has seatbelts for everyone already installed. Also look hard at the condition of the belts when buying a car as they may need replacement and that gets expensive.

If a vehicle doesn’t have belts, or mounts so they can be easily installed, that opens another world of serious expense and a requirement for engineering approval.

If you are buying a soft-top sports car, pick one that has a sturdy and well-mounted roll bar. The same caution applies to 4WD models with fabric or fibreglass tops.

Headlights originally fitted to older models will be less effective than modern car lights  and can be dangerously inadequate in rain or fog. A set of uprated bulbs or complete Halogen inserts can make an amazing difference but check with an auto electrician in case extra relays are needed.      

No matter how old or new your vehicle might be, models that aren’t used as regular transport can be insured via Enthusiast at a considerable saving.

Before paying your renewal with any other company, please spend a few minutes online at www.enthusiast.com.au  and let us detail the many benefits that come with an Enthusiast ‘Drive Less….Spend Less’ policy.

Once you accept a quote from Enthusiast, your insurance can commence immediately, with payments deducted monthly from a credit or debit card with no additional fee. 

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