Do you think old cars are safe? It’s one of the most persistent myths in motoring: old cars are as solid as rocks and can crush new cars like beer cans.

The misconception arises from the recent development of the crumple zone, where designated parts of modern cars lose their shape under even minor impacts.

But what appears to be a weakness is actually a strength – crumple zones absorb energy and effectively sacrifice themselves for the sake of the passenger compartment, the safety and rigidity of which is constantly increasing with every new model.
It’s one of the fundamental design principles promoted by organisations like ANCAP and its international car safety partners, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the United States.

But despite decades of innovation and improvement through rigorous testing, the myth of the tough old car persisted – so the IIHS created this truly shocking video to disprove it.

The vehicles involved are a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu (sold in Australia by Holden since 2013) and a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air, an iconic sedan featured locally in the original Mad Max movie.

The cars are crashed into each other in a 40 per cent offset collision at 64km/h, which is what ANCAP’s frontal offset collision test seeks to replicate – most recently and notoriously when the new Kia Carnival was scored only four stars.
The Malibu, which was rated five stars by ANCAP in 2013, behaves as you’d expect with the front of the car being crushed while the passenger compartment remains intact.

By comparison, what happens to the Bel Air is nothing short of terrifying. Even the dryly technical IIHS description of the impact captures the gut-wrenching terror of what would surely be the driver’s final seconds of life.