You might remember that a while back, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crashed a few modern cars into their vintage counterparts to show, in part, how far crash safety had progressed. But what stuck in our minds wasn’t how intact the passenger cells of the modern cars remained, but rather how mangled the old cars were. We’re thinking in particular of the ’59 Bel Air slamming into a 2009 Malibu, and the Nissan Tsuru (an early 1990s Sentra sold in Mexico until 2017) crashing into a modern Sentra. Yowzers.
How about two 1970s-vintage cars crashing into each other? And make one of them full-sized in the 1970s sense of the term—aircraft carriers, basically—and the other the relevant company’s compact. We’re talking about the Ford Pinto, Chevrolet Vega, and AMC Gremlin here—three vehicles without much of a reputation for safety. In the video below, each compact smacks into its bigger stablemate: A Ford Galaxie, Chevrolet Impala, and AMC Ambassador, respectively.
No one will be shocked that the results are gruesome, right? It’s a dumpster fire, basically. And—spoiler alert—the Pinto doesn’t explode. But there’s knowing in your mind that vintage cars aren’t nearly as safe as a modern one, and there’s the searing reality of seeing these cars ball up with your own eyes.
That said, there’s a clear disparity in the results. As one staffer put it, “The Gremlin does OK. Vega? Dead. Pinto? Double dead.” The Pinto fares especially poorly. It’s hard to see perfectly from this vintage footage, but you’d swear the front of the Galaxie actually intrudes all the way into the passenger compartment. That crash dummy had a bad day, for sure. The Vega is also obliterated, although the fact that the Impala punts it backwards a few feet probably mitigated further destruction.
The Gremlin, on the other hand, takes a solid shot to the nose in stride, with the passenger compartment apparently maintaining decent integrity. Did the Gremlin’s engine end up in the dummy’s lap? From this footage, it’s not clear, but from what we can see, the Gremlin is the clear winner—if you can call any of these a winner. Stick around at the end to see how a 1991 Buick Park Avenue fares against a Geo Storm in an offset frontal crash some twenty years later.